The Zelda games have a lot of fans and people are always eager to pick up the latest release to enjoy some high-quality gaming. There's also been plenty of opportunity to revisit previous instalments in the series, and indeed The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has seen a few re-releases since first appearing on the Nintendo 64 back in 2000. It was included on the GameCube's The Legend of Zelda Collector's Edition compilation, then saw a Virtual Console release on the Wii and (most recently) appeared on the 3DS as a wonderful glasses-free-3D remaster. Expect to be able to purchase it on the NX around 2018, but for now it's the turn of the Wii U eShop to ask for money to re-experience Link's quest in the world of Termina.
If you've not played Majora's Mask before, know that it is a cracker, providing plenty of entertainment with its dark, different-from-the-norm tale that engrosses from start to finish. You begin the game by encountering the menacing Skull Kid who promptly turns you into a Deku Scrub and runs off with your ocarina. It's not long before you find yourself in Clock Town, where you soon realise you have more to worry about than returning to your normal form.
As the town prepares for its Carnival of Time celebrations a menacing-looking moon slowly descends from the sky. You have three days to stop it (game time: a little over an hour) which unsurprisingly is insufficient. Luckily you are able to regain your ocarina and perform the Song of Time to throw yourself three days back in time. The good news is you're safe, the bad news is the moon is still falling. Cue lots of reliving the three days as you run around like a Hylian Bill Murray trying to figure out a way to stop it and prevent everyone facing a fiery death.
For the 3DS the extra power of the handheld was used to give the visuals an upgrade whilst retaining the look and feel of the Nintendo 64 original. The aim may have been to recreate the game as people remembered it, and if that was the intention then the reality of what is now downloadable to your Wii U is somewhat blockier and with lower resolution textures.
Of course Virtual Console releases (cheaper than a retail 3DS title) are about providing the original versions of games, and although you'll encounter objects with sharp corners that threaten to take your eye out, Majora's Mask is one of the better looking N64 titles. A good variety of locations and characters, combined with decent effects such as rain, flickering flames and an effective day-to-night cycle, make for a game that holds up well. It's not all good news however as this Virtual Console release has met with a terrible fate; it's the slower 50Hz version.
Inferior 50Hz editions of games have long been a problem in Europe and Oceania although the situation is improving. It is actually a rarity for a 50Hz game to turn up on Wii U but the short list of titles includes some big name games (see also: Super Metroid and Ocarina of Time). Presumably the reason Nintendo has inflicted 50Hz on us for Majora's Mask is because of the multiple languages included (English, German, French, Spanish), but the GameCube release also supported these languages and was 60Hz. Unfortunately the GameCube edition suffered sound glitches and sometimes froze, so to date (and somewhat frustratingly) there has yet to be a release of the N64 version in these regions without some kind of an issue.
Putting that aside, the quality of the game still shines through and should you upgrade your Wii copy, you'll gain rumble support as well as the usual Miiverse integration, restore point functionality and the ability to use the GamePad controls for comfy off-TV play.
As is to be expected from a Zelda game there's plenty of exploration and battling throughout and it's as enjoyable as its ever been. The inclusion of a repeating three-day cycle works well, shaking up the formula and adding a sense of urgency to proceedings. You can keep jumping back in time as needed and additional songs can be used to manipulate time to your advantage, but you have to carefully consider your approach to a task if you are hoping to complete it before the moon comes crashing down. If you do run out of time be sure to bank your rupees before travelling back, or your acquired wealth will be wiped out.
Characters you encounter add to the atmosphere. Initially unconcerned by the moon, their mood changes over the three days until those who haven't fled are stuck looking on in fear as the end approaches. It's somewhat disconcerting to then jump back in time to find them cheerfully oblivious to what is to come and for them to then go through the same cycle of emotions again. The music also plays a big part in this, beginning with breezy cheerful tunes and ending up considerably more menacing towards the end.
As you make progress more areas of the world open up to you and, as well as learning new songs, a number of masks are collected that allow you you to interact with different characters and provide some useful abilities. For example the Deku Mask allows you to shoot out of flowers for flight whilst the Zora Mask is the preferred option for speedy swimming. The main quest provides plenty for you to do, but if you want more there are also a number of side quests to keep you occupied throughout the game. On occasion it may not be obvious what you need to do to proceed, but if an elongated bout of head-scratching has taken up a huge chunk of time you can of course hop back to the start of the cycle and try again.
Obviously it's not as impressive looking as the 3D remaster, but this is a good-looking N64 title. Offering the usual blend of action and adventure, the game is enjoyable to play through with the repeating three day cycle giving this particular adventure a different feel to other entries in the series. Music, lighting and the mood of NPCs add to the atmosphere as the end of the world approaches. There's the disappointment of 50Hz for PAL gamers, but look past the slower-moving gameplay and Majora's Mask is still an excellent game.