If you're around my age range, your earliest console experience was between an Atari 2600 and a Super Nintendo, and chances are good that you've played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. If you didn't get into gaming until the PS1 or even PS2 era, there's still a good chance you've checked out the Zelda title that many gamers consider to be the best of the series. The game has been ported and included in collections a few times, from the original N64 release to two different GameCube ports (one that included only Master Quest, the other including the NES Zelda games and Majora's Mask), and finally the Wii Virtual Console release in 2007. With the release of yet another port of this prestigious title, is there a reason to pick up the game again?
Yes, there is.
I've always loved the Zelda titles, which I'll freely admit before we get into the review. I have fond memories of summer days and nights spent at my grandmother's; I had picked up the original Legend of Zelda on NES and did a complete run-through, hand-drawn maps on grid paper and all. From there, I picked up every Zelda release as soon as possible until I hit my late teens, which was when Ocarina of Time released. I purchased it, but at the time, my primary interest wasn't in games, so while I played some of it, I never actually finished the game. Years later, my interest in gaming was reignited, and I finally polished off both N64 entries and enjoyed them. I haven't touched Ocarina of Time since the Virtual Console release, so this review is from the perspective of someone who hasn't played this particular Zelda game in about four years.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D has seen a significant graphical upgrade for this release. Gone are the pre-rendered backgrounds that populated various areas of Hyrule; they were impressive on the N64 and were used to great effect in other popular games (Final Fantasy VII comes to mind), but for current resolution specs, the pre-rendered backgrounds are a bit of an eyesore. They've been re-built in 3-D, which may not have been a great undertaking, but it's a welcome sight. Other bonuses to the presentation side come from a consistent and slightly increased frame rate. The original game had plenty of moments that involved Link slowing down to 15 frames per second or worse, and that has been excised from this release. This version maintains a smooth 30 frames per second throughout, and having completed the main quest and sampled the Master Quest content, I can't remember a single hiccup.
Along with that, the textures and overall look of the game have been upgraded. The best examples of the horsepower on the 3DS are in the dungeons and interior shots of homes and shops. Everything looks far cleaner than it ever did on the N64, and Ocarina of Time has certainly never looked better outside of PC emulators. Another change comes from the colors, which are brighter and more vibrant than the original N64 version. Some fans might decry that this kills some of the atmosphere of the original title by brightening everything, but it looks like a vast improvement to me — especially if you compare the game side by side with its older console brother, which I did at different points by booting up the Virtual Console release. The change is immediately noticeable from the title screen, and it's even more noticeable once you hit Castle Town early in the adventure. A lot of the shop fronts in Castle Town have been spruced up significantly with color and additional design to help the player differentiate between which shops offer potions, regular items, masks, etc. It's certainly a big improvement over the original.
Another big addition is the use of the touch-screen on the 3DS, which now contains almost all of the HUD (head's up display) information to take away from the cluttered view of the original game. Your inventory system is also easy to navigate by touch-screen; I simply tapped through items with my thumbs when I needed to equip something specific, and the process is far quicker than navigating menus with the analog stick. This change becomes pretty significant in a few situations, most notably when you need to equip and unequip iron boots in the Water Temple, which players have complained about for years. It's a change that most have expected, since plenty of other titles have incorporated either the DS or 3DS touch-screen for item management, but the improvement on the gameplay of Ocarina of Time can't be understated.
There are two other system-specific additions: the glasses-free 3-D effect and motion-controlled aiming. The 3-D effect is used well here, but I found it tended to be more impressive during the small cut scene moments. One of the earliest scenes details the creation of Hyrule and really makes good use of the 3-D. My only complaint is that it makes the game lose a little of its luster; you'll notice more jagged edges on the character models while the 3-D is present, while everything tends to look smoother with the 3-D slider turned down.
The motion-controlled aiming is surprisingly competent, and although it wasn't something that I thought I'd really use, I found myself constantly doing so instead of aiming with the slide pad. You have the option to turn off the feature if you want, but aiming is far quicker with the motion control function. Essentially, when aiming either your bow or slingshot weapon or entering first-person mode, you can move the 3DS in your hands to mimic that movement on the screen. If you want to look up to find a hidden gold skulltula, simply point your 3DS upward to get a good view. By comparison, aiming with the slide pad on the 3DS is slower, and unless the angle is extreme, I preferred aiming with the motion controls.
Aside from the graphical upgrades and control changes, there aren't a whole lot of significant additions to Ocarina of Time. The game includes the Master Quest feature, which is a tougher mode of the original quest, but the entire game world is also mirrored. I was disappointed that this needed to be unlocked, though, since so many people have played the original quest before. Unlocking Master Quest from the outset would've given those players something interesting to do if they already know the original quest like the back of their hand.
Another addition is a mode that allows you to go back and tackle the bosses you've encountered, and that can be done by revisiting Link's house at the Kokiri Forest. You can fight any boss you've already encountered, and if you end up beating every boss in this mode, you also unlock a Boss Rush mode. This can be unlocked for both the original quest and Master Quest, and it provides players with a new challenge that allows Link to refill items or health through a single treasure chest drop at the end of each fight. Depending on your familiarity with the bosses, it can definitely provide a nice challenge.
The last addition is similar to the Super Guide function from New Super Mario Bros. on the Wii. At different locations, you'll encounter Sheikah Stones, which resemble the Gossip Stones but have a small entryway that you can access to view visions. These visions are essentially short help videos to clue you in about your next destination on the adventure and how to get there. The visions provide information related to the main quest, optional quests and heart pieces. If you've never been able to find everything in the game, you'll get enough help to do so by using the visions. They don't completely hold your hand, but they do give you enough clues that you can piece together the information.
Most of this content will be of interest to players who have already been through this adventure a time or two. For those who are interested in this as a first-time experience, rest assured that it holds up incredibly well for a game developed over a decade ago. Most of the modern Zelda titles still incorporate many of the designs that were introduced in this title and for good reason. The game is also chock-full of content, additional side-quests and items that can be missed but add a lot of value if you're looking for a game with replay value and length. While this version of Hyrule might not have as much going for it as Twilight Princess, I think you'll still be surprised by how much there is to do.
Another aspect I've always enjoyed is that the tale is simple and direct; if you're feeling bogged down by current role-playing games and adventure titles that feature heavy dialogue that doesn't really go anywhere or tell you anything, you'll enjoy the overall simplicity of this game. I'm not championing lazy writing or vagueness, but Ocarina of Time really excels at giving you a few lines of detail and then showing the player everything he needs to know, instead of repeatedly explaining everything you've just watched.
Without a doubt, I think that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is worth picking up for 3DS owners. While I've enjoyed a couple of other 3DS titles since the system's release, Ocarina of Time is the first game on the system that makes it feel like a must-have device. It does a great job of incorporating the system's unique features and provides enough of an upgrade to graphics and gameplay to make it worth checking out even if you've played this game in the past. Even though the original was released 13 years ago, this excellent port is certainly one of highlights of 2011 and does great justice to a beloved game.
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