Answer: The Philips CD-i
The Legend of Zelda franchise is one of Nintendo’s most valuable intellectual properties, right up there with Mario, Metroid, and other iconic Nintendo video game offerings. How then did the video game giant not only allow another company to produce Legend of Zelda games, but to produce them for a non-Nintendo system, next to no Nintendo oversight, and with a storyline that is completely non-canonical to the Zelda universe? It all started with a business deal gone bad.
In the late 1980s, Nintendo was interested in creating a disc-based video game system. They initially approached Sony to help create what would have eventually become the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, but with a CD-ROM based game input instead of a cartridge. There were disputes on both sides of the design table and Nintendo broke the agreement with Sony and turned to Philips to help create a disc-based system. The project progressed steadily, but when Nintendo saw how poorly the Sega Mega-CD system was received, they dissolved the agreement with Philips, leaving Philips high and dry with a working game console, but very little content.
As part of the resolution proceedings surrounding the dissolution of the project, Nintendo granted Philips the license to use some very high profile Nintendo characters, including Link, Princess Zelda, and Ganon, for games on what would become the Philips CD-i console.
Philips hired game design studios and created three Legend of Zelda titles based on the CD-ROM format that took full advantage of the capabilities of the system including extensive use of full-motion video. The first two games, Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon were side scrolling adventures similar to the NES game Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and the final game, Zelda’s Adventure, featured top-down styling like the original Legend of Zelda game.
The first two games were showcased in 1993 and released to the public shortly thereafter. What’s curious about the games is that at the time of their release, and despite their significant departure from the official Nintendo created Zelda games, the buggy implementation on the CD-i system, and the poorly crafted (and extensively used) animation sequences that appear to be crafted in an animation version of MS Paint, the games were actually fairly well received by both critics and players alike.
Although decently well received at their debut, the passage of time and the widespread sharing of these early non-canonical Zelda games (and their garish and poorly scripted cut-scenes) has not been kind to their memory. Modern game critics and players alike have savagely panned the games. A simple search on YouTube for CD-i Zelda games turns up hundreds of videos mocking the games, the play mechanics, and the acting and animation of the cut scenes.
Officially, the games are not acknowledged by Nintendo and are regarded by the company, critics, and players alike as non-canonical and in no way a part of the millennium-spanning Legend of Zelda story arc.