The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

Posted by Lewis Denby (January 26, 2011)

Do you remember The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? Of course you do - itís a classic, widely regarded as one of the gaming mediumís crowning achievements. Released back in 1998 for the N64, it eclipsed all competitors and captivated players for weeks and months on end. Do you remember how great it was? Do you really?

Because this is, perhaps, what the most interesting thing about Ocarina of Time 3D is going to be. How much of the game do you remember? You remember it being wonderful, of course. Everyone does. Nostalgia tends to do that to people.

I returned to Ocarina a couple of years ago. I donít want to appear too down on it: itís still clearly a fantastically designed videogame, carefully constructed, meticulously paced and crafted with such precise attention to detail. Itís easy to see why it was such a revelatory experience upon its original release - and, to an extent, when it was bundled with The Wind Waker on the GameCube. But a thought kept crossing my mind: if Ocarina of Time were to be released today, on a modern console, how would people warm to it?

Now, Ocarina is indeed heading for a next-gen update. Set for release on the 3DS some time later this year, Ocarina of Time is going to be available to a whole new generation of players - players who might not have been around to experience the original in all its glory.

Hereís the thing: itís slow. The glacial tempo at which the gameís events unfold is clearly intentional - and, in a sense, a big part of why it worked so well at the time. But our expectations of what games do change almost monthly, let alone annually, and definitely let alone 13 years later. This is a fast-moving industry, and that movement is in the direction of more immediate gratification. Even the more recent Zeldas have hurried things along considerably more than Ocarina. Itíll be deeply interesting to see how people respond to this: whether new players find themselves bored by the long introduction and regular stretches of wandering, and whether older playersí impressions are changed from returning to the game so many years later.

Of course, the wondrous minds at Nintendo have seen fit to make some changes. The most obvious is, of course, the 3D effect - but itís not just a straight conversion of the existing assets. Characters have been remodelled, adding a nice, less-polygonal sheen to proceedings. Thereís noticeably more detail all around, even on the 3DSí small screen. And while itís obviously not a game whose art has been constructed from the ground up for a next-gen console, it looks more than acceptable, even next to the gamut of new titles heading for Nintendoís innovative new handheld.

But in fact, while the most notable change to Ocarina of Time does indeed emerge from the capabilities of the system, it has nothing to do with the 3D functionality. Instead, it comes from the dual-screen set-up, and what that has allowed Nintendo to do with the gameís interface. Whereas several sections of the original game required you to switch between the environment and the inventory and map screens, Ocarina 3D places the latter elements neatly onto the bottom screen, giving you instant access to everything you need with a quick tap of the stylus or your fingertip.

This has perhaps more significance in the Water Temple than anywhere else in the game. Seasoned Zelda fans will know what Iím talking about here. An astonishingly difficult section of Ocarina of Time, it became an infuriating sticking point that required endless menu-switching if you were to have any hope of survival. Rumour has it that Nintendoís designers have restructured this portion to make it less of a difficulty spike, but either way, the dual-screen set-up should go some way to easing the dreadful pain.

Then thereís the new gyroscope that allows you to target enemies by moving the 3DS console around, lining up shots from a first-person viewpoint by physically turning the unit in your hands. But as is the case with other games that are utilising this technology, it poses something of a problem. The 3DS is unfortunately plagued by the necessity to view the screen from a very specific angle to take advantage of the 3D effect. Look at the game just slightly from one side, and things descend into something of a cross-eyed blur - and not only does this destroy the gorgeous visual wizardry the console provides, it can also be unpleasantly disorienting.

There is, of course, the option to turn the 3D effect off altogether, but it seems that itíll be a case of having to pick one piece of technical innovation or the other. And thatís a shame. It seems weíre not at the stage where we can combine glasses-free 3D tech with this brand of motion control quite yet.

Only a few short sections of Ocarina of Time 3D were available to play at last weekís preview event in Amsterdam, so itís difficult to get a strong idea of how well the experience will transfer over to a new machine in its entirety. But the sections I have played are giving me no reason to be concerned. The combination of touch-screen and button-based controls works well, and the game itself doesnít seem to have changed in any fundamental way. Ocarina of Time speaks for itself, and Nintendo donít seem to have messed anything up in recreating the experience.

But that brings us back to the original question: just how well will Ocarina be received in 2011? The die-hard Zelda fans will surely find nothing to complain about - but itís those for whom the game wasnít quite such a defining moment that might have more reason to be concerned. While still impressive, Ocarina of Time is feeling more and more like a game thatís had its day. Letís hope the new technology powering it will mitigate any disappointment.


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