A Zelda Dungeon Maker has been clamored for ever since Super Mario Maker graced the Nintendo Wii U in 2015. The ability to craft and share puzzles with friends around the world would satiate all types of gamers, from Zelda enthusiasts awaiting new titles to play, to puzzle game lovers looking for the endless brain-gaming a Zelda Dungeon Maker would provide. Super Mario Maker and its 2019 sequel proved the interest in maker-type games for Nintendo classics; The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for Nintendo Switch proves Zelda needs its own full dungeon maker game.
The 2019 remake of Link’s Awakening brought players a sampling of what a full-fledged Zelda Dungeon Maker might be like via its Chamber Dungeons. After clearing the game’s second dungeon, players can visit Dampe, the graveyard keeper, in his home to embark on this new mode. Every time players clear dungeons for the rest of the game, several of the rooms from those dungeons become available to use in the maker.
The maker works by arranging the prefabricated rooms in whatever way feels the most challenging or confusing. If the rooms in the original dungeon had stairs or chests, they still do in the maker. Whether chests have keys is randomized and based on how many locked doors stand between the start and end of the map. Honestly, it is not the most enthralling side mode ever made. It becomes reparative quickly since the rooms are all rooms that have been cleared by you already before. Dampe provides various challenges as you progress through the game, and while they do add challenges to the arranging process, they’re really just a giant tutorial.
There is enormous potential though, in a true, full Zelda Dungeon Maker title. Here are ten features that would make a Zelda Dungeon Maker feel like a complete, fun game that I’d come back to again and again.
1. Full Online Compatibility
The absolute most important thing a Zelda Dungeon Maker would need is full Nintendo Online compatibility. This might seem obvious, given how much Super Mario Maker is premised on online gameplay. However, since Link’s Awakening did not include any way to share dungeons online, I feel it must be stated. You should be able to upload maps, search by keywords or themes, and there should be leaderboards for numerous categories. Leaderboards for both individual dungeons and player profiles could include perhaps time to completion, damage taken, number of no-damage clears, and plenty of others.
A Zelda Maker would also benefit from a dedicated companion app that can be used as an option for searching dungeons on the go, sharing them with friends via text, and scanning QR codes to queue up dungeons to play later on your Switch.
2. Full Room Customization
The second absolute most important thing a Maker game needs is the sensation that you can truly build anything. This starts with the necessity of fully arrangeable rooms. Players should be able to determine where chests go, what can be found in them, which enemies are placed where, and what obstacles stand in your way. If you want to put King Dodongo in the opening room and leave the boss room just filled with Keese and a movable object, that should be your prerogative. Place key doors, pot doors, switch doors, or room clear doors to your heart’s content. Make raised areas or different sized rooms or hidden bomb doors if you like. Set a room to require enemies be killed in a certain order. However, you want to arrange a dungeon and its rooms should be possible in Zelda Dungeon Maker.
3. Dynamic Item Selection
The typical formula for games in the Legend of Zelda series is you start a dungeon, get halfway through or so, discover a new item, use that item to clear the rest of the dungeon and maybe defeat the boss, and then, often, only use that item a few more times outside of the dungeon you found it in before starting the process over in the next one. In Link’s Awakening, you play the dungeons you make with whatever items you currently have in the game. In my proposed Zelda Dungeon Maker, item selection should be dynamic when making maps.
Creators should be able to select what items the player starts off with and what items they will find throughout the dungeon, not limited to just one per dungeon. Imagine the puzzle-making opportunities of a dungeon where you start with no items but have to find the Pegasis Boots, Bow, Bombs, and Boomerang in a challenging order to reach the final boss.
4. Game Themes and Dungeon Themes
Mario Maker only lets players pick a maximum of two map themes per level that warp pipes switch you between. I propose that Zelda Maker does away with these limitations. On the dungeon theme front, players should be able to mix and match ice dungeons rooms where you slide all over with fire dungeon rooms with lava pits. It is one thing to make ice or lava design elements in any room you like. It is another thing entirely to match the floor and walls to the environment being designed. Since every room in a Zelda game is separated by a transition, there is no reason each room can’t have its own theme.
In terms of game themes, The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds, Phantom Hourglass, and Link’s Awakening, perhaps even both the original and remake versions, would all make for great and different fits. Each game has not only a unique look and feel, but unique enemies, room hazards, and items that would incentivize playing around with every theme. It would also be fun to bring one or two enemies or items over from one game into another like Super Mario Maker did with the Angry Sun or the Koopa Clown Car.
5. Adventure Mode
Part of the magnificence to Zelda games is the adventure outside of the dungeons. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect the ability to craft an entire overworld, although if Nintendo was down for that, I am quite sure we all would be too. I believe though, that there is a perfect middle ground. I envision an adventure mode where designers can create multiple dungeons that can be locked into a sequence, or be free to explore in any order the player chooses, like in Breath of the Wild or A Link Between Worlds. Non-linear adventures could even allow players to challenge themselves to clear the designated final dungeon before clearing all of the previous ones.
I imagine this mode allowing you to leave a dungeon any time you want, as long the room you are in is clear so you can’t just use swapping to avoid damage. Making swapping dungeons easier will just make the quality of life better for adventures that have items strewn across different dungeons and require backtracking to complete. There would be a nice “overworld” that shows the full map of the game they are theming and each dungeon on the map would be in the same place the dungeons are in the original game. This could even allow creators to name individual dungeons in their adventure.
This type of mode would engender all sorts of possibilities. It could allow for heart pieces and heart containers to play a role in the game in a way they otherwise would not. Hiding them in dungeons would enhance exploration and could be part of a metagame clearing adventures without health upgrades. There could even be a whole leaderboard category for say, “7 dungeon adventures completed with 3 hearts” or other similar braggable accolades. An adventure mode could also help build a sense of progress that often feels like it is lacking in Super Mario Maker. Even in Mario Maker’s endless modes, there’s no sense of progression since every level is individual and separate from one another.
6. Health and Damage Adjustability
A small feature that would go along well with single dungeons or full adventures is the ability to set the starting number of hearts. It’s not enough to just be able to choose where to place heart pickups. You should be able to decide whether to start with three hearts or ten. Nothing more to be said really, it would just definitely be a nice way to add difficulty or ease to dungeons.
In the category of health though, it might be great to be able to set kill requirements on enemies, like that they will only be hurt by bombs, or not be damaged by arrows, or can only be hurt from the back. I can’t honestly say I know how best to indicate to players how you make these kill requirements known, but it would be a nice feature nonetheless. So would the option to set how many hits enemies require to kill. There should certainly be an upper limit, but being able to make enemies tougher to kill than normal could keep things spicy for sure.
7. In-Dungeon Shops
Another small one, but I would fully support making in-dungeon shops a thing in a Zelda Dungeon Maker. Image stumbling upon a room where a strange old man, or Ravio, or maybe even Tetra just for fun, are selling offering to sell you arrows for 20 rupees, or a hammer for 200? It would make rupee collecting mean something, unlike in Super Mario Maker where they are usually either just for fun or part of level design. Their typical purpose of providing 1-ups every 100 is only meaningful in endless mode. Having something to spend rupees on would give this ubiquitous item meaning and it would add yet another layer to creative puzzle making.
8. Player Progression
Perhaps I am just a dopamine junky, but I love unlockables in games. The original Super Mario Maker had tons of unlockables, including 8-bit skins of every Amiibo character available at the time and many items in the game. Even Super Smash Brothers Ultimate took the bold path of requiring that nearly every character in the game be unlocked before they were playable. What if you had to earn the ability to place certain items, enemies, or elements into your dungeons? You would start off with a few standards, shields, bombs, arrows, rupees, and a slew of standard enemies.
Unlocking more would not be difficult since that would negate the openly creative nature of a maker-style game. But maybe make new players start with a tutorial that would get them started with a nice bunch of initial unlocks and then the rest would be based on designing or playing a certain number of dungeons and adventures. Defeat Ganon “x” times or collect 2,000 rupees and you can unlock a new enemy maybe. Just something to provide more of a sense of progression to the overall game. Most unlockables should be tied your avatar character though and not design elements. Like in Super Mario Maker 2, you should be able to customize your Mii to stand out amongst other players. There should just definitely be way more customization options tied to an achievement system, and not tied solely to the leaderboards, to keep players coming back and trying new things.
9. Strong Multiplayer
These last two ideas are a bit more out there, but what if a Zelda Dungeon Maker game had a Four Swords Adventures-esque multiplayer mode where dungeons could be designed specifically to host two, three, or four players and have puzzles meant for that number of players to tackle together. Super Mario Maker 2 has a multiplayer mode, but connectivity is spotty at best and the levels that are “designed” for multiple players really could be played without them.
A true multiplayer mode, with local play as an option, unlike Mario Maker 2, would just be another fantastic selling point. There has not been a true multiplayer Zelda game since the Gameboy Advance (we are not counting Triforce Heroes) and undoubtedly, fans would be excited by the opportunity to craft and play dungeons that make use mechanics only more than one Link could take on.
10. Character and Enemy Designer
Bear with me on this one, but what if you could design your own hero or enemy characters in a Zelda Dungeon Maker game? One of Mario Maker‘s greatest appeals is that you can make a level off of truly any theme imaginable. It is honestly hard to imagine that Zelda‘s mechanics would allow for quite that same level of ingenuity. So, what I propose, is the ability to draw your own 8 and 16-bit characters. Since The Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past are 2D, sprite-based games, I think it is perfectly within reason to create a character designer. With a pixel board and a color wheel, I believe such a thing is totally feasible.
Ignoring the mechanics of how to create enough angles and versions of the sprites, to account for item usage, and damage frames, or computer generating those things, think of the possibilities. Want to make a dungeon where you have to escape detention? Make a boss sprite that looks like your high school principal. Want an Adventure Time dungeon? Make a Finn sprite. You could even go as far as to let players make their own overworld maps for adventure modes, or maybe even be able to use the app I mentioned earlier to upload JPEGs. Nintendo’s content police robots are definitely smart enough to filter out anything inappropriate, or, at least as much as they currently can in any other game that allows you to draw things and leave them as notes. But, if games like Minecraft or the supremely underrated 3D Dot Heroes can let you make your own voxel-based characters through mods, I see no reason not to be able to do so as part of the game itself.
While I fully recognize that there are some feasibility questions with some of these ideas, overall, I hope they show how a Zelda Dungeon Maker game is not only possible but a must-have now that Link’s Awakening has given us a taste.