The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the stuff of videogame legends. It sits up there with greats like Baulder’s Gate, Doom, StarCraft and Super Mario World as a game that defined, if not invented, a genre. Nintendo’s 3DS launch lineup was lackluster at best, so what better way to rekindle interest in the new system than a remake of a game many regard as ‘the best game ever made’?
I’d like to start this review by admitting that I never played the original OoT when it launched way back in 1998. Having never owned a Nintendo 64 growing up (I was a PC gamer for as long as I can remember), I didn’t really get a chance to get in to it. My first Zelda was Twilight Princess, and my favorite one so far has been Spirit Tracks. I’m probably going to cop a lot of flak for this point, but I like to think that it means I can review the game as it stands in today’s gaming climate, instead of with the rose-tinted glasses of my thirteen-year-old self during the N64 era.
Speaking of which, if you told me this was a port of an N64 game, I would call you a filthy liar. It’s almost impossible to imagine that Link’s beautifully detailed, smooth running world came from a console that was famous for pixels more jagged than a prison shiv, and a framerate comparable to a PowerPoint slideshow. To say that OoT has received a fresh coat of paint is an understatement; the visuals are easily the best part of the game. OoT3D shows off the graphical prowess of Nintendo’s newest handheld in a big way: dungeons and the overworld feel vast and full; the particle effects look great; and, with the exception of a handful of NPC’s that look ‘odd’, the character models and their animations are superb.
But of course, the big draw of the 3DS isn’t its impressive graphics but the glasses-free stereoscopic 3D effect. So how does it hold up in OoT3D? Surprisingly, quite well. I’ve never been a huge fan of 3D effects, seeing them as more of a gimmick than a real feature, but the way the 3DS handles it may just make a believer out of me. The sliding scale is a great help. I find that the perfect spot for me is about halfway up –- it means the 3D is not intense enough to hurt my eyes, but noticeable enough to make a difference. And it does make a difference; it’s fantastic to be able to see depth in Link’s world as you fight your way through it. Cutscenes, in particular, make great use of the 3D effect, and are just a joy to watch. During extended play sessions (over one and a half hours), I had to turn the effect off as it did start to give me a little headache, but I still see this as an improvement over 3D films like Avatar, which made me feel like vomiting after the first ten minutes.
Looking at how the game plays, I do have a few gripes, two of which are pretty major annoyances. The first is L-targeting. In a word, it’s shit. Having to constantly hold the L- trigger down in order to be at all effective in combat is incredibly frustrating. Why it could not have been a toggle like many action-RPG’s of today have, I don’t know. It’s especially annoying for bosses, as if you accidentally let go of the button while you are too far away, it means you have to run up close to the boss to target him again. My second gripe is how slow it is to get around the world. Getting the horse Epona and the various teleport songs as you progress through the game is OK, but it’s a case of too little, too late. Warp songs should be learned immediately upon arriving in a new area, allowing fast-travel to places you have already been. Fast travel has become a staple of almost every modern RPG, and the lack thereof in Zelda is one caveat from the original game that they could have left out.
Another issue I had relates to a completely baffling design choice. The 3D effect of the 3DS only works if your head stays in the ‘sweet spot’. Move around too much results in losing the proper field of view, and it just makes the screen look blurry and horrible. Why then, did Nintendo decide to include gyroscope controls, which rely on the system physically being moved around a lot? In OoT3D, you can use the gyroscope to to aim the various ranged weapons (bow, slingshot, hookshot), as well as just look around in first-person mode. Needless to say, it is a horrible ‘feature’ and being optional (you can also aim with the 3DS slide-pad), I turned it off almost immediately.
Another, more minor annoyance I had was how the game sends you back to the Kokiri forest, the Temple of Time, or the beginning of a dungeon whenever you turn it off, even if you save deep within the latter. It’s not too annoying as the 3DS’s sleep mode is actually quite good, meaning most of the time I found myself just closing the lit and chucking the system on the cradle rather than turning the game off all together. It seemed like an arbitrary ‘punishment’ for quitting the game — another strange throwback to the original N64 version, and something that could have been brought up to modern day design.
Other than these issues, the gameplay itself is pretty solid. It’s the classic Zelda mix of puzzles and combat. Some of the more precision or timing based puzzles may have you pulling out your hair, but most of them time they are quite fun and rewarding. Improvements over the N64 version include the ability to map up to four items for quick use, touch-screen functionality with switching out equipment (which makes a particular water-themed temple a lot less frustrating) and a hint system, where you can receive ‘visions of the future,’ if you are stuck. I found all three of these features to be a godsend, and could hardly imagine anyone trying to play the game without them; you N64 crowd were a tough bunch!
The ‘Master Quest’ mode included in the GameCube release returns, giving players the ability to re-play the game after completion with added challenges and rearranged dungeons. I have to admit, I’ve only just gotten in to this mode a little bit, but from what I’ve seen it’s just your standard ‘new game+’.
I could talk about the story, but twenty years of the same basic premise have ingrained it into our minds forever. Ganondorf arrives, princess Zelda gets kidnapped (or so you think), Ganondorf goes for the tri-force, you collect a bunch of magic stones, you get the master sword, you kick Ganondorf arse. It’s not going to win any literature awards, but the story is a great little hero’s journey that helps push the game along. Some of the set pieces and cut scenes are actually really well put together, and the idea of switching between two timelines is a very cool concept that works well.
The game’s music is another one of its strong points, featuring strong orchestral scores that match the mood of particular dungeons, and that ever-familiar Zelda theme tune. They appear to be re-mastered versions of the tracks included in the original game. The sound effects are mostly great, but the abundance of repetition means that some of them can get… a bit… tedious…. (HEY! LISTEN! HEY! LISTEN!).
So what can I say about this remake of the famed ‘best game of all time?’ While not without its imperfections, the game is a great example of a remake done right. Many of the things that made the original great are kept in, with any new features added only serving to accentuate, not differentiate. The fresh coat of paint makes the game look gorgeous without drastically changing the lovable, cartoony art style. Best of all, at its core, the actual game remains almost completely unchanged, offering the same quest that people undertook all those years ago. Aside from a few caveats which seem to stem more from the inability to adapt the game to modern RPG standards rather than fundamental flaws of the game, it’s a fantastic game that is well worth your time. Zelda fans will have already finished this game a hundred times, but you will definitely want to finish it for the 101st time on the 3DS. Non-Zelda fans – it’s probably not worth running out and buying a 3DS for this, but if you already have the system it’s a no-brainer, as it is easily the best piece of software available at the moment.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
Platform: Nintendo 3DS ($39.99); E10+
Developer: Nintendo, Grezzo
Release: June 16th, 2011 (Japan); June 17th (Europe); June 19th (US); June 30th (Australia)