The onset of the 3D era in the mid-nineties was arguably the most exciting period in the progression of the video game industry. Gamers used to exploring worlds in two dimensions found themselves in unknown territory as they entered the third. The earliest 3D games look crude and are typically unwieldy to control today but at the time there had never been anything quite like moving a blocky, polygonal character around an open space. The boundaries had changed and video games as a medium seemed to have opened up and matured with limitless possibilities. All the same this was unexplored territory for developers and many early 3D titles suffered from a slew of control issues. The industry needed a standard-bearer to show the way by building a template for gameplay and design when creating games for 3D environments. That game arrived in the form of Super Mario 64.
With its analogue interface, intelligent camera controls and imaginative level design Super Mario 64 became the new benchmark against which all 3D games were measured, inspiring innumerable copycats. It was fitting that such an important game should have starred the portly plumber since it was Mario who revitalised the sliding industry with Super Mario Bros. on the NES. This transition from 2D to 3D that Mario made so effortlessly proved much trickier for some classic franchises however. Big names like Sonic and Castlevania encountered big problems when trying to make the jump leaving space for new players to occupy their market share. Most of Nintendo’s major franchises including Mario Kart and F-Zero made successful transitions but there was one property above all that was attracting the most attention with its first foray into the third dimension.
Since its unveiling in 1995 the next chapter in the Legend of Zelda saga was the focus of much anticipation among gamers everywhere, particularly series fans anxious to return to Hyrule after a very long wait since A Link to the Past and the Game Boy’s Link’s Awakening. That wait would have to continue – originally planned as a Nintendo 64 launch title the game saw numerous delays which only served to build the hype. Finally, missing its intended release date by more than two years the game entitled The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time was finally released and it surpassed all of the lofty expectations that were riding on it.
Ocarina of Time wowed gamers worldwide with its epic quest that excelled in every aspect of video game design. The story was sweeping and fantastical, filled with unforgettable characters and genuine twists. The graphics were the most detailed and realistic of any console game to date. The immersive sound design completely sold players the sense of being in a believable ambient world. The soundtrack remains one of the most beloved of all time at turns soaring, atmospheric, quirky and mysterious. The difficulty level was perfectly judged combining threatening enemies and huge bosses with fiendish and innovative puzzles in the brilliantly designed dungeons. Most importantly the gameplay was unparalleled, taking all of the conventions of classic Zelda and making them work in three dimensions, pioneering concepts that would become industry standards such as automatic jumping, horseback riding and the game’s crowning glory, Z-targeting. The game became the darling of critics and gamers alike and remains to this day the most critically acclaimed title ever made.
For me the reason Ocarina of Time stands out above everything else the industry has created is the fact that it was the first game that made me feel like I was going on a real adventure. The various elements combined to create the most immersive, beguiling experience I have ever had with a game. There is nothing like crossing the beautiful Hyrule Field with its infectious theme lifting your heart or stepping into its labyrinthine dungeons to lose yourself. Other games have drawn me in, inspiring me to spend hours on end in their fictitious worlds but Ocarina of Time did it first and did it best. It is my absolute favourite game and probably always will be.
Someday I’ll review Ocarina of Time properly but for now there’s the question of this remake. The title has seen numerous re-releases over the years including the remixed Master Quest which featured tougher enemies and reworked dungeons that offered a greater challenge than ever but by far the most significant reissue so far is this handheld edition. To call it a remake is not strictly correct as we’re essentially getting the same game again with better graphics, streamlined presentation and interface and stereoscopic 3D so a better way to describe it would be an enhanced port. All the same The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D is the most worthwhile and entertaining port you could possibly hope for.
Since half of this game’s target audience is those unlucky gamers who missed the original N64 release in 1998 it seems prudent to offer a refresher. The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time is an action based fantasy adventure set in the mysterious and beautiful open world of Hyrule and casts you as Link, a member of the child-like Kokiri living in Kokiri Forest, the only one of his kind not to have his own guardian fairy and beset by nightmares of a man in black. The guardian spirit of the forest, the Great Deku Tree sends Navi the fairy to summon Link and requests that he fight to break the curse placed on him by an evil man of the desert before sending him away from the forest in search of the princess living in Hyrule Castle who will help him fight against the antagonist.
So you set off on a sweeping adventure that combines exploration, combat and puzzle solving. Much of the world is open to you from the start allowing very free flowing progression as you take time out from the main quest to find secrets and complete side quests. As the story progresses and you traverse the numerous dungeons you build up an arsenal of weapons and items including series staples such as the bow, boomerang and hookshot as well as new creations like bombchus, deku nuts and magic beans. You also gain two ocarinas over the course of the story including the titular Ocarina of Time with which you can manually play various mysterious melodies that have magical effects from causing rainstorms to changing day and night. Enemies are everywhere and can be fought with one of several swords and shields you gather on your journey or by using your inventory weapons. Just as troublesome are the puzzles which are frequent and imaginative especially in the dungeons and make imaginative use of your many items throughout.
The game world and everything you do in it has aged well, no doubt about it. Everything has its place, every side quest makes sense yet the game challenges you to go out of your way in pursuit of them, the level design remains highly engaging, the dungeons powerfully atmospheric mazes that make you feel like you’re in an antagonistic fortress, a lion’s den at all times. The characters are still loveable, quirky and well-placed, at once driving the narrative and encouraging you to take time to get to know them. Hyrule is still a huge, flawlessly designed world, convincingly full of life, a joy to explore always seeming to contain more to discover. The plot is still full of mystery and little touching moments full of heart, hinting at a deeper mythology than the game ever explicitly reveals. It’s a fantasy world that will hold you in raptures without ever feeling too detached, it’s a friendly, inviting place even when it’s full of monsters.
Of course these are all of the things that remain unchanged and timeless about the original title so let’s look at what’s new. The graphics have received a sharp upgrade, objects are detailed and smooth, textures full of colour and depth, the lighting subtler than before and many environments have received a revitalising facelift. Character models have benefited a great deal from the technical facelift and now resemble the game’s original character art more than ever, NPCs such as Saria, Kaepora Gaebora the owl and Princess Zelda herself look like how the original development team would have wanted to make them look had they had more advanced tech. The interiors of buildings and shops in particular are much improved, convincingly filled with foreground objects and papers attached to walls lending the places deeper variety and life. Everything everywhere looks better than ever before and somehow GREZZO, the dev trusted with the project have managed to maintain the unique sense of immersion despite translating the world to a handheld screen. It’s a gorgeous game.
It’s this aesthetic enhancement that has always been the most tantalising prospect of the 3DS edition of the game. The greatest joy to be had whilst playing for a long time fan is rediscovering old areas of the world and seeing how they’ve been improved. It’s a simple, satisfying pleasure to see the sun hanging low over Kakariko Village, the improved detail and clarity of the market or the sheer immensity of the Desert Colossus all polished up and presented in such gorgeous pastels. GREZZO have done an admirable job of updating the visuals without losing the soul of the game’s style. This is definitely Ocarina of Time and it has, perhaps obviously, never looked better.
Then there’s the interface which is clearly different and mostly improved. The bottom touch screen is used brilliantly displaying most of the important information such as life and magic meters, freeing the upper screen of clutter and also features a permanent map. You can easily access the various subscreens by touching the appropriate tabs on the touch screen. Assigning items to buttons can be done either with the cursor and D-Pad or Circle Pad or by touch and is a smoother experience than before. The button configuration has been improved but still feels very familiar. Z-targeting is now L-targeting and the R trigger still brings up the shield, B and A swing your sword and perform context sensitive actions respectively just as before. X and Y are used for items that can be assigned to them and there are a further two hotspot buttons on the touch screen for two more items. The Ocarina has its own permanent hotspot and can played using three of the face buttons and both shoulder buttons or on the touch screen. The iron and hover boots are now assignable items allowing for quick use at the touch of a button, a design choice made with Water Temple in mind and yes, it does make exploring that dungeons watery depths a lot less hassle not to have to pause the game every time you want to put on or take off the iron boots.
Every action controls just as well as ever and remains intuitive throughout and it feels like you’re playing the same perfectly balanced game. A new addition is the use of the gyro sensor for first person aiming which involves you moving the system around to point at your target and is actually very accurate but makes maintaining the 3D sweet spot tricky. Which leads me neatly to the stereoscopic 3D and I can happily say that I was right in assuming that Super Street Fighter IV – 3D Edition was not the best game to judge the feature against. Playing with the 3D slider at max adds huge depth to the world and adds an extra layer of immersion despite the slight frame rate drop. Seeing the fireflies of Kokiri Forest floating around in open space is great and the effect makes Hyrule Field seem more real and huge than ever. It’s really worth playing through the game with the 3D permanently on. Gameplay-wise it adds very little but it does make the best use of the pop-out effect I’ve seen on the system so far namely when Link gains a new item and holds it up – it really looks like the item is floating just outside the screen.
The game also introduces a hint system that seems to be in vogue in Nintendo games these days. If you get stuck you can access innumerable hint movies from the Sheikah Stones in Kokiri Forest and the Temple of Time. These movies point you in the right direction without explicitly showing you how to solve a puzzle and can be a useful reminder if you’ve got stuck into a side quest and forgotten what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Knowing the game as well as I do I didn’t need to make use of them more than to just see what the little movies are like and many gamers will choose to ignore them in favour of striving for the satisfaction of solving a problem without help but it’s the kind of feature younger, less experienced or less able players will no doubt appreciate.
Everything about the game has recent a new coat of paint to make it fresh again but the sound has probably received the least attention. I had hoped for a full orchestral remix of the entire soundtrack but the same arrangements as before remain although they’ve been cleaned up and sound better than ever. It’s a slightly disappointing oversight but it’s a mark of the brilliance of the soundtrack that it still sounds superb and is a joy to listen to. As far as additional features go, there’s no Streetpass or online support but there is a new boss rush mode that lets you tackle the game’s end of dungeon behemoths in succession and work towards improved times but more important is the inclusion of the remixed Master Quest with its altered dungeons and greater challenge although some may be disappointed to find that it’s not available until you’ve completed the game once. Still, this is an absolutely packed game full of content. If you know Hyrule like I do you can get through the main quest in under twenty hours but newbies will take a lot longer and whatever your completion time is it will increase significantly if you try to hunt down all of the heart pieces and Gold Skulltulas and that’s before we even consider Master Quest. Plus it’s just such a wonderful game that many will want to experience the whole thing again and again.
Playing Ocarina of Time the first time around all those years ago is the best experience I’ve ever had with a game. No matter how good a re-release is it can never recreate the joy of that first time but Ocarina of Time 3D is nonetheless an absolutely mesmerising experience for a gamer who has seen everything Hyrule has to offer. It is probably newcomers who will get the most out of the game though but since the flesh of the game is thirteen years old it still cannot have the same impact as it did in 1998. But this is Ocarina of Time after all and the quality speaks for itself. There is nothing better to play on the 3DS and probably never will be. As it was with the GBA and DS the best thing to play on Nintendo’s latest console is a game designed for home console but that’s no reason why you should ignore it. If you are in any doubt just remember that this game is still considered by so many the best ever made and in an industry that advances as quickly as this that’s not a fact you should take lightly. The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D is a phenomenal title that really invigorates the N64 original and reminds us all why we play video games and shines a light for escapist entertainment, fantasy storytelling and interactivity like so few can.
Returning to Hyrule in 3D with improved graphics was always going to be a massive treat but GREZZO have made it utterly fantastic with every design decision they have made. If you have any love of the series, action games or video games generally and especially if you’ve never played the game before, take the journey and allow yourself to be transported. Simply magical.