The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
The Missing Link

By Seán O'Sullivan - February 24th, 2015

These are all obviously 2D versions of the 3D image.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask already has a firmly established place in gaming canon. It’s the twisted spin-off to the seminal Ocarina of Time, it’s drenched in dread and foreboding, and it’s got a killer Groundhog Day-style hook where you have have 3 days to save the world from the moon crashing to earth, but get to reset the clock as often as you like. I knew all of this without having ever played the game, so I was excited to give the 3DS re-release a shot and see for myself what this was all about.

The last 3DS Zelda title, A Link Between Worlds impressed me with its deft riffing on the typical Zelda tropes; but after playing Majora’s Mask, I see that Nintendo had taken even bolder risks with the Zelda format before. Sod your back-of-the-box features, Majora’s Mask offers a smaller overworld than Ocarina, with fewer dungeons, towns and dwellings to explore – but this space has been put to far greater use. The detail lavished on each setting is astonishing – practically every character has a problem that requires the Hero of Time’s assistance, and each displays an arc that progresses as the destruction timer counts down to zero.

Don’t get a head of yourself.

Majora’s Mask is a dark game. That the game world is so packed with life cuts a cruel irony against the death looming down on it from the skies. Whereas Ocarina of Time saw Link associating himself with gods, sages, and other heavenly types, this adventure oftentimes seems like a journey through the occult. Link is regularly pitted against the troubled spirits from fallen warriors, and each time he needs a mask to transform himself into different forms, he makes a chilling shriek (one that’s thankfully skippable after the first viewing). It’s clear that these masks aren’t playthings, and we view characters who were corrupted by the very masks that Link must don to progress in his quest. Further adding to the general sense of unease is how the game taps into the gamer’s memory, reusing assets from Ocarina of Time in new ways that makes the setting feel like a distorted reflection of the land we grew accustomed to in previous adventures.

Other than the risks that were taken with the setting and presentation, this is a game that packs in a lot of novelty. Three of the masks that Link acquires bestow completely different abilities and move-sets, and while it’s nothing new for Zelda games to gate progress by the items in Link’s arsenal, the masks completely change how the people of the world react to him, and give the player a new set of tools to play with. These masks completely upheave the player’s established understanding of water, lava, and even vertical navigation; and just when you think you think you’ve got a hold of it, something bonkers like the fourth temple boss will throw in something unexpected.

It took me more than 30 hours to get through this adventure (according to the 3DS Activity Log), and that’s after I realized two temples in that I needed to ignore the side-quests to get this review up in a reasonable amount of time. I’m not motivated by collectibles in games, but I will be returning to mop up the rest of the distractions that beckon in the land of Termina, since even the optional missions in Majora’s Mask are filled with clever puzzles, sharp writing, and a sense of accomplishment.

Link is kinda bad-ass…

If you’re skeptical as to how well Majora’s Mask plays on the smaller format, worry not. Some concessions have been made that I understand irk purists – there are abundant save points (which I only sought out when my battery was low), and I understand that a few puzzles were remixed to make the flow more sensible – but I can’t compare against the original. The touch-screen is put to great use, offering both a useful map, and more virtual buttons (always welcome in some of the more demanding dungeons), and whenever my surroundings allowed for it, aiming with the gyroscope my whipping my 3DS around worked infinitely better than any analogue controller could. I played on my 3DS XL (not the ‘New’ one), and everything performed excellently. There were maybe two occasions where I felt like I was fighting the camera and needed the C-Stick, but other than that I barely noticed.

Despite the original Majora’s Mask hitting shelves fifteen years ago, at no point did I feel like I was playing an old game – this is a game that looks gorgeous, controls well, and respects the player’s time in a way that surpasses most of today’s AAA output. As an adventure-game fan, this is the best experience I have had on my 3DS so far, and once the credits rolled, I felt like I had righted a wrong from my youth. If you’ve yet to experience the black sheep of the Zelda family, you absolutely owe it to yourself to get this game.

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