So, The Greatest Game of All Time gets another makeover, this time in portable form, with Link's adventures remastered in glasses-free stereoscopic 3D. It's fitting that the game which propelled the series into polygonal 3D now finds a new home on the 3DS some thirteen years later. But, of course, remakes are tricky things. Change too much and you run the risk of negatively affecting what made the original great in the first place. Change too little, however, and there's little point in buying the thing.
It's been a while since 1998, that's for certain, but this is certainly not the first time the N64 classic has been redone and updated for a new generation. There was the Master Quest bundle, of course, that came with Wind Waker, not to mention The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition for the Gamecube, which saw it accompanied by the likes of the criminally underrated Majora's Mask as well as emulations of The Legend of Zelda and The Adventures of Link. It's available today on the Wii's Virtual Console for a tenner, which rather begs the question as to why you'd want to pay over three times that for a game that's thirteen years old, especially if you already own it on a playable platform or have played it to death before.
For those of you you don't and haven't, Ocarina of Time follows the story of a young elfin lad who lives in the forest, beset by nightmarish dreams of a man clad in black armour, a young girl he's never met in his life before and lots and lots of thunder and lightning and fire. He's a bit of an outsider - the only one in the village not to have a fairy, for which he is mocked - and only really had one proper friend, named Saria. Anyway, one day the forest's protector - a giant, moustachioed talking tree - summons the boy, sending a fairy called Navi to help him on his way. Upon meeting with the tree, the boy learns that his dreams are in fact visions, that the armour-clad man is terribly real, pretty evil and hopes to get his hands on an ultimate power called the Triforce. Basically, it's up to you to stop him.
It's a classic questing tale, replete with memorable characters, eccentric dialogue and tonnes of adventure. There are huge open areas to explore, dungeons to root around in, items to find, massive bosses to fight - from chucking bombs down a hungry dinosaur's gullet to fighting off giant arachnids and spiritual bongo-bongo players, from mountains to towns to desert wastelands to the bottom of lakes. This is what you might call epic, although with a steady learning curve that never patronises, but sucks you in from the word go - welcoming gamers of all ages.
Of course, that was thirteen years ago. How do things stack up now?
The good news is that pretty much everything you would have loved back in 1998, you'll love now. It's obvious that this isn't a modern game, at least not in terms of design. But it's also striking to see just how enjoyable everything still is. The dungeon design is still some of the best seen to this date, the charm of Hyrule and its inhabitants hasn't dimmed or wavered at all over the years. Miyamoto's vision for this game is as delightful as it ever was and we laughed even harder watching Darunia strut his stuff in 3D. I'm genuinely not sure who's luckier: the people getting to play this game for the first time, or those of us having some of our finest gaming memories tickled once again. One new addition worthy of note, though: for newcomers (or old-timers with poor recollections) in case things get a bit overwhelming, you'll find 'Sheika Stones' scattered about Hyrule that you can crawl into for a handful of clips that'll offer hints on where to go next or how do overcome a particular bit. They try not to spoil puzzles completely, but are a nice, completely optional feature if the need arises.
It also looks far better than it ever has. Even on the Gamecube, Ocarina of Time was beginning to show its age, but the remastering process has proved far better than I personally had anticipated. Everything seems brighter, more vivid - crisp, even. The 3D effects are striking too, as soon as you start, you can see the difference. Kokiri Forest's twinkling fairy dust now sparkles in three dimensions, the interiors of the shops in Castle Town are far more detailed than before, even the ground itself sports more foliage than before. I found myself hacking at a long sprout for half a minute before realising that it was in fact new texture detail rather than an interactive shrub I could ruin for rupees. Enemies have benefited too, with rich models like the Stalfos, or bosses such as Queen Gohma and Ganondorf himself, now sporting far more detail than before, not to mention hands with individual fingers in the case of the latter.
The new re-release also takes advantage of the 3DS' other features as well. The gyroscope, for example can be used now to finely aim items like the slingshot, bow and hookshot. Physically manipulating the machine as you would in FaceRaiders feels natural and works really very well indeed, adding a sense of immersion to the gameplay...until you try it in 3D, that is and the picture warps as soon as you exit the optimum viewing angle. It's fine if you've got space, but a bit of a mission when you're on a train packed full of suits. Trust me. In 2D, however, it's extremely well-worked and responsive and you'll very rarely touch the stick as it's so intuitive to simply aim through motion.
The touchscreen now serves as an inventory hub, allowing you to equip items with speed and minimal fuss - so very useful when it comes to the Iron Boots in the Water Temple - and flick through maps with ease. It provides a gloriously streamlined experience in that respect and means you're never really breaking up play for very long at all.
So far so good, then; but the game is not perfect. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is as old as a spotty teenager and, much like someone beginning to go through adolescence, it's return on the 3DS proves to be a little wayward, occasionally petulant (the camera, anyway) and comes with indications of growing pains. The camera is really very annoying indeed. I never found the original's 3D camera - enjoyed without the benefit of a second stick for manipulation back in the day - particularly clunky. But here, on the 3DS, I found myself swearing at the imprecise nature of the lock-on system and bemoaning the unresponsive camera a number of times. These aesthetics may well get you killed.
While we're on the subject of control systems, I had some bugbears with the act of manoeuvring Link around, particularly when it came to engaging in combat with multiple enemies. Ocarina of Time is a game that, by nature, is difficult to play in small bursts and the squished, confined gamepad that the 3DS' shape provides is hardly ergonomic, in fact it's downright uncomfortable, especially if you have large hands. I realise that this is a limitation of the console rather than the game itself, but if there was ever an advertisement for a 3DS XL, then this is it. I rage quite the game a number of times - something I never did before - purely out of frustration at the console's angles ruining a near-flawless gaming experience. Thankfully, though, the console's stand-by mode means there's never the frustration of quitting out of a dungeon and having to trek back to the point where you were all of the way from the start of the level.
There are a few other negatives too: although the game's interior design has been ramped up a lot in some places, there are vast spaces that seem woefully underpopulated and/or sparse. It's not so noticeable on a portable platform, because quite frankly we've come to expect certain concessions when it comes to this sort of thing, but the machine is capable of it. The touchscreen implementation is good, but again shows up the shortcomings of the console. The I and II touch pads are no real replacement for tactile physical inputs and the C-buttons (or stick if you played it on the Gamecube) are sorely missed.
We need to talk about price as well. £35 is a lot to ask for a thirteen year old game, even one as good as this. Admittedly, there's an enormous amount of content to be had here and finishing the game once unlocks the mirror-image Master Quest which doubles the difficulty and rearranges some of the puzzles, although it would have been nice had that been unlocked from the start for veterans to be honest. But considering you can relive the adventure for a fraction of the price on your home console, is it worth it? The answer really depends on your predilection for portable gaming. I wasn't sent a review copy by Nintendo, I bought this game because I know I'll get the mileage out of it...and also because I absolutely have to justify my purchase of a 3DS somehow. But even I have my doubts.
If you just want to experience the adventure, if you're a newcomer to the series and are looking to see what the fuss is all about, I'd urge you to see if you can snaffle up a Gamecube version for under £10 on the market, or bite the bullet and pay 1000 points for it on the Virtual Console and play it as a retro delight. If you have a 3DS, though, this really is something of a must-buy. I can't for the life of me think why Nintendo didn't have this down as a launch day title, but just be thankful it's here now. It's whimsical and wonderful, entertaining and epic and although parts of it belie its age, it still has the power to charm, dazzle and utterly spellbind a player. There are arguments to be made that perhaps Grezzo could have pushed the boat out a little further, and the 3DS' design limitations may well frustrate some players (Hint: Change the lock-on system to trigger rather than hold!), but thirteen years on it's still one of the best games of all time...and now it's in the palm of your hand.
- It's Ocarina of Time...in the palm of your hand!
- Motion-control aiming is brilliant
- Touchscreen inventory system is very welcome indeed
- Some camera issues
- The bells and whistles probably not worth that extra £25
- I wish I was playing it on the Wii U
The Short Version: As a 3DS game, it's utterly essential and really should have been a launch title. It's a fourteen year old killer app that'll serve up a feast of wonderment and whimsy, a magnificent masterpiece that has aged gracefully and looks better than it ever has before with some well worked portable considerations too. As an introduction to the phenomena that is Ocarina of Time, though, knock a point off and head for the Virtual Console.