In 1986 the first Legend of Zelda game was released for the NES. The world was introduced to Link, Zelda, Ganon and the Triforce for the very first time.
Using an overhead view the player had to control Link to navigate their way through dungeons to collect pieces of the Triforce. The game introduced what was to become a staple of Zelda games which was items found in the dungeons which included the boomerang, bombs and the bow and arrow.
Just a year later in 1987 the sequel was released for the NES entitled: Zelda II - The Adventure of Link.
Changing the overhead view for the main levels to a side-scrolling view (overhead was still used for the map screen) was one of several changes for the sequel which also included bringing in experience points, magic and extra lives. The experience points were brought in to upgrade attack, stamina and the previously mentioned magic.
Like pretty much every Zelda game the plot is to collect the Triforce and to awaken Zelda but this time the final boss was Shadow Link, a dark version of Link.The one and only Legend of Zelda game to appear on the SNES was A Link to the Past which was released in 1991.
The game returned to the overhead view of the first game but expanded on the first game quite immensely.
Also returning was Ganon as the final boss but the game also introduced new elements which feature to this day including the legendary Master Sword and also parallel worlds to travel between.
Again playing through dungeons Link has to find and rescue the seven descendants of the seven sages before facing the evil wizard Agahnim. Once Agahnim is defeated Ganon rises up for the final battle.
Several items are retained from the first game, again the boomerang and bombs but a lot of new additions are added like the hookshot, pegasus boots and a flute. Magic is also retained from the second game.
Two years later in 1993 Link's Awakening appeared on the Gameboy to become the first handheld version of Zelda.
It was also the first version to change the plot and not have Link having to find the Triforce to awaken Princess Zelda. It instead had Link wake up on a strange island where he had to find the eight instuments of the sirens which must be played to awakend Wind Fish.
The game also did not have Ganon as the main bad guy but a character called Nightmare and a second character called Dethl. The game also introduced the trading system which was also found in later games and an element where Link could steal items, tut tut.
In 1998, five years after the last Zelda game was released Ocarina of Time was finally unleashed on the Nintendo64.
Considered by many to be the best Zelda game released, (though some do prefer Link to the Past), Zelda and Link returned in full 3D glory in an epic game.
Taking the basic premise of past games with dungeons, items, heart pieces etc Ocarina of Time also brought back the storyline of Ganondorf and the Triforce. This time round however Princess Zelda was not asleep or unconcious but infact was awake to help you. First as Zelda when you play as young Link and again as Sheik when playing as Adult Link.
Also introduced for the first time is Epona, your trusty horse who would go on to appear in later games. Along with Epona is the Ocarina of the title which you can play songs on to help you in your quest.
In 2000, two years after Ocarina of Time was released the N64 got it's second Zelda game in the form of Majora's Mask.
A lot darker then Ocarina of Time and a lot shorter with only four dungeons Majora's Mask is considered by people to fall short of the greatness of Ocarina.
Changing the plot, Link now has to stop the moon crashing into Termina and only has three days to complete the task. The first part of the game focuses on having to retrieve the Ocarina from the Skull Kid to be able to play a song to transport you back to the beginning of the first day. This will happen a few times throughout the game until completion.
Another concept heavily utilised is the collecion and usage of masks to progress through the game. These masks include character masks like the Gorons and Zoras. Each mask you wear gives Link a different power to use throughout the game.
In 2001 not one but two Zelda games were released for the Gameboy Colour. Development was handed over to Capcaom who created Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages.
The games were unique in the fact that they could be linked together to enter passwords to transfer items across the two games.
Originally three games were to be created but trying to co-ordinate three together proved to demanding which resulted in one getting cancelled.
The main item in Seasons is the Rod of Seasons which allows Link to change the seaons therefore affecting the the surroundings. In Ages the main item is the Harp of Ages which replaces the Ocarina to travel through time.
Yet just another year later in 2002 The Wind Waker was released for the GameCube. Causing controversy when first seen due to the cel-shading graphics the game turned out to be classic Zelda through and through.
The plot changes slightly in the fact that Link is searching for his kidnapped sister instead of Zelda, though Zelda does appear this time as Tetra, a pirate of the seas. Ganondorf is again the main enemy.
One criticism of the game is the amount of time spent sailing the seas which people thought slowed the game down.
In 2004 Four Swords Adventure was released for the GameCube and was similar to the version released with the re-release of Link to the Past.
Up to four players could take control of a version of link and could be played using a controller or a GBA. If only one player is playing then the Cube would control the extra Link's. The main enemys were Shadow Link and Ganondorf.
The game also included a second game entitled Shadow Battle where players could battle each other using different versions of Link.
Again in 2004 another Zelda game was released, this time for the Gameboy Advance. Development was again handed over to Capcom who created Minish Cap.
Leaving Ganondorf out of the game the main enemy became Vaati who had transformed Ezlo into the Cap mentioned in the title.
After Vaati turns Zelda into a statue Link finds Ezlo and ends up wearing the cap throughout the entire game.
Capcom introduced a couple of new items which included the Gust Jar and the Mole Mitts allowing for Link to burrown through some walls. Also introduced were Kinstones which when fused with pieces that certain characters had would unveil hidden secrets.
In 2006 the final Zelda game was released for the Cube and also for the Wii which was Twilight Princess.
The game included parallel worlds but this time in the Twilight Realm Link would transform into a wolf who would be helped by a character called Midna. Midna would give hints and tips and would help Wolf Link with jumping, teleporting and attacking enemies.
Again Ganodorf is the main enemy and this time round the game now includes nine dungeons and the return of Epona.
Unfortunately Twilight Princess was released just as the Cube was dying off. Due to this not as many copies of the Cube version are in existence resulting in high prices for the game.
Just one year later in 2007 Link and Tetra made their debut on the DS in Phantom Hourglass. Continuing on from Wind Waker a new antagonist was introduced in the form of Bellum and a helper in the shape of Linebeck. Like Wind Waker the game had cel-shaded graphics and involved travelling the seas on a boat.
On release the game was criticised for being too easy but due to this the game did attract more casual gamers who may have not experienced a Zelda game before. The game also uses the abilities of the DS to create puzzles that require blowing into the mic, using the stylus and in one case closing the DS to reveal the answer.
In 2009 Link and Zelda returned to the DS in Spirit Tracks which saw Link swapping the boat as the mode of transport to a train. Set years after but following on from Phantom Hourglass the game again includes cel-shaded graphics and requires different aspects of the DS to solve puzzles, especially the mic to use the Spirit Flute.
One major change from Phantom Hourglass is the use of a second character in the form of a Phantom being inhabited by the spirit of Zelda. This aspect allows for control of the Phantom to solve puzzles, to destroy enemies and to carry Link over dangerous areas. Like Phantom Hourglass the game introduces another new enemy in the guise of Malladus, making it two games out of two on the DS with no appearance from Ganon.
At time of writing a new Zelda game is due for release on the Wii at some point in 2011. Titled Skyward Sword not much is yet known about the game. A piece of concept art and a teaser trailer have been released but nothing much was revealed about the game.
It is supposed to be a prequel to Ocarina of Time and the Master Sword will be making an appearance but beyond that anything is just a guess.
Numerous Zelda games have been re-released on different formats over the years which have included the Collector's Edition on the Cube which consisted of the two games from the NES and the two games from the N64. Also for the Cube was a version consisting of Ocarina of Time and Ocarina of Time: Master Quest.
Link's Awakening was re-released on the Gameboy Colour as DX and featured a new dungeon which utilised the colours of the handheld.
Released on the Gameboy Advance was the two games for the NES under the Classics series and also a Link to the Past which featured Four Swords which was a new multiplayer adventure where upto four players could play together.
*Please note that I have only included the games that are considered to be the core/canon games released on Nintendo consoles. This means that the CD-I games have not been included and also games like Link's Crossbow Training Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, though I may do a post in the future about these games.