The next Legend of Zelda game could be anything - even a Metroidvania

best Nintendo DS games – Link and Tetra sailing across the sea
(Image credit: Nintendo)

There’s been a lot of debate online as to what the next title in The Legend of Zelda series should be - especially following the release of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. In fact, a divide in the fanbase has led some to want a return to the classic, mostly linear progression of entries like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. Others, still, would rather Nintendo keep the open-world transformation that took the industry by storm twice, with Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, which are comfortably two of the best Nintendo Switch games.

Even series producer Eiji Aonuma has weighed in, supposedly hinting that the ‘traditional’ Zelda formula may be a thing of the past and that Nintendo might continue with the open-world format or even try something new entirely rather than mirror previous games. Either way, we’ll likely be a fair few years into the lifecycle of Nintendo’s next console before we learn what the next mainline Zelda game will look like, which gives us plenty of time to speculate.

But when I personally look at the debate between both linear and open-world styles, I find myself thinking: why does it have to be either? The Legend of Zelda series is quite clearly in a transformative period, and we’ve seen it tackle all sorts of genres over the last decade. All this is to say that I think it would be pretty sweet if the next Zelda game was to be a Metroidvania, or at least adopt the side-scrolling format in similar ways it has in the past. 

Symphony of the Knight

The Legend of Zelda

(Image credit: Nintendo)

I’ll admit to having a little recency bias when it comes to this, having had a strong appetite for Metroidvania games as of late. I recently (finally) finished Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, has been on and off replaying Hollow Knight in anticipation of the sequel Silksong, and am looking forward to getting stuck into Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown sometime soon.

My experience with these games has me thinking that a side-scrolling Metroidvania format would suit Zelda to a tee. Largely because the series, pre-Breath of the Wild, has always had elements of the popular subgenre. The world of Hyrule is typically littered with areas that are out of reach, and goodies that are painfully inaccessible until you’ve found the right item for the occasion - which is a trope of most Metroidvania titles. Think about how much the worlds of A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time open up once you’ve found the Hookshot, for instance.

But a side-scrolling Zelda game isn’t what most people are going to want from a mainline entry. But that’s fine, because such a project would be a marvelous fit for a smaller team while Nintendo EPD cooks up the next big entry. Mercury Steam, the Metroid Dread developer, immediately comes to mind here. Not to mention Ubisoft Montpellier, the Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown developer, has even expressed interest in making a Zelda title in a recent Reddit AMA. And given the incredible reception that the game received, I’m more than confident the developer would be up to the task with a Zelda game.

The very best Metroidvania games typically have varied level design to keep exploration interesting - something Zelda excels at. Players could get their bearings in Hyrule Field and take stock at Kakariko Village before moving on to trickier locales like Death Mountain or Gerudo Desert. There’s so much potential for a side-scroller here that I’m surprised the series hasn’t had one since the days of the ill-fated Philips CD-i partnership.

The sky's the limit

The Legend of Zelda

(Image credit: Nintendo)

So I’d really enjoy a side-scrolling Zelda Metroidvania, but it’s also worth noting that the series really can be just about anything. And frankly, it’s already proven this.

There was, of course, the Omega Force-developed Hyrule Warriors subseries which expertly translated Zelda to the ‘one versus a thousand’ hack n’ slash musou format - that trades more measured exploration for near non-stop combat against massive armies. And let’s not forget Cadence of Hyrule, a spinoff of Crypt of the Necrodancer that provided serious bangers and compelling rhythm-based traversal and combat to stray from the traditional Zelda experience.

We also shouldn’t count out the potential of remakes and remasters. Fans have been pining for Switch ports of The Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD, especially after Skyward Sword HD introduced the divisive Wii title to a broader audience. I’d also be very keen on remakes of Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, in the style of the excellent Link’s Awakening remake.

Right now, though, I’m more excited about the direction The Legend of Zelda will take in between the present day and that next big release. And if Nintendo sticks to its typical schedule of hosting a Direct presentation in February, it might not even be long before we find out what form the next project will take. 

Whether you’re into The Legend of Zelda series or not, be sure to browse our list of the best Nintendo Switch games for top recommendations on what you could be playing next.

Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.