The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D – Staff Review

The Legend of Zelda is known for many things: dungeons that center around a new item to solve its puzzles; a mythology wherein there is always a Princess Zelda, a Link, and a Ganondorf; and a timeline or two that ties together each game in the series. Beyond gameplay and story elements, there is another thing that distinguishes Zelda: a rabid and zealous fan. Few series can boast such fervent followers, and out of all of the Zelda games, Ocarina of Time is the one held in the highest esteem. Ocarina is now nearly fourteen years old; does a fresh coat of 3D paint make it worth going through Hyrule again?

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time tells the story of a young boy named Link that grew up in the Kokiri forest. All of the Kokiri have fairies, but Link alone is partnerless. One day, the Deku tree summons Navi to Link’s side to guide him on a quest that ultimately takes him through time itself to save the land of Hyrule.

Part of the reason Ocarina is so loved by its fans is its battle system, which was very innovative for its time.  Previous Zelda games were two-dimensional 3/4ths view action games, but the N64 allowed for 3D environments. Keese no longer flutter by horizontally; they now fly in from above.  To facilitate this new dimension of combat, Nintendo introduced Z-Targeting.  By pressing the Z button, Link locks onto his target and can strafe in a circle while staying focused on it.  This greatly improved the accuracy of ranged weapons like the boomerang or slingshot, allowing players to easily fight and move.  You could also free aim by using an analog stick, another Nintendo first. The 3DS handles Z-targeting by replacing it with a shoulder button, and the handheld makes good use of the analog pad for manually looking and aiming.

Rats.  Missed her again.
Rats. Missed her again.

Though the original game is considered a classic for good reason, the 3DS port adds several things to the formula.  The most obvious is that the game is now in 3D when you want it to be.  By sliding a bar on the side of the system, players can control the amount of depth in the 3D.  The 3D effect projects into the screen.  It’s hard to put to words how well it works here, but sliding the bar all the way up is like having a window into Hyrule itself. As one would assume, Nintendo is very good at using its technology to the fullest for its first party games, and Ocarina 3D is no exception.  The cinematic portions of the game are amazing, especially a scene where Link hitches a ride on an owl from the top of Death Mountain to Kakariko Village below.  If the 3D thing is bothering your eyes, the 3D effect can be reduced or completely turned off by adjusting the slider bar on the side.  In fact, some people are playing the game in its original 2D just for pure nostalgia, and that’s a valid way to play.

The 3D isn’t the only new feature that changes gameplay for the better; the game also makes use of gyroscopic controls.  Any time the player wants to use a first-person view for aiming or free looking, it is possible to do this just by simply moving the 3DS itself.  Want to look up?  Move the 3DS up.  Wonder what’s behind you?  Physically do a 180 degree spin, and you’ll find Link does the same. This furthers the illusion that you are viewing Hyrule from a magic window since the game tracks your every movement.  This makes fine-tuning aiming weapons like the slingshot significantly easier, and the shooting gallery mini-game is a breeze with gyroscopic controls.

Though 3D and gyroscopic controls are amazing in their own rights, they are not without problems.  Due to the glasses-free 3D technology that powers the 3DS, the handheld MUST be placed in a specific spot for the effect to work.  This means that the system is particularly prone to crosstalk, which means one eye sees the image meant for the other eye.  It can be difficult to maintain this 3D sweet spot at all times, and it is virtually impossible to use the gyroscopic controls while maintaining full 3D.  You can have a bit of both by sliding the 3D slider down a bit, but if you want to use the gyroscope, it is easier to turn off 3D completely.  Fortunately, this can be done on the fly with the flick of your index finger.

Since the 3DS is based on the Nintendo DS, it features two screens, with the bottom one being touch sensitive.  This makes combat easier by allowing four items to selected as items for use.  You’re allowed to select four items for quick use, with two mapped to the X and Y buttons and the others accessible through the touch screen.  This is a big help in combat, as you can map regularly used items like the bow and hookshot to X and Y, while still having access to a change of boots, the Lens of Truth, or whatever you need for that particular dungeon.  It doesn’t make solving puzzles any easier, but it does make them faster.  Most dungeons center around a single item, but you still have to use two or three other things semi-frequently as well.  Having four items is a significant improvement over the original Ocarina‘s limitation of three sub-weapons.  Even better, the ocarina gets its own spot in your touch screen, so it never has to occupy one of the four spaces.  It’s like having five things equipped at one time, and it is a boon.

Aside from getting its own spot on the touch screen, the Ocarina gets one other change; songs are now played with A, X, Y, L, and R instead of A, B, and arrow keys.  For some, this may make songs easy to remember since they kind of spell things now instead of being combinations of directions and letters.  You can also use the touch screen to display the song you want to play while playing, which makes it easier when you just can’t remember the button sequence for the Bolero of Fire.

Though the touch screen is a major improvement on the interface, it can still be a bit jarring when you’re trying to access your items and you pause the game instead. You can no longer navigate the various parts of your inventory with shoulder buttons; instead, you have to tap the appropriate boxes on the touch screen to switch between gear, the map, or your inventory.  It’s not a hard system to use, but sometimes old habits die hard.

Why is Link running?  He ran into Tingle.  Two miles back
Why is Link running? He ran into Tingle. Two miles back

Graphically, the game truly shines.  Though some would probably be content with the game as it was fourteen years ago, Nintendo wisely decided to increase the resolution on the graphics and provide a little polish on the textures.  The result is that the game looks fantastic, and even on a tiny screen the improvements are immediately apparent.  When you move the 3D slider all the way up, small things like the auroral effect of playing a song on the ocarina or a column that falls into the screen during the ending sequence end up being really impressive.  It shows that there was an incredible attention to detail.

Aurally, the game is virtually untouched from the N64 version, and that’s a good thing.  The music is as good as it ever was, and Link still makes the same grunts and battle cries with each sword swing and misplaced jump.  The Zelda series has some of the best music in the genre, and Ocarina is arguably the best in the series.  Numerous tracks stand out, but the Gerudo Valley theme is a personal favorite that easily takes its place alongside Zelda’s Lullaby as some of the best Zelda music yet.

In general, Ocarina is a pretty easy game.  Most bosses can be killed on the first try, and considering you can bottle fairies to completely revive you if you die, you can easily finish the game without ever seeing the game over screen.  The game does sometimes offer more of a challenge, particularly with the infamous water temple.  Despite item slots and a few recolored doors, the water temple is as ridiculously complicated as ever.  To make the game a little more manageable for first timers, Nintendo has implemented an in-game walkthrough that is similar to New Super Mario Bros Wii‘s Super Guide.  If you get stuck, a visit to a Shiekah stone might tell you the solution to the problem you have without forcing you to hit up Gamefaqs or YouTube.

The game is also on the short side.  You could theoretically blaze through the game in as few as ten hours, but most players will take closer to twenty unless they try to find every gold skulltulla and heart piece.  That might stretch things out to as long as thirty, but really, if you’re going for a 100% completion game, you’re probably using a walkthrough which would speed up the process immeasurably.

There are many ways to praise the game, but there is one major complaint that nearly everyone that plays Ocarina has.  Navi.  For those that have played the game before on another system, it is not a surprise to hear that Navi is annoying.  After all, only Captain Obvious or Ric Romero himself could provide a better tip than informing me that I should investigate Death Mountain while I was investigating Death Mountain.  She did, however, fail to inform me that water was wet or that fire was hot, but I can forgive such omissions.  Navi’s so-called assistance is only more annoying in light of the actual improvements Nintendo made.  She seems unaware that she’s on a portable and people don’t have to completely turn it off to take five.This fact is only highlighted by her frequent demands that you listen to her, only to tell you that you should probably take a break.  This might make more sense if she didn’t occasionally say this even if you’ve just started playing.  It’s also irritating when you’re exploring a dungeon and Navi asks you if you’re stuck and helpfully suggests you visit the in-game walkthrough.  Yes, Navi.  I know I accidentally jumped off that platform in the fire temple and now have to redo about half of it.  I’m taking a bit longer to finish the next puzzle.  I don’t need you reminding me that I can always have the game feed me the answer to the next puzzle just because I bumped the analog nub.  I realize that it wouldn’t be the same game if you didn’t have Navi in all her asinine glory, but Nintendo really should have toned down a few of the things she says considering the medium.

Link finally took Navi's advice about taking a break and decided to play Faeries on Fire. Everybody wins.  Except Navi.
Link finally took Navi’s advice about taking a break and decided to play Faeries on Fire. Everybody wins. Except Navi.

There are two other additions that bear mentioning.  Fans of the Ocarina of Time Master Quest on GameCube will be pleased to hear that the Master Quest is included, but it has to be unlocked by finishing the main game.  There is also a Boss Rush mode that can be accessed from Link’s bed for those that want some extra challenge.

In all, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is a pretty awesome game.  Fans have been clamoring for a portable version for years, and this is everything you could have hoped for.  The game was largely untouched, but the few changes that were made were all steps in the right direction.  Fans would have been satisfied with a straight port of the N64 version, but the truth is, the inclusions of 3D, a majorly overhauled inventory system, gyroscopic controls, the enhanced graphic textures, the sharpened resolution, and the ability to close the lid and pick it back up at any time make this game outstandingly better than the original.  And to top it off, Nintendo is offering a free soundtrack via Club Nintendo to an unspecified number of people that register the game.  If you have a 3DS, there is absolutely no reason not to buy this game.  If you don’t have a 3DS, this is actually a worthy reason to buy one.  I can say with full conscience that this is a must-have game.

As a disclaimer, I never grew up with Ocarina of Time.  I’ve only finished the game twice prior, once on N64 and once on GameCube.  A straight port of either version probably would have been an 8/10.  It’s the improvements in the 3DS version that put it over the line for me, that take it from a rerelease of a good game to an instant classic.

This game was played to completion using a retail copy purchased by the reviewer.

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