Hyrule Warriors is set to kick off next week, and we liked it quite a bit. For any flaws the Dynasty Warriors series might have, mashing it together with Zelda tropes seems to have paid off. Link hasn't always been so lucky when it comes to venturing outside his traditional adventure game comfort zone, though. More often, Zelda spin-offs have been bonkers.
Link: The Faces of Evil
Zelda: The Wand of Gameleon
Thanks to an ill-fated partnership with Phillips, Link starred in two side-scrolling games for the CD-i console. The games themselves resembled Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link, a divisive Zelda game in its own right. However, Faces of Evil and Wand of Gameleon had no weight behind the strikes. The tight and responsive gameplay that Nintendo is so well-known for was replaced by sluggish animations, unresponsive controls, and enemies that simply shredded like paper.
To its credit, though, Wand of Gameleon was the first game to put Zelda in her own starring role. While Faces of Evil had a boilerplate plot revolving around Link visiting another kingdom to defeat Ganon, Gameleon let the princess stand on her own two feet. After the disappearance of the King and Link, she sets off to do some rescuing herself for a change, and ultimately gets to take down the big-bad of the series. It was pretty good payback, considering how often she's been a damsel in distress.
These days, both games are remembered most for their wacky FMV cutscenes and bizarre characterization. Just look at the wistful look in Link's eyes as he fantasizes about getting another chance to hack away at a pig monster. "I just wonder what Ganon's up to..." We're sure you do, Link.
Only eight months later, Link managed to get himself captured again. The third and final game in the Phillips deal was handled by a completely different developer, and eschewed the side-scrolling style in favor of a more traditional top-down Zelda game. It once again starred Zelda herself, who set out to save Link again. Phillips was apparently much more progressive than Nintendo at the time, given that this was years before Shiek made her first appearance.
Zelda's Adventure was also wise enough to avoid hastily thrown-together animated cutscenes. But, this being the age of FMV, it instead went with hastily thrown-together live-action cutscenes.
Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland
More than any other character in the series, Tingle is a sign of the differences in Japanese and American sensibilities. Created by Takaya Imamura, he's a silly, stocky little man with a fairy obsession. It's impossible to tell if he's meant to be an ugly gay stereotype or a Michael-Jackson-esque man-child. Americans haven't really known what to make of the character, but in Japan he's apparently popular enough to demand three spin-offs. Three. By comparison Zelda herself has only had two, and they weren't even made by Nintendo.
Fun Fact: Throughout the series, we've met Tingle's three brothers: Ankle, Knuckle, and the must-have-been-adopted David, Jr.
Tingle's first solo adventure displays everything strange and off-putting about the character. The title is comically flamboyant, and the story raises troubling questions about the Zelda world. It revolves around an old man who tricks a relatively normal Tingle into becoming a fairy-person by promising him access to a land made of money. In the process, Tingle becomes reliant on Rupees to sustain his life. This is exactly the sort of case you'd think the kingdom's resident hero would take up, but Link is too busy fighting pig monsters. Instead, Tingle discovers the duplicity and battles the old man himself, being irreparably changed into a creepy character.
(On the bright side, the actual game mechanics of building a tower and exploring dungeons was fairly well-received in Japan and Europe. It never came out in America.)
Tingle's Balloon Fight DS
The quintessential mash-up, Tingle's Balloon Fight was a reward for Club Nintendo members. It was the classic NES game, except it starred Tingle instead of Anonymous Helmeted Man and had slightly upgraded graphics. On the bright side, Tingle didn't talk much.
Ripened Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love
The Voltron of Tingle spin-offs, this one borrowed the naming conventions of the first game and the balloon motif of the second. Like Rupeeland, Balloon Trip of Love featured the character as an ordinary middle-aged man trapped by forces beyond his control. In this case, he was sucked into a magical book where he has to dance with several princesses.
The plot is mostly a parody of the classic film The Wizard of Oz, as Tingle meets and journeys down the Yellow Brick Road with a scarecrow, a tin man, and a lion. That would put him in the role of Judy Garland, who is something of a gay icon for her part in the film. Subtle!
Link's Crossbow Training
As the Wii exploded in popularity thanks to college dorms and retirement homes enjoying virtual bowling, Nintendo attempted to appease the fans of its classic franchises with Link's Crossbow Training. Twilight Princess had been a bona fide hit, but nothing about it really needed the Wii properties to function, as evidenced by its simultaneous GameCube release. Crossbow Training was a Wii title through-and-through, and packaged with the "Wii Zapper" for extra nostalgic cred.
Unfortunately, if it proved anything, it was just how shallow motion experiences could be. It was derided in reviews for being entirely too short, with only a few modes to choose from and not enough stages in each. If Nintendo was already struggling to make one of its most popular franchises work with waggle in 2007, it's no wonder the concept was running out of steam only a few years later.