January 27, 2018
Earlier this week on Twitter– Well, relative to the time I began writing this piece, by now I think that was like two weeks ago– Hick and Red shared some thoughts about gauntlet-style challenges (otherwise known as a crapload of enemies) in the series and sparked a compelling conversation. Are they good, bad, worth it at all? Wherever you sit on the topic, they are here to stay, so hopefully you get a worthwhile experience out of them.
Personally I enjoy the change of pace from regular Zelda gameplay and think that gauntlets within the series bring a different kind of challenge than those found anywhere else within any given game. A good gauntlet has clever enemy placement, forcing you to think more tactically to overcome the challenge. Today I will share my favorite five and we can continue the conversation from there, so here we go!
#5: Cave of Ordeals (Twilight Princess)
The Cave of Ordeals is found in the Gerudo Desert, far flung from the populated parts of Hyrule. In this mysterious dungeon, Link can acquire the Great Fairy’s Tears, a fabled magical elixir which is oddly only as good as Grandma’s Soup from Wind Waker.
The dungeon itself is a nice, straightforward challenge which sets Link against fifty floors of monsters. The combat begins with simple foes and eases you into the challenge at a good, consistent rate, eventually becoming the most deadly challenge in the original version. While this is a great base to start from with these challenges, they only get better from here!
#4: End Boss Segment (Minish Cap)
This one is by far the shortest, however it also stands out as one of the most memorable. After defeating hordes of Vaati’s minions throughout the game, Link finally goes to confront him, but first must overcome a series of progressively more difficult rooms. To make the challenge even more intense, you are given a time limit to reach the end, lest Vaati sacrifice Princess Zelda to complete his plan.
Again, this challenge seems pretty straight forward, but the placement of enemies makes for a great series of challenges, and the fact that it leads up to the final boss (who has multiple forms) makes it all the more satisfying when you finally do overcome this obstacle.
#3: Cave of Trials (Twilight Princess HD)
As if the original Cave of Ordeals wasn’t difficult enough, the team behind the HD remake decided to throw in another, similar gauntlet, but this time you only have the power of Wolf Link at your disposal. No hookshot, no bombs, no ball and chain, just your claws, teeth, and instincts. I’ve gotta say, this is up there as one of the toughest gauntlets I’ve ever completed, as I had to rely on two Amiibo heals to do it. Admittedly that may have partially been due to the fact that I began the game on Hero Mode and never looked back, but still, at the time the remake released, this was by far the most difficult challenge in any Zelda game. Unfortunately, that title was recently stolen away by number one.
#2: Savage Labyrinth (Wind Waker)
What began as a search for the Triforce of Courage, to have any shot at all at defeating Ganon, became one of the most memorable collection sequences known to the series. That’s in part because everybody hated the Triforce fetch quest, but personally I never minded much as it was some of the best exploration the series had to offer. Right in the middle of this exploration my first time through, I found the Savage Labyrinth, and I honestly did not see it coming.
After fighting the first ten floors of foes, I thought “Oh, cool, the treasure must be here.” Nope. After the first ten, and every ten thereafter, was some recovery items, which were much appreciated since I had gone in totally unprepared. After dying horribly a few floors later, I stocked up on fairies and my favorite soup and went to town, destroying thirty floors of enemies before finally finding what I came for, the Triforce Chart!
Was I done, though? I thought I was, and I nearly exited before seeing a large stone statue akin to some in the Earth Temple, which could be destroyed by light reflected from the Mirror Shield. Curious, I gave it a go, and found an additional twenty floors of melee before finally being rewarded with a much deserved heart piece. Go, me!
#1: Trial of the Sword (Breath of the Wild)
After all the gauntlets I thought were hard, after all the gauntlets I thought were uniquely tailored to create an intense combat challenge, they were all dashed by this masterpiece of mayhem. Begin with the standard formula and create forty floors of badass brain bashers ready to rumble. Now position them carefully in totally different setups with different kinds of obstacles and terrain. Cool, good challenge. Now take away all Link’s weapons, armor and food. Pretty much no way to dodge that.
As much as I liked gathering and using my foods and other accouterments that I found from the foes I felled, it never felt quite so satisfying as it was to get just one more floor down in this rigorous test of skill. Of all the gauntlets on this list, it is by far the most difficult, and again it feels like the difficulty stems from genuine creativity on its design, and each challenge can be overcome, but you have to be very careful about your combat movements and your food usage, as weapons and ingredients are scarce.
After completing the Trial of the Sword, you also acquire Link’s powered-up Master Sword, which has double the power all the time. As far as the gauntlets go, usually I could take or leave the rewards. Like the Cave of Trials giving you a big wallet? Big whoop! A better Master Sword, though, that’s worth the effort. Maybe one day I’ll actually get around to beating the whole thing.
There we have it, the top five gauntlet challenges in the Zelda series. Did I neglect the eighty billion Bokoblins at the end of Skyward Sword? Do I give Trial of the Sword too much credit just because it’s hard? Sound off in the comments or on Twitter and we can keep the conversation slashing!