Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (Nintendo, 2011)

How do you review a game that's not just a classic, but according to some people the greatest game of all time? What is there to say about it that hasn't been said before? I've mentioned The Legend of Zelda series several times in my reviews. It's had an obvious influence on games such as Beyond Good and Evil and the Darksiders series, and was payed deliberate tribute to in games such as Evoland, Ittle Dew, and 3D Dot Game Heroes.

The original The Legend of Zelda was actually the third game I ever played on the NES (Metroid was the first, Rygar was the second), and the new approach to gaming it offered through a unique combination of exploration, combat, and puzzle solving over a vast variety of settings is something that stuck with me. During the summer of 2011 I was playing through Ocarina of Time again and thinking how great it would be to see an updated version. It was only a couple months later that I saw the announcement from Nintendo that it was being revived for the 3DS. One wonderful xmas gift from my awesome wife later, and I was finally playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.

Before I get into the actual review, I just want to point out how ironic this name is. The meaning of the term 3D in the context of videogames has been constantly evolving. At first, any game with graphics (I'm leaving out text adventures for now) took place entirely on a two dimensional plane. At a certain point, games started calculating positions in three dimensions, even though the graphics were still displayed as 2D sprites, this gave us games such as Sonic 3D Blast. Eventually, we had primitive 3D worlds populated by 2D sprites in games such as Wolfenstein 3D and Duke Nukem 3D. Once games dropped the 2D sprites for polygon based models, they were referred to as 3D games, and sprite based games such as Sonic 3D Blast were the 2D games. Then, we got 3D displays, both at home with 3D TVs and on the go with the 3DS. So, now the polygon worlds are 2D games, and the games supporting 3D displays are the 3D games, even if they are 2D sprite based. It's also worth pointing out that none of these new games are actually presenting us with a 3D image, simply separate 2D images for each eye, creating an illusion of 3D, so at some point in the future the term is sure to change meanings once again. Anyway, on with the review!

As this is a remake, it makes sense to start by pointing out the differences between this game and its N64 predecessor. While several design elements were altered, the most noticeable differences are with the game's visuals. Back in 1998, Ocarina of Time was considered a nice looking game, but as the N64 was Nintendo's first attempt at a dedicated 3D console (not counting the handful of SNES Super FX Chip titles) the low poly models and pixelated textures look awfully primitive by today's standards. For this version, all of the character, item, and environment models have been replaced by much higher poly-count versions, and all new textures were included providing a more detailed world.

This alone would have convinced a lot of players to pluck down their cash on a remake, but Nintendo took things just a bit further and took advantage of this opportunity to fix a couple visual elements where they had to cheat things a bit to get around the N64s limitations. After the opening cinematics, the game finally begins in Link's tree hut home. Later, you venture into the bustling city of Hyrule Castle Town. If you were playing this in the 90s, you remember both of these areas being presented as grainy stretched images in a primitive version of what would later become the Google Street View style of environmental mapping. This time around these are full realtime rendered 3D modeled worlds that pop out of the 3DS display. The same is true for details such as the statues in Zelda's garden, which were previously 2D billboard style sprites due to the N64's polygon limitations.

With all of the visual upgrades, it's interesting to notice that the audio hasn't changed. If anything, this is a statement to the quality of the original music and sound effects, more than a lack of effort on the part of the developers. Music is a very important part of Ocarina of Time, not just to the experience, but also to the gameplay and even the storyline. As such, updating the music could easily have altered the feel of the game. Given the hardware differences between the N64 and 3DS, the amount of effort needed to keep the sound the same must have been monumental in itself.

In addition to the updated graphics, several design elements also got a touch up. The five notes of the titular ocarina mapped nicely to the N64 controller, but are more awkward on the 3DS, needing a combination of triggers and face buttons. The touch screen allows an alternate method of playing through your songs. The touch screen also comes in handy for switching items or swapping equipment. The 3DS's accelerometer works great for quickly looking around and aiming with the first person weapons such as the bow or slingshot. A hint system has been included that can play helpful videos when you get completely stuck. Yes, it's cheating, but it means you don't have to pull up that walkthrough on your smartphone. And speaking of being completely stuck...

If you ask almost anybody who's ever played through The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time what the most frustrating part of the whole game is, the response you'll hear most often is the Water Temple. The problem with this temple is that there are switches hidden throughout the structure that change the water levels, meaning areas that were previously dry are later under water. This much is already disorienting, but in the coarse of solving the Temple's puzzles the water level must be changed multiple times, and due to the limited texture memory of the system, all of the corridors tended to look the same, making these switches hard to find when you need them. This time around there are highlighted passageways with glowing color coded paths leading to each of these switches. Sure, it's still the most frustrating part of the game, but you'll be much less tempted to throw your 3DS out the window than you would have been.

So, we've pretty much got a nicer looking version of a game you've probably already played and a handful of design improvements, is that all? Well, no, it's not. Way back in 2002, if you pre-ordered a copy of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, it came with a bonus disk. This disk included a copy of Ocarina of Time that ran on the Gamecube at a higher frame rate and supported progressive scan. But, it also contained something called Master Quest. If you've ever played the first 8-but NES The Legend of Zelda, you might have noticed that after you defeat Ganon, the game starts over with harder enemies and new dungeons. The Master Quest was similarly an alternate Ocarina of Time. The main environment maps for each dungeon remained unchanged, but the all new puzzles had you navigating the rooms in a different order. It was a much harder game, and after mastering the original, it was a great challenge. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D contains a the entire Master Quest version, but with a twist, the entire world has been flipped left to right as with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess when it moved from the Gamecube to the Wii.

So, what if you've never played Ocarina of Time before? Well, in that case, much of this review probably doesn't mean all that much to you, so I'll simplify it for you. Go play it. Seriously, right now! It was an amazing game in 1998, and it's still an amazing game now. It set the standard for 3D adventures, and invented Z targeting which has become the norm for just about every third person action game since. It raised videogame storytelling to new levels and gave us unique and memorable characters. Is it perfect? No. But, even with the long winded owl and the constant "Hey, listen!" it's still a great game. Is it the greatest game ever made? That's a mater of opinion, and I'm not going to weigh in on that debate, but it is a game I highly recommend.

Bottom line, if you've played Ocarina of Time before, and want to experience it in a whole new way, play this game. If you've never played Ocarina of Time before, this is the best way to start. If you just plain don't like Ocarina of time, you probably still won't, so you might as well stay away. With the irony of so many of the better 3DS games being 2D or 2.5D games, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D provides the immersive 3D adventure this hardware begs for, and for that, it's worth having as part of your 3DS library.

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