Majora's Mask is an oddity in the Zelda series. Released way back in the year 2000 on the N64, it originally started its life under the name Zelda Gaiden, a game built on the same engine as the seminal adventure, Ocarina of Time, set to feature the same controls, character models and general artistic style as its predecessor, but have a brand new story. The challenge the designers set themselves here was to create something on a short development cycle, making it more of an artistic and technical experiment than a fully blown game.
What we ended up with was Majora's Mask, the first true sequel in the Zelda timeline, and a game that saw our intrepid hero Link explore the parallel universe of Termina, much like Alice tumbling into Wonderland. The story itself was unusually much more creepy and overall darker in tone than any other Zelda title, giving Link just 3 days to save a world from a falling moon threatening to destroy everything. Alongside this imminent destruction came equally unsettling themes such as death, loss, regret and loneliness. The game was very divisive, with some championing it as one of the best Zelda games ever, while others didn't warm to the unusual gameplay.
Something of a cult classic, now, some 15 years on, Nintendo have given in to a vocal fanbase, and chosen to remake the game on the 3DS, much in the same way as Ocarina of Time a few years ago. Bringing with it some nice new additions and much needed changes, this is a much more accessible Zelda experience for newcomers, and a great remake for old fans.
Following directly on from Ocarina of Time, the game begins with Link leaving the green plains of Hyrule in search of his fairy companion Navi. Instead, he finds Skull Kid, a mischievous imp now in possession of Majora's Mask, a dark and powerful artefact that corrupts the imp to the point of summoning the moon to destroy everything. With the moon on a collision course with the planet, Link has only 72 hours to stop this from happening. Handy, then, that he's kept hold of his trusty Ocarina of Time, which, as the name suggests, gives him some semblance of control over time itself, allowing him to reset time, and live through those 72 hours all over again. Just like Groundhog Day, but with more purple mist.
If you've played the original game, the first major difference you'll notice when playing Majora's Mask 3D is just how great it looks, having received the same graphical overhaul that Ocarina of Time 3D received. Areas are now bright and colourful, and characters no longer look as if they could accidentally cut you just by shaking your hand (polygonal joke right there). Nintendo and Grezzo have done a fantastic job at updating the blurry and muddy visuals of the original game just like they did with Ocarina of Time - although it still isn't exactly pushing the 3DS to its limits.
So, Majora's Mask is your classic 3D Legend of Zelda game with a few key differences. You still play as Young Link, exploring an open world with your trusty steed, Epona at your side; and there are traditional foes to fight, and puzzling dungeons to defeat - only in this game, there are only 4. That's right - as opposed to Ocarina's nine(ish), there are only 4 dungeons here - although they are pretty complex in comparison with prior titles, some taking up to the full 72 hours of in game time to complete.
The 72 hour/three day cycle is at the heart of the Majora's Mask experience. Each day lasts roughly around 20 minutes of real time, but thankfully can be extended to an hour with the Inverted Song of Time. Unlimited resets of the clock mean that you can explore the world of Termina as much as you like, but you'll have to manage your time accordingly to complete dungeons, side quests and create lasting changes in the game world that won't reset when you turn back the clock. This ticking clock and ability to lose progress adds an overall element of tension that's missing from other Zelda titles, and an emphasis on trial and error. If you get something wrong, you can always go back and put it right.
This trial and error element proves to be one of Majora's Masks greatest allies, as it encourages you to explore and interact with the many varied denizens of the world of Termina, many of whom have their own personal stories that can be uncovered via side missions. You'll find some of the most weird, creepy and most memorable parts of the game here, as you'll see the effect that the impending cataclysm has on everyone that happens to live below it. This discovery is part of what makes Majora's Mask such a memorable experience, with just the right amounts of weird creepiness and humour thrown in for good measure.
You won't just be running around empty handed, however, as you'll also uncover your general set Zelda items ported over from OoT. Favourites such as magic arrows and the hookshot make a welcome return, but you'll soon find that the crux of Majora's Mask revolves around masks (who knew?), 24 in fact. These mask have a myriad of uses ranging from finding hidden items to literally turning you into a walking bomb. Four main story related masks also give Link the unique ability to transform into variations of a Deku Scrub, Goron, Zora and a fourth optional transformation (that we won't spoil here).
Each transformation gives Link new abilities while in that form; Deku Scrub Link can glide across gaps, shoot bubbles and skip across water, Goron Link can ground pound and roll into a speedy ball of spikes, while Zora Link can navigate underwater and use his fins like boomerangs. And as you'd probably expect, combinations of transformations are used in many of the game's puzzles, making figuring out just what abilities to use in any given situation rewarding.
Of course, solving all of Majora's Mask's many puzzles and quests across just 72 hours can be quite intimidating for some players. Thankfully there have been a number of changes made to the game to make the experience far more accessible. One of the biggest changes is the Bomber's Notebook. What was originally just a way to track in-game events has been completely overhauled, becoming a comprehensive guide to every side quest in the game. Not only does it document just when and where special character events happen, but it also tracks your progress through these events, noting useful information, plus both failed and completed tasks. You can even set alarms to remind you when an imminent event is about to take place.
We were worried that this would make the optional side quests far too easy but we were wrong. The Bomber's Notebook is just vague enough to allow the player to find and uncover the many mysteries of Termina for themselves. Overall navigation for these quests has also been streamlined with an updated Song of Double Time (the fast forward feature that originally only allowed you to skip forward in 6 hour increments), which now allows you to choose the exact hour you want to jump forward to. Much more helpful when trying to complete a specific task.
Saving the game is also now handled differently. In the original game you were limited to either saving the game either when you reset the 3 day cycle (returning you to the dawn of the first day), or creating a one use save state at the owl statues scattered around Termina. Thankfully the remake is much more forgiving this time around allowing you to save the game at more locations, a perfect addition to a portable title.
Other changes include additional bottles, new item locations, updated boss battles (Gyorg has been completely overhauled for the better, adding new sequences entirely), the addition of new fishing holes and changes to the way some of the transformation abilities work, the most noticeable of which is the change to Zora Link's swimming ability. In the original game, the freedom and high speed of swimming as Zora Link was a high point of the game but wasn't exactly helpful when navigating tight corridors. To combat this, Zora Link's standard swimming speed has been vastly reduced, allowing you to navigate much more easily. You can still move at the old speed but unfortunately this now uses your magic meter. While the change is appreciated for the sake of navigation, the loss of speed and the slow down of travel is a little upsetting. Giving players the option to toggle the controls would have been appreciated.
We would have also liked to have seen better implementation of the touch screen for items. As it stands the touch screen is reserved for the map and four customisable item slots that you can assign to items or masks. Just like the N64 original you have to access the item and mask lists via separate screens that freeze gameplay, with the screen returning to showing the map when you've finished. The problem is that because of the ever changing need for items, you find yourself jumping to these screens every few minutes, which breaks the flow of gameplay somewhat. It's a minor niggle and does little to deduct from an otherwise stellar game.
Majora's Mask 3D is the perfect example of a great remake. It would have been easy to port the title as is to 3DS with updated graphics, but instead Nintendo have done a stellar job in adding in so many changes that makes Majora's Mask a far more accessible game than it was, and an overall much more enjoyable experience. For those of you who played the original there's never been a better reason to revisit the land of Termina. And if you ever were on the fence about playing Majora's Mask or couldn't for some reason (some of us only had a PlayStation!) then fix that right now. This remake is a must buy.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS