Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D – review

3DS; £39.99; cert 12+; Nintendo

Ocarina of Time is a game about curiosity and the joy of discovery. It’s not simply a role-playing game that includes a bit of exploration, it is a game that asks you to remember – as Miyamoto famously does – what it was like when you were a kid and your neighbourhood was a place of wonder and mystery, and there was something interesting around every corner. The land of Hyrule can still take you back there if you let it.

But you could, of course say, well, this is Ocarina of Time – again. Another nostalgic re-release for an industry suffocating under the weight of technical demands and budgetary heft. But it is also the perfect reminder, in an era of relentlessly governed, ruthlessly prescriptive corridor shooters that there is something profoundly right about giving players a world to explore, a few hints and tips on its rules and the freedom to go out there and get hopelessly lost.

The story, of course, is still the guiding line – with young hero Link charged by Princess Zelda to see off the threat of the evil Ganondorf. But there are multiple side-quests, some that you just discover, others handed to you by the cast of idiosyncratic characters (I think these challenges represent a child’s view of adult-imposed chores – at once filled with import but also mystifying and irrelevant). Everything has to be discovered, everything spins out from the hub world that is Hyrule field, a vast meadow that represents the game’s and the player’s imagination.

And the sense of exploration is layered in on itself. It matters what time you get somewhere (thanks to a simple but vital day and night system), and there are the masks that can be loaned from a shop in the market and worn to elicit new responses from characters. How these systems sit on top of each other without becoming unfathomably complex and repetitive only Nintendo knows.

The controls, once so carefully mapped to the N64’s unique controller, have been expertly converted to the handheld console. Players are still able to assign items and weapons to any button they like, but it’s also possible to access your entire inventory – as well as the camera controls – from the touchscreen, so there are multiple set-ups available. Aiming the bow or catapult is achieved with the left trigger, though you can also opt to use the motion controls, moving the 3DS itself to aim, which is remarkably intuitive.

In the midst of combat, I sometimes found it difficult using the small 3DS analogue controller to leap and strafe, while aiming and intermittently protecting myself with the shield (using the right trigger) – everything’s so bunched up on the device, as opposed to the comparatively enormous N64 pad. But, of course, another beauty of Zelda is its generosity; for the first few hours enemies are pretty soft and there are always plentiful heart symbols to replenish your health. This is not Demon’s Souls.

Visually, Nintendo has pulled off a clever trick here – the game resembles your memory of Zelda on the N64, but it has been enhanced to match modern standards of clarity and resolution. It retains the cartoonish impressionism and the slightly drained patina, but the textures are more complex and many subtle effects have been tweaked. It does not look as good as, say, Kid Icarus promises too, but that is part of its charm: playing Ocarina of Time feels like nostalgic reverie, and the iconic visuals play into that.

The 3D capabilities of the device don’t add much of practical use to the game, though they do help to enrich the sense of immersion in certain locations. Hyrule field, for example, becomes a much more impressive expanse, while set-piece locations like the Spirit Temple are lent an architectural grandeur that the small screen would normal detract from. The animated sections, though, benefit most obviously – the lovely legend sequence, which shows the three goddesses leaving the Triforce behind, is a sumptuous, almost psychedelic, firework display of falling comets and expanding star fields that comes alive again in three dimensions.

The thing is, and this is way off-message as far as Nintendo is concerned, it doesn’t matter. Zelda is Zelda. The important element, alongside the textural updates, is the transportation to a handheld console. The pleasure is the same as the original handheld Zelda: Link’s Awakening way back on the Game Boy. It means the vast game can go everywhere with you; it means you can curl up with it in some shabby old armchair, preferably in front of an open fire.

There’s something to be said about experiencing a game on its original platform, with its original interface – but Ocarina of Time on the 3DS is exactly the right way to update a treasured game, and it makes one of the fundamental achievements of this industry available to millions of people who never saw the original and aren’t prepared to hit eBay for an N64.

Because be in no doubt, Ocarina of Time is one of those rare works of art that transcends taste and simply is great. It should be a set text on every game design course on the planet. It should be shown to every studio that thinks the term “cinematic” is somehow exactly synonymous with “linear” – indeed, it should be shown to every studio that thinks “cinematic” is the loftiest aim of interactive entertainment.

It isn’t. The aim is to construct a world – however mannered, however repetitive and surreal – and make it worth exploring. All games should be about curiosity and surprise; it’s not just violence and lulz that make Rockstar’s titles so successful. The likes of Red Dead and GTA (alongside the works of Valve, I think) are the true western heirs to the Zelda hegemony. I wonder how Skyward Sword will fair in this context? I wonder how anything will ever better Ocarina of Time in its small but vital corner of this bloated industry.

Rating: 5/5





Keith Stuart

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