Saturday, January 21, 2012

3DS review: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

Ocarina of Time 3D is, by and large, everything you would expect of a good remake of a classic game. The story and mechanics are largely retained, though the latter opens up some new possibilities through use of the gyroscopic camera and touch screen. There's no denying that Hyrule looks infinitely better than it did thirteen years ago - not just because it's in 3D, but also because of the updated graphics. But the Legend of Zelda series have traditionally been split between two modes of play - free roaming, third-person perspective platform releases and the top-down dungeon-crawlers that graced the handhelds. Ocarina of Time 3D turns that concept on its head, but longtime fans of the N64 classic should know they are getting what is largely the same game.

The graphics are pretty darn impressive. I can recall when the original DS launched and I was blown away that the graphics and character models could rival those found on the N64. Ocarina of Time 3D raises the bar another notch, walking a fine line between Dreamcast-quality and early Playstation 2-quality visuals. Not only have environments been spruced up with additional posters and lighting fixtures to make them more atmospheric, some of the character models have noticeably smoother animations. Instead of a robotic walk, Mido actually looks like he's frustrated when he stomps away to let Link go speak with the Deku Tree. The only real shortcomings are in some of the textures. They aren't featured too prominently, but if players look around long enough, they will notice some wall designs or environmental pieces that just don't stack up with the rest of the game's visual prowess.

On the other side of the aesthetics lies the audio. The sound effects and soundtrack are basically the exact same as they were in 1998, though they have been cleaned up for the remake. It's a tricky scenario; on the one hand, Nintendo could have reorchestrated the soundtrack to make this reimagining of Ocarina of Time even more gorgeous. But in so doing, they run the risk of backlash from those who might feel they changed some of the classic tunes too greatly. Frankly, I don't think I would have contemplated this point so much if they hadn't included the fully orchestrated tune during the secondary end credits sequence.

The control scheme takes a little while to get used to, even for those intimately familiar with the original N64 version. It's something that just comes with the territory in porting a console release to a handheld. The 3DS control stick allows for some slightly more accurate responses from Link in his movements and attacks. Despite the lack of C-buttons, the Ocarina still plays similarly via the X,Y,A,L, and R buttons. Aiming the bow or slingshot by moving the 3DS around is neat and all, but using the joystick to aim simply proves more convenient. The one odd factor, though, is how players assign items to the four buttons. The hover boots and iron boots have been moved from the 'gear' tab to the 'items' tab, which means no more pausing the game to swap these out. While the X and Y buttons prove just as natural feeling as assigning items to the C-buttons back in the day, the other two slots are on the touch screen. It's nice to be able to have four items plus the Ocarina readily available at any given time, but it feels rather awkward accessing these in a game that is otherwise not concerned with touch controls.

There are two great new additions with the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time. The first is the ability to run back to Link's house in the Kokiri Forest and sleep in order to revisit boss fights Link has previously triumphed over. It's a feature that more games in the series should adopt, given how much fans tend to love Zelda boss fights. The second is Master Quest, a more challenging version of the game. Master Quest only ever saw release on the Gamecube, and is rather difficult to track down on its own. While Nintendo should be commended for including this as a bonus, it's a bit annoying that Master Quest cannot be accessed until after the game has been completed once through normally. Certainly, there are more than a few longtime fans of the game that wanted to see it in 3D and subsequently could have handled the extra level of challenge from the outset.

All in all, it's a solid remake of what is arguably one of the greatest video games of all time. It has its share of ups and downs, trying to branch out and experiment with the technology of the handheld in some places, but also playing it safe in others. It's not as drastically upgraded as something like, say, the DS remake of Final Fantasy IV. Still, Ocarina of Time 3D looks downright gorgeous and plays nearly as well as it did in 1998. For longtime fans, this is a nostalgic experience that certainly merits consideration. For anyone who somehow missed out on Ocarina of Time the first time around, you are in for a real treat with this 3D remake.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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