Review: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
I’ve never played Ocarina of Time. Hard to believe for those people whose very childhood was shaped by the game, but then, I’ve never played a Zelda game either. Therefore, this review is different to the countless ones out there, because I’m not relying on nostalgia to help me fuel it. Of course I know of the massive following the game has, and the otherworldly reputation it has achieved, but this is my first time, the experiences were all new to me. This is the first time I saw Gorons dancing, the first time I snuck past Zelda’s guards and the first time I vanquished Ganon into the dark void. I don’t specifically know what has changed from the N64 game to the 3DS version either, (but I will comment on the obvious changes from gained knowledge).
As the game is on a system which boasts 3D visuals, let’s start there. The 3D in Ocarina of Time is more subtle than any 3DS game I’ve played so far. It’s not overpowering, but it’s not weak to the point of non-existence. It is however, expertly implemented. The 3D does what it should do for 3DS games, it adds that spark of magic that highlights the game’s little extras. Fairies buzz around the screen, lightning forks in the sky, and colours and shapes leap to life. It offers a window into Hyrule, adding a sense of verisimilitude and luring the player into this world which feels real at times. It’s how I want to see 3DS games use 3D from now on.
I realise I haven’t mentioned the visuals themselves. Comparing them from N64 images, it’s easier to see the polish the game has been given. Blocky characters and washed-out colours are all but gone, and what you have here is the prettiest 3DS game yet. That’s not to say it’s visually perfect, some old textures seem to have been left, and not everything looks as good as everything else does – it certainly varies at times. Also, things seem rather sparse. But as I’ve said, the 3D is the trick here for reviving a retro game.
There I am, launched into my first dungeon, no previous Zelda experience behind me, and no memories from playing Ocarina on the N64 to help either. It takes me about ten minutes to get stuck, and then I remain stuck for some time, to the point when I realise just how much games have changed. This game doesn’t hold your hand, it expects you to explore the world and try things. Minor hints here and there are all you get. For sure, it shows how games have become easier.
However, the 3DS version adds a new hint system found in Sheikah stones. What’s good is that these hints don’t fully tell you what to do, nor do they do it all for you, instead they push you back on track. Purists that find the addition unnecessary can simply avoid the stones altogether. Specifically, easing in those new to Zelda’s mechanics (like me) is the main bonus to be found here. Personally, I used the stones about four times during my first run that pointed out, (sometimes obvious) things I thought I had tried. By the end, the puzzles started to click naturally.
There’s a lot of meat to this game too, and it’s hard to believe that the epic adventure was once embedded into an N64 cartridge. In total there are around ten clever dungeons, depending of course on what you define as one. These will take quite a while to complete, more so for the first-time player.
Then there are the game’s countless extras: minigames, heart pieces to collect, a hundred golden Skulltulas to shoot, and other Easter eggs littered throughout. To see and do everything will take quite a while. Add to this a re-mastered Master Quest (apparently it was easier on the good old Cube), a Boss Rush mode and a Gauntlet mode; veterans might well be intrigued to take a look as well. For me, just playing through it once was lengthy enough and it was bursting full with other content too. How much faster the game is once you’ve played it once? I’m not quite sure, but it lasted me a good twenty hours for a first run.
The game controls very nicely as well. The Circle Pad is comfy; the L and R triggers work well for targeting and blocking; and the buttons on the right of the handheld are nice and responsive. It’s the Gyroscopic controls that really shine though. It’s so easy to aim Link’s Slingshot and Bow with them, that you find yourself perfecting the shooting galleries, and hardly ever missing an enemy in sight. Impressive, and a joy to use. The inventory has also been tidied (although I wouldn’t have known otherwise). Targeting is unreliable at times however, and can be frustrating when you find yourself one hit from death, yet unable to lock on in time. Or you just constantly find yourself losing the lock altogether.
The story is simple, yet equally enticing. You start off as a young Link, armed with a wooden shield and a small sword. Plunged into a world inhabited by fairies and child-like Kokiri. And by playing the harmonious Ocarina and pulling the Master Sword out of stone, you are transported 7 years into the future. By the end of the game you are truly the Hero of Time, with the Master Sword and Mirror shield in hand, ready to smite the evil Ganondorf from existence. It’s easy to see how revolutionary the time travel aspect was in the story back then. It’s ingenious as well, as bits of the gameplay can be manipulated from this time travel. Plant a Magic Bean in the past, and go back there after 7 years. What do you know, a new route has opened up.
It must be said that for first-time players out there, this game is essential. Ironically then, the game’s problem for me is one that has nothing to do with how it plays, looks or sounds. It’s the fact that the best 3D effect, the best visuals, the best controls, the best music and the best gameplay belong to an ancient game revived on a modern system. This is a remake, and one which puts to shame most 3DS games out there, but why is a remake the highlight of the software line-up? Yes I admit, this is a new experience to people like me, but how does knowing that it’s a thirteen-year-old game that shows off the 3DS’s greatest strengths better than anything else feel? Quite irritating. Where, for example, is the new Zelda experience built from scratch on the hardware? Will it go down in history as the port and remake machine?
Regardless, it’s easily the best game on the 3DS, even if it’s not a new one. Would I have given this game a ten if I played it at the time back in 1998? Yes. But in 2011, with a budding new console on the shelves, why are brilliant old games being resurrected to fill the holes? For me, very slight niggles and this fact stop it from getting a ten, but this is the remake we’re talking about after all. The original game at the time must have been truly something special indeed. And for those that had that particular experience thirteen years ago, consider yourself privileged.