Well, this is certainly an easy review to write. You know Ocarina of Time, the most popular, successful and beloved Zelda game of all time? The one that ushered Nintendo’s million-selling franchise into the third dimension and endeared an entire generation to Link, Ganon and Hyrule? It’s all here, every dungeon, item, secret and Skulltula, now in the palm of your hand. But it’s not a hasty port – this is a thoroughly prettier and smoother experience than the 1998 original, making it the best version of this already legendary experience.
Above: As you can see, Link has received a visual upgrade
Above: It gets better – literally everything received a makeover, adding clarity and detail to previously blurry areas. Notice how you can see Death Mountain from this location in the 3DS version
I recently played through the N64 version of Ocarina of Time just so I’d have a firm understanding of the differences in the 3DS edition. For the most part, everything is identical; the script is largely unchanged, as are item locations and the memorable soundtrack. The major differences, as I’ve already mentioned, are visual. Top to bottom, this is a slick looking game, with more detailed models and more vibrant design than the fuzzy original. Furthermore, Link’s own animations are smoother, making for slightly more lifelike movements. This fluidity extends outside of Link too, so other creatures and NPCs have a tad more spring in their step.
Above: One of the few differences – the Stone of Agony (formerly an N64 Rumble Pak) is now the Shard of Agony, and blinks when secrets are nearby
The improvements don’t end with graphics and animation, however. The entire bottom screen is dedicated to inventory, which was formerly accessed by pausing the game and flipping through four pages of content. Once there, you could assign three items to the N64 or GameCube’s face buttons, meaning any time you needed to change those items (or equip different boots, shields or tunics), you had to pause and flip through all that crap again. Now, the Ocarina has its own dedicated button in the lower left corner – that frees up a slot right away. You can then assign items to the X and Y buttons, plus two additional items in the I and II slots on the touch screen.
This gives you instant access to five pieces of inventory at a given time. This alone speeds up the game considerably, but it also means you can set something like the Iron Boots to said button and simply tap it to equip and un-equip it. This simple act makes the Water Temple a far less irritating slog, as it alleviaties one of the constant gripes about that dungeon.
Above: The Water Temple also has these new color trails that lead you to key points in the dungeon. Helpful, but not babying if you’re concerned about losing your hardcore cred
Finally, a small but extremely welcome alteration is the text display speed; the N64 version plodded along very slowly, and if you hit B to skip proceed faster, it often blasted through the entire conversation instead of just that one dialog box. Now, text moves much faster, getting you in and out of long conversations more quickly. All these touches, both small and large, add up to make this the definitive version of Ocarina of Time… but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
In 1998, Ocarina was groundbreaking. The size of the world, the number of areas to explore, the scope of the time-traveling story that sees Link change from child to adult and takes him from volcanoes to dungeons to haunted dungeons… it was all unprecedented for a console game. To have such a robust, engrossing experience and have it be the first 3D iteration of The Legend of Zelda was nothing less than mind-blowing. To this day, millions will parade it as the best game of all time.
Like it or not, that’s simply not the case today. Ocarina is particularly bad about dropping excessively vague hints (or no hints at all) as to what to do next. There are a handful of extremely important items (say, the Fire Arrows, Lens of Truth or even Epona) that are buried under a layer of riddles that don’t quite add up. Back in the day, we expected games to be mysterious and obtuse; today, we’re all accustomed to mechanics that lead us from one place to the next, even if it’s on an almost subconscious level. This isn’t about hand-holding or over-tutorializing, which is a whole other problem with games today – it’s about fundamental design, and Ocarina has always had this issue, especially compared to Wind Waker or Twilight Princess.
Speaking of those two, they both improved upon the battle system that Ocarina pioneered. Make no mistake, OoT’s lock-on system for 3D battles (called Z-Targeting, if you’re up on your Nintendo lingo) was a brilliant innovation and was carried over into both WW and TP. The ability to focus on one enemy and strafe around it, while also able to raise and lower your shield, as well as backflip or leap forward, made combat exciting and intense; meanwhile, WW and TP added layers to this idea, making Ocarina feel stripped down by comparison. It’s not a huge deal, but after flipping under and around enemies in Wind Waker, and instant-KO-ing baddies in Princess, I felt inhibited by Link’s lack of moves in Ocarina.
True, that’s the way it’s always been, and this 3DS version is ultimately a port, so adding new combat options would have made this some weird hybrid game and not a true conversion of the original Ocarina of Time. But, this is a new release, so we have to compare it to modern experiences; Nintendo wants you to pay money for this new version, not think back on how great the old one was, so we then have to criticize it for the 1998-era gameplay it didn’t improve. This extends to the aforementioned targeting, which often goes haywire and focuses on signs or plaques in a room instead of the enemy smashing in your face.
If you’re accustomed to Zelda and how it works, Ocarina shouldn’t confuse you too much; if you’ve never tried one and are finally caving under the pressure to play Ocarina 3D, you could end up scratching your head on more than one occasion. It’s a great introduction to the series, no doubt, but be prepared to open up a FAQ or ask a friend.
That said, these are fairly minor irritations in an otherwise expertly designed and paced adventure. They only drag down the experience from time to time, and rarely in a way that lasts beyond that exact moment of frustration. Even if you’re a first timer, Ocarina eventually settles you in and acclimates you to its very particular designs. As for returning players, there are a handful of new modes and features to consider…
The 3DS includes a gyroscope and accelerometer, which are fancy terms for “motion control.” What it means for Ocarina is a first-person viewing mode that acts like a pair of Link’s eyes, moving precisely as you do, allowing for precision aiming or 360 degree viewing of the game world. I filmed this example with a Flipcam to give a basic idea of how the function works:
It’s a cool addition, and does make aiming with the Fairy Slingshot or Fairy Bow a tad easier than using the analog slider, but it does involve physically moving the unit around. If you have the space, go for it, it’s a pretty cool effect. If not, regular controls work just fine.
Then there’s the boss rush mode, which allows you to face any boss you’ve already beaten in the main game. Beat them all and you can then engage in a boss battle gauntlet that pits you against the entire roster all in a row – sounds like a great opportunity for 3DS leaderboards, right? Sadly, there’s no such functionality, nor are there any StreetPass features. Why Nintendo let a marquee title like this slip through without using the 3DS key features is beyond me. Seems like a great way to make people aware of ‘em, but whatever.
The 3DS version also includes the Master Quest, a revised and noticeably more difficult “remix” of the main quest. This was available on GameCube, so Nintendo went one step further and flipped the entire thing, such that all lefts are rights (including Link himself, har). This mode is available from the start, and does not have to be unlocked.
As for the literal 3D in the game… well, it looks quite nice in spurts, but my eyes could only take so much. Riding through Hyrule Field or scurrying through the Lost Woods in 3D is a fine treat in small doses, and looks better than most other 3D attempts on the system, but it also happens to look and play great with the 3D turned off.
Is it better than...
Ocarina of Time? Yes, merely because this is everything the original was, plus some. Better graphics, cleaner textures, smoother animations, easier inventory navigation… just about everything that could have been improved (without drastically altering the game) has been. If I were to recommend a version to a brand new gamer, the 3DS version would be it.
Spirit Tracks? Yes, though it’s not entirely fair to compare them. Spirit Tracks builds on the touch-only ideas introduced in Phantom Hourglass, and intentionally strays from the main canon by placing Link on a train, and fighting a bad guy who’s hardly as menacing as Ganon. Ocarina 3DS is the first true handheld 3D Zelda, making it unassailably more robust than any prior edition.
Okamiden? Yes. Not many games try to mimic the Zelda style (Darksiders is the only other that comes to mind) but the original Okami aped it with class and reverence. Okamiden tries to follow suit, but is hindered by lack of hardware power and crushingly boring battles. If Capcom had held Okamiden for 3DS, this might have been a much tougher comparison.
Just for you, Metacritic!
The definitive version of gaming’s most revered and respected adventure. From obvious graphical touches to minor gameplay tweaks, Ocarina 3DS updates an aging classic and makes it presentable to an entirely new generation of adoring fans.