Saving the world is usually a pretty tall order for your average hero, but when you’re only given a measly three days to stop a giant moon from falling out of the sky and wiping everyone off the face of the planet, you begin to wonder whether the gods have it in for you. Luckily, Link remembered to pack his trusty time-travelling ocarina when he set out for his next adventure, giving him the handy ability to relive those 72 hours again and again until he can find a way to stop the evil Skull Kid from plunging the world into an early apocalypse.
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Needless to say, Majora’s Mask is a little different from other Zelda titles, not least because it places as much emphasis on its sidequests as it does its main dungeons, giving the game a distinctly personal yet melancholy tone that you won’t find anywhere else in the series. For this reason, it’s also one of the most beloved Zelda games ever made, and the debate over whether it’s a better game than Ocarina of Time because of it still rumbles on today. However, now that both N64 classics have been shrunk down and remade to 3DS-sized proportions, it’s perhaps clearer than ever where each one fails and succeeds, finally giving us some answers as to whether it really deserves to be crowned the best Zelda game of all time.
The moon’s about the fall out of the sky, but all the Happy Mask Salesman cares about is getting back his precious Majora’s Mask
In your mind’s eye, this is how Majora’s Mask always looked, but the Termina of Majora’s Mask 3D is a very different place to the one sealed away in the fifteen-year haze of your rose-tinted nostalgia. Bright colourful posters for town attractions now line the walls, central Clock Town is vastly more spacious, and you’ll occasionally catch the sun flaring off the camera lens as you stand in awe of the rest of developer Grezzo’s gorgeous visual handiwork.
It’s Termina as you’ve never seen it before, but the greatest amount of love and care has been poured into Link himself, as his various mask forms look better than ever. Deku Link is a particular highlight, as his tiny wooden body looks as though it’s been carved straight off a tree trunk and his spin attack animation now transforms his floppy green cap into a delightfully tangled patch of spiky thorns. He even hangs off door knobs as they slide open, making him one of the most charming and emotive versions of our Hyrulian hero we’ve ever seen.
It’s a shame, then, that the rest of Clock Town inhabitants haven’t been given quite the same level of detail, as the vast majority of them (Happy Mask Salesman excepted) still have their simple block-colour character designs and stock animations from the N64 days. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if, like their Ocarina of Time counterparts, they were simply characters you dealt with in passing, but here they form the backbone of the game’s myriad of sidequests, taking on a role that’s arguably more important than all four of the game’s main dungeons combined.
Deku Link looks fantastic in Majora’s Mask 3D, with brand-new textures and animations that give him much more personality than his N64 counterpart
They are, in essence, the game’s greatest treasure, as it’s their unique comings and goings over the course of the three days that gives the game its unquestionable sense of life and rhythm. It was the first Zelda game that forced players to recognise there were other events at play here besides your own hero’s quest, and its impact feels just as powerful today as it did fifteen years ago. It’s something Nintendo’s never managed to replicate since in any other Zelda game either. Skyward Sword came close with its personable cast of Skyloft residents, but Majora’s Mask’s interweaving timetables remain one of its best innovations. It’s just unfortunate that everyone still looks so gormless and out of place against the game’s newly revamped architecture. Even more disappointing is the untouched soundtrack, whose synthetic flutes and trumpets are really starting to show their age after the more acoustic delights of A Link Between Worlds.
Still, at least Majora’s Mask 3D makes it a lot easier to keep track of your various quarries, as your Bomber’s Notebook sidequest bible has been completely redesigned, showing you the location of each NPC on different days and which hours they’re active. You can also set an alarm to remind you about certain events, so you don’t accidentally miss the ranch’s alien cow abduction or Sakon’s night-time pick-pocketing while you’re off hunting down skulltulas or trying to win a jar of gold dust down at the Goron Races.
The Bomber’s Notebook is now much easier to use, as you can see precisely where each character will be and what time they’re active
That said, something has definitely been lost in the game’s miniaturisation, as each portion of the map now feels infinitely smaller than it did on the big screen. As fantastic as the game looks, there’s an undeniable emptiness about its locations that, in retrospect, shines a much clearer light on its single year development time than we previously realised. Whereas Ocarina of Time still managed to retain some of its former majesty on the 3DS, Majora’s Mask 3D struggles to maintain the same level of grandeur.
Dungeons also remain the one of the weakest parts of Majora’s Mask, as each one is inherently hindered by the very three day cycle that defines the rest of the game. They can’t be too long lest players run out of hours, but they also can’t be too rigidly linear if they do end up having to travel back in time – something we had to do on several occasions.
Sadly, Majora’s Mask 3D’s new swimming controls are nowhere near as intuitive as those on the N64, making Zora Link feel more like a lumbering whale than a sleek dolphin when you leap out of the ocean
Nintendo’s way round this was to introduce a more flexible kind of dungeon design that lets you bypass certain sections altogether, speeding up your second run-through and letting you get to the boss that much faster. These are mainly areas that contain the map and compass, as these remain with you through each time cycle (though sadly this doesn’t apply to any type of key for some reason). However, this subsequent lobbing off of rooms also reveals just how streamlined the rest of the dungeon really is, and rarely do you feel like you’re playing through levels that could be the equal of those found in Ocarina of Time.
That said, at least Majora’s Mask 3D borrows the same touchscreen menu layout as Ocarina of Time, as this makes it much easier to switch between all your different masks and items. You can now assign up to four items to your immediate inventory, letting you have two masks in standby, and the rest are just a few taps and swipes away on the lower touchscreen. Likewise, if you’re playing the game on a New 3DS, the C Stick’s smooth, gliding camera controls are spot on, expanding Link’s field of vision and to help spot those hidden stray fairies with only the bear minimum of additional movement.
Look closely and you’ll see Goron Link’s eyes go wide with surprise each time he opens a chest
Ultimately, though, much of what Majora’s Mask 3D does well – from its stunning graphical enhancements to its simplified menu system – merely builds on what we’ve already seen before in Grezzo’s remake of Ocarina of Time 3D, leaving very few of its cosmetic changes feeling particularly new and innovative. This is by no means a bad thing, as they more than improve the game as a whole, but it nevertheless casts a shadow over the game that it never quite escapes, reinforcing its role as perpetual second fiddle to Ocarina’s main symphony. It’s still an excellent Zelda game that deserves to be played, particularly if you missed out on it the first time round, but as a remake we feel it’s just missing that extra bit of polish to make it something truly exceptional.