Review: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)

A masterful quest

The wait is finally over. When the 3DS was announced at E3 2010, one game announcement garnered the most attention from long-term Nintendo gamers: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. With the promise of enhanced visuals and stereoscopic 3D, it didn’t take much to build up the hype. It is now here, with a variety of new features, as well as faithful reverence to the N64 original.

For younger gamers, or those who didn’t experience The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the N64, a brief piece of context is needed. When the original was first released in 1998, it brought Zelda into a 3D gaming world. Just like Super Mario 64, this title revolutionised the Zelda series with a whole new dimension of gameplay. There were innovations in graphics, control schemes such as the famous "Z Targeting" and an epic scope that stunned critics and gamers alike. Such was the critical acclaim for Ocarina of Time that it is often cited as one of the greatest video games of all time.

The original has already, however, been re-released and ported multiple times. The "Master Quest" was included as bonus content with Zelda: Wind Waker on the GameCube, and the original was re-released on the Wii Virtual Console. Unlike these, however, Ocarina of Time 3D is not a port or a remake, but a remastered version of the game. It’s an important distinction to make.

It's also, in our view, one of the Zelda franchise's stronger storylines. That’s certainly open for debate, but it explores themes such as courage, friendship, brotherhood and greed. Playing as Link, you must work with Hyrule’s Princess Zelda and many other allies to stop Ganondorf from taking over the world. You navigate between two different time periods, playing Link as a boy and also as a young man, while playing an ocarina to travel, open closed areas and even bring sunrise. It's pure adventure fantasy, and is truly engrossing.

The plot does a good job of masking some fairly generic game design tricks; collect three items, triggering events that need another six items, then fight in a final showdown. With the wrong script it would seem like a cheap ploy to lengthen the game, but the storyline finds the right balance and tempo to keep you interested, and to make it feel like fetch quests have a genuine purpose.

Collecting spiritual stones and medallions is worthwhile for another reason: the terrific level design. There are various types of dungeons to traverse, each posing different challenges. Some are fairly easy to navigate but include tricky puzzles, while others focus more on challenging your memory skills, as you try to work your way through a maze of a labyrinth. The dungeons aren’t all perfect — the Water Temple in particular caused some head scratching and frustration — but all are full of challenge and intrigue. Outside of dungeons there is a vast over-world to explore. Landscapes are diverse, as you’ll trek across Hyrule field, swim around Hyrule Lake, run up Death Mountain and battle across the Gerudo Desert.

In its updated form the game is absolutely gorgeous and a real visual treat. This statement, if considered purely on merits of polygons and how far it pushes the 3DS hardware, could cause some serious debate. However, from an artistic design perspective, and the impression it makes on the gamer, this title is joyful to look at and is one experience that simply must be enjoyed with the 3D slider on. The 2D visuals are attractive enough, but even the slightest touch of the 3D slider brings textures into focus and crispness to the environment. Push the slider all the way up as you run into Hyrule field, and it's a magical moment.

In this title, the 3D effect is all about depth of field. There are some effects that come at the screen, but primarily it's the sense of looking into the world that enlivens the experience. What is most effective, and developers Grezzo deserve a great deal of credit, is that the game looks how you think the N64 original did. Load up the original nowadays and the illusion is shattered by the hardware limitations of the time; load this remastered version and your mind's eye impression is faithfully reproduced. The graphics are modernised, including much improved animations on Link and other characters, with everything moving at a much smoother, quicker tempo. 3D brings a slight drop in frame rate but is still smooth and slick, another demonstration of the developer’s care and attention.