I've heard any number of arguments over the years that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the best game in Nintendo's long-running Zelda series, but I've never really bought into them. I've always been more taken with Link to the Past and Link's Awakening, both of which have held up markedly better than their N64 counterpart. Having played the updated remake of Ocarina of Time on the 3DS though, I may have to rethink that position.
I'll admit, the facelift has a lot to do with it. I thought that the original looked muddy to begin with, and recent advances in audio-visual technology have done little to help its cause. Admittedly, they didn't torpedo the entire game, but they did exacerbate the fact that the story doesn't really get moving until Link is an adult.
Ocarina of Time 3D fixes those issues with higher-resolution textures and a few other effects; and while they don't quite bring it to the level of Twilight Princess (or even Wind Waker), they sure do look nice. Castle Town, for instance, is no longer just a blurry mass of colour, but an actual city with recognizable storefront. It also helps that Ocarina really nails the 3D effect, giving them a pop that would otherwise be lacking.
One side effect of this makeover is that it becomes easier to appreciate just how huge Hyrule really is. Standing there on the overworld map, I can scarcely believe that Nintendo managed to cram so much into one N64 cartridge way back in 1998. And unlike, say, Wind Waker, it doesn't skimp on the dungeons either. Areas like the Forest Temple and the Water Temple are multi-layered masterpieces of design that make great use of the once-novel z-axis; and apart from a few isolated examples (the Yeti dungeon in Twilight Princess, for example), I don't think they have been matched by any Zelda that has been released since.
As beautiful and elaborate as Ocarina of Time is though, it does run into one road block: it's a bit large for a portable experience. Some of Ocarina's areas are just huge, making them rather difficult to complete in a single bus ride. That wouldn't be a problem, but Nintendo has seen fit to maintain the save system that deposits you back at your house if you're anywhere but a dungeon, which can make for some very irritating backtracking. And given the 3DS' issues with battery life, I'm not quite comfortable with having it hibernate.
That aside though, it's clear that Nintendo has put some thought into how Ocarina of Time should play on a portable system. Pretty much everything is available on the touchscreen now, which thankfully minimizes the time spent digging around the inventory (though the large number of items does quickly outnumber the available buttons on the 3DS). In particular, I liked the fact that it's now possible to play Ocarina songs with the aid of the touchscreen; the visual representation of the notes combined with the easy availability of the sheet music makes it that much easier to remember the sometimes elaborate songs.
In addition to the somewhat revamped controls, the remake also sports a few bonuses, including the much more difficult Master Quest. While it's a nice addition though, you'll have to beat the game at least once to access it, which is a strange decision on Nintendo's part. That won't stop the true Ocarina diehards, but one playthrough is enough for me. I'd rather that the Master Quest were available from the start.
Of the other extras, I had little use for the new "hint videos," but I'm sure they'll be swell for younger players who are stumped by some of Ocarina's tougher puzzles (at least until they discover how easy it is to Google a solution). I was similarly disinterested in the boss rush, but that's once again down to personal taste. I'm sure speedrun communities and other groups will be able to devise all sorts of challenges for the boss rush.
Mostly, I was just pleased to be able to revisit what is really the Nintendo 64's magnum opus. The chance I had to beat Ocarina of Time was in 2004, when I was a college student with nothing better to do than work and play videogames. The years dulled my memory of the gigantic world, the huge number of secrets and collectibles, and the elaborate dungeons.
In short, it's given me a new perspective on a classic that I had (foolishly) written off. It's not quite enough to sell me on owning a Nintendo 3DS; but if you've already taken the plunge, Ocarina of Time 3D is pretty much the best 3DS game on the market right now. I can't promise that it'll give you a new perspective on the series as it did for me, but I can promise that it's still one fine adventure.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D: Specs
- Age rating: 12
- Age rating: 12
The remake of the N64 classic offers a huge world with elaborate dungeons, while high-resolution textures improve the graphics quite a bit. However the save system remains archaic and Master Quest isn't available from the start.