A confession before we start. I only played The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask through once and I didn’t really get it. I was young and had previously seen the epic adventure of Ocarina of Time through to its end again and again. What better time to get myself reacquainted with this game than to try out the long rumoured remake for the Nintendo 3DS. Even with my limited experience, there are a few key differences that help or indeed hinder veterans and newbies alike. Does it still hold up after 15 years?
With an intro sequence that vaguely reminds me of that ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’ sequence in Dumbo, this sets the tone for easily the most bizarre Legend of Zelda game in the franchise. We begin as Young Link gets hijacked, mugged, and cursed by the Skull Kid wearing the aforementioned Majora’s Mask. Tasked with getting everything the Skull Kid stole from the Happy Mask Salesman, Link finds that Skull Kid is summoning a moon which will destroy the Termina region in three days.
Key to the uniqueness of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was the time mechanics. After midnight on the third day, you will have five minutes before the moon crashes into Termina, but playing the Song of Time on the Ocarina warps you back to the beginning of the first day. You can of course opt to just focus on the main quest, but this is one of the shortest Zelda titles; with only four dungeons to complete before the final showdown. Dungeons and boss fights are memorable, with plenty to do within, but compared to the epic that is Ocarina of Time, it was a step down.
What makes Majora’s Mask so compelling is that this breathing world has a lot of time sensitive quests, requiring you to be in the right place at the right time. For example, on the first night at 12pm, a woman will get mugged. If you are there, you can try to prevent that and further the quest line for the next day when a previously unavailable item will be available to buy. Conversely, if you didn’t intervene, you’ll learn that the item stolen was to be sold on the second and third days.
This is far from the only quest in the game and some are downright heartbreaking. Majora’s Mask is all about that sense of loss and dealing with that; which comes together in a few side quests that were ballsy for their time. These quests resonate more with older audiences, not that younger players can’t get anything from that; but certain quests such as the famous Anji and Kafei quest are certainly more gutting when you put two and two together.
Hero of the People
It should also be noted that this is a remake of the classic Nintendo 64 title rather than a straight up port. This means that a lot of the assets received major upgrades in the visual department. All characters look miles better than their angular N64 cousins, particularly Link’s forms and the Skull Kid himself. Environments are livelier and the colours more vivid. Yes, the moon now has its nostrils flared to make it look even more comically menacing, but on the whole the game looks more appealing.
While you still have items such as bombs and bows, the main upgrades of the game come in the form of masks. Some that grant you new abilities, others that make getting around easier, and even grant new forms. Deku Link can use plant pods to propel himself into the sky and hover for a short time, Goron Link can roll around in a ball, while Zora Link’s swimming ability is second to none. With the 3DS comes a few changes to the control scheme. Gyro controls return and are greatly improved with much more precise aiming. Perhaps the only snag is that Zora Link’s swimming is a little hard to control and Goron Link’s rolling can go out of control entirely.
Speaking of updates, one of the best upgrades is to the Bomber’s Notebook. By updating the most obtuse element of the old game with handy new features. An alarm can be set, while maps showing you when an event will occur means you shouldn’t miss a thing. It will tell you when you miss events as well! Even rumours can be entered into the Notebook. This is by far the only time-saving feature as now the Song of Double Time can be set to a specific hour in the future, eliminating the need to wait around. Given that this is a handheld game where battery life is a real concern, this is a smart decision that makes the game far more approachable.
Sheikah stones, first featured in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D make a return and are a handy last resort given how open ended the game can feel. It’s harder to abuse these given that there is a three day cycle to contend with though so they’re there for if you need them rather than a go-between for your next quest. The inventory system has also been updated to utilise the touch screen, much the same way as Nintendo’s previous 3D update to Ocarina of Time. Another new thing to Majora’s Mask is the inclusion of the fishing mini-game if you’re into that sort of thing.
If you own either the Circle Pad Pro attachment for your regular 3DS, or invested in one of those snazzy New 3DS models recently, now is the time to use the second analogue stick/nub to its full effect! The camera controls are responsive, allowing for a better gameplay experience as a whole. That isn’t to say it isn’t playable without, but you’ll be relying on repositioning your camera and Z-Targeting more often than with a second analogue stick option.
Finally, the biggest change is also the most controversial. Saving progress has been made far simpler. Instead of requiring the use of Song of Time, the Owl Statues that previously allowed players to temporarily save their progress instead permanently save. I admit to being in two minds about this, but ultimately it comes down to the limitations of being on a handheld system. At the cost of some of the urgency the original Nintendo 64 version had, Majora’s Mask 3D has been made with the device it is on in mind. There’s nothing more depressing than not being able to quickly save just as your power is going out. When you consider the Japanese version of the N64 classic didn’t have the ability to save via Owl Statues, you can see why this was included.
If you own a 3DS and have any interest in games that are unconventional, you could do a lot worse than playing The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D. Being older has made me appreciate the original game, which still holds up fantastically with many iconic moments and characters (yes, even Tingle!) to encounter. For a game that started as a side project with plenty of reused assets from Ocarina of Time, it’s startling just how different it is. Some may want an epic quest, which they’re not going to get; but the sheer amount of interesting side quests holds attention. Updates are for the most part smart inclusions and while some may say it detracts from the original experience, it is made to be handheld friendly for gamers on the go. A great game and a great excuse to use the Circle Pro add-on or buy a New 3DS.