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• The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D

developed by Grezzo & Nintendo, published by Nintendo
1 player / Nintendo 3DS / 2011.6.19

It would have been easy for Nintendo to create a 64-bit Zelda game in the same style as those that had preceded it (that’s what most of its competitors were doing at the time, see Alundra or Legend of Oasis). Or it could have recreated that style in 3D polygons, ala A Link Between Worlds. Of course, that wouldn’t have been anywhere near as worthwhile as the game we got. Ocarina of Time became an instant hit when it made the jump from 2D to 3D perfectly, a dangerous leap that killed many other classic franchises. After more than a decade, Nintendo released a fully updated version of this masterpiece for a whole new generation of players on its 3DS handheld.

What’s New?

The new graphics are the big improvement, but there’s more. Thanks to the 3DS’s touchscreen, players can now equip four items at once instead of the usual three. Two are accessible via the X and Y buttons, while the other two can be activated by tapping the touchscreen with your thumb. It’s a bit of a reach, but it works well for keeping items on hand that you use only infrequently. And the titular ocarina no longer takes up an item slot, with its own dedicated button on the touch screen for easy access.

Another tweak affects the ocarina’s songbook. In the original it was there to refresh your memory, but was only visible in the pause menu. Now it can be shown onscreen while you’re playing the ocarina, so you never have to memorize anything, which means less time wasted screwing up songs. Maps are also displayed on the bottom screen, allowing you to find your bearings at a glance.

An item that helps you locate secrets through the rumble pak’s vibration has been changed to an audio-visual cue, which works well. And you can now aim in first person using the 3DS’s gyro sensor, which may be faster and more precise for some players.

Legendary Challenge

Ocarina of Time’s multi-tiered Water Temple is notorious for being one of the series’ trickiest dungeons. What makes it so hard, you might ask? You can only reach certain floors by draining or flooding the dungeon with water. On top of that you had to frequently pause the game, then select the equipment screen just to put on or take off your weighted iron boots to sink to the bottom, which quickly becomes tiresome.

It’s still the same dungeon, but now the set-up is much clearer. Besides moving the boots from your gear screen into items (you can equip and unequip the iron boots at the push of a button), color-coded glowing lines have been added to the dungeon’s walls, which lead you to the three locations where you can change the water level. They even added helpful icons showing you whether that spot will drain, fill half way, or flood the dungeon completely (though these are somewhat redundant given they correspond to each floor). It’s a really smart way to update this part of the game without changing it too much.

As far as difficulty or replayability is concerned, this version of the game also features the Master Quest, which is a more challenging rearranged version of the game. Originally slated to be released on the ill-fated N64DD (disk drive) peripheral, when sales of that device faltered the project was shelved, but later released as part of a bonus disc for the Gamecube. Unfortunately those of us who have memorized Ocarina of Time must still complete it again before we can access the Master Quest in this version.

Presentation

Most “HD remasters” are typically just a quick cash-in at a higher resolution, with slightly better textures if you’re lucky. Not so in this case: every character model in the game, and all the texture maps have been redone respectfully. And, perhaps most importantly of all, it runs at a higher frame rate than the original’s 24 frames per second – and all in stereoscopic 3D. That’s not to say the graphics are actually high-definition, given the 3DS specs, but it’s almost like you’re seeing how the original game might have looked if the Nintendo 64 was a disc-based system instead of running cartridges with limited texture memory.

There are some standout additions, like the flashy new interiors of houses and shops, and enhanced architectural detailing all over the place, which add much more character to the settings. But it misses the boat on Hyrule Field, which would have gone a long way to making repeated trips more interesting. That may not have been possible, since there is still some noticeable pop-in of secondary props on the horizon, and the frame rate still chugs when you charge up Link’s patented spin slash. Some have complained that the new visuals are too bright and colorful, and there is some truth to that, but I didn’t take issue with it.

In the audio department the game remains mostly true to the original. The music has been redone from scratch at a higher quality, but done in a way that replicates the sound of the N64 version. It’s not a dramatic difference, but the work that went into it is appreciated. Likewise there is still no voice over work for the dialogue, and the sound effects remain unchanged. The end credits, however, are given a nice new orchestral arrangement.

Time Can Be A Harsh Mistress

Ocarina of Time has aged well (certainly far, far better than its 3D contemporaries on the PlayStation and Saturn) but there are a few small annoyances which could have been fixed with this release. My main gripe is how slowly Young Link moves, which makes traversing the empty Hyrule Field more of a chore than it ought to be, especially when you’re doing side-quests later in the game. Had they embued the Bunny Hood with the sprinting ability it has in Majora’s Mask, for example, that would go a long way to solving this problem without dramatically changing the game.

Another issue is the collision detection on Epona, the horse, which sometimes causes her to get caught and stop when traversing steep hills or gates. And finally – this is a really minor gripe – whenever you unlock a door from a distance, Link turns to face it. The problem is he just rapidly spins in place, sometimes spinning around more than once, the effect of which looks totally unnatural, and I have to imagine that this could have been fixed by just eliminating it altogether.

Final Thoughts

Ocarina of Time’s graphics might have aged poorly, but the gameplay fundamentals have not. The open feel of its world and its targeting system, which allows the player to effortlessly focus on a target while dodging and strafing, have barely aged at all. Popular modern examples like Dark Souls still utilize essentially the same system. After having recently completed Breath of the Wild, I still feel that Ocarina of Time is the most well-rounded 3D Zelda experience from start to finish, with one of the best final boss battles in the series.

All this is to say that Ocarina of Time 3D is certainly worth returning to on the 3DS, just don’t expect it to feel any different than the way you remember it. The enhanced visuals and tweaks airbrush away some of its wrinkles, but in all likelihood, so has your own memory!  At the end of the day this is still the same great game you remember, running on what is essentially its original engine.

PROs:

+ Still plays exactly how you remember it
+ Respectfully updates character models & textures
+ Better frame rate for smoother visuals
+ Small tweaks streamline formerly tedious things (eg. Water Temple)

CONs:

– Backtracking as Young Link is painfully slow
– Environments would benefit from more detail (eg Hyrule Field)
– Lacks common 3DS shaders and lighting effects
– Master Quest locked until main quest completed

Official website
Iwata Asks: Ocarina of Time 3D
Official website (Nintendo)