Okay, internet. I have a confession to make. The first time I completed Majora’s Mask was on the 3DS.
When it first came out on the N64, it was just after I had jumped ship for the greener pastures of PC gaming in the late 90s. I tried to emulate it at the time, but my PC couldn’t cope; it stuttered, farted and burst into flames. I later picked it up on the VC for the Wii and got past the first temple before getting distracted by something else. I meant to get back to playing it and just never did.
So when Ocarina of Time 3D came out, I knew that sooner or later we would be seeing Majora’s Mask get the same treatment. The original was created in a mere 18 months and reuses most of the assets from Ocarina. It would be bloody stupid for Nintendo not to, especially considering what a cult following and odd mystique Link’s weirdest adventure has gathered over the 15 years since its initial release. So, after much teasing and posturing on the part of the big N, we can all rejoice as Majora’s Mask has returned, and I finally got to sit down and finish the series’ darkest and most unique adventure.
Set over the course of three days, Majora’s Mask see’s Link fighting to save the land of Termina from the machinations of the Skull Kid, bearer of the titular mask; a curious and wholly-evil artifact that grants the bearer magical powers but also twists and corrupts in the process. Fed up with being shunned by the denizens of Termina, Skull kid uses his new-found power to make the moon fall from the sky and crush everything beneath it on the eve of a festival in the world’s central hub, the aptly-named Clock Town.
The sense of dread and sly malice is palpable in Majora’s Mask, the gurning, omnipresent satellite looking like the result of a design meeting conducted after the game’s creators spent a weekend watching George Méliès’ Le Voyage dans La Lune while fucked off their faces on mescaline. It goads and taunts Link at every turn and with it the player, as the seconds tick down to Termina’s inevitable destruction.
What’s worse is that Link is the only person who knows that the world is about to end. The rest of the Termina is blissfully unaware of their inevitable demise. In fact, they’re all looking forward to it because there’s going to be a party.
In order to do his thing and save the world, Link must awaken the spirits of four guardian spirits residing within each of Termina’s temples. One in each corner of the map. In order to get these more traditional parts of the experience, Link needs to help the denizens of Termina and collect various masks that give you new abilities, like attracting fairies collected in the dungeons or tricking a choir frogs into thinking you’re their conductor.
The main three masks transform Link (painfully too: The poor kid screams as his body mutates) into a Deku scrub, a Goron and a Zora giving him abilities and attributes similar to each race, and (oddly) makes others think you are the person the mask was crafted from. The Deku scrub mask enables you to skip on water, shoot bubbles, stun enemies by spinning and use Deku flowers to launch yourself into the air and glide. The Goron mask allows you roll around the place and slam down on switches as well as punch. Finally, the Zora mask lets you swim underwater and destroy barriers using a shield attack thing, as well as fire spikes from your arms.
However, there’s a massive snag to the plan. There is (literally) not enough time for Link to complete the trials necessary to put a stop to Skull Kid’s diabolical scheme. Lucky for Link, he still has the Ocarina of Time stashed away somewhere,and this time instead of throwing him seven years into the future, it sends him back three days into the past like some kind of pointy-eared Bill Murray. You’re forced to relive the same three days over and over again, until you can finally muster the necessary strength to take on Skull Kid and defeat Majora’s Mask.
As Link is sent back into the past, he retains all of the gear and masks he has picked up along the way (although you do lose all your arrows, bombs and side quest items). Therefore, he returns to the start of the three days a little stronger than he was previously, and able to tackle tasks faster and unlock new areas
On paper this sounds repetitive as hell, and quite frankly, it is. Thankfully, this core mechanic is presented in such a way that it lessens that feeling. Generally if you find yourself back-tracking to the same location multiple times, it’s because you fucked up or missed something. For example, I spent hours in the Snowhead temple, simply because I missed the fact that I needed to punch the ice discs out of the middle of the tower to make it the right height.
These hold-ups, however, are completely avoidable thanks to the ability to return to Clock Town and use a new Shiekah stone placed within the town clock. The Happy Mask Seller is always lurking there, showing you hint videos for every aspect of the game, from helping you out of scrapes at temples to finding heart pieces and those damn fairies.
Along with helpful hints, Nintendo have also taken steps to make the gameplay experience smoother and to minimise unnecessary waiting around. this ensures that you can make the most of the limited amount of time you have available.
The game’s clock has been changed from an analogue clock in the top right corner to a timeline that more accurately represents what time and day it is. The Song of Double Time now allows you to skip to any point in the future that you want, rather than simply jumping forward six hours. All of the time-manipulation songs can now be learned by simply playing them rather than visiting the scarecrow by the observatory.
The Bomber’s handbook has also been completely revamped to offer a greater amount of detail on when events will take place, as well as giving you the ability to set alarms to make sure you are present for various time-sensitive side quests.
It bears mentioning though that none of the improvements (with the possible exception of the hints) actually change the level of challenge to the game at all. I still felt a constant pressure, always being under the clock, always running out of time and was never more aware of that than during the game’s wonderful boss encounters. It’s made all the more intense since you’re more than aware that you absolutely need to kill the bastards as quickly as possible.
However, veterans of the original might well be disappointed to hear that there have been adjustments made to each boss fight that make them considerably more straightforward. The Woodfall temple’s boss, ODOLWA, has been completely revamped in ways that have turned an incredibly tense and surprisingly difficult opening boss into one that is laughably easy. Nintendo decided to telegraph the weak point of each boss with a giant Majora’s Eye that screams “This is where you hit them dummy.” They’ve also included additional launch points and healng items.
If you never played the original, it’s of little consequence though. Even if you have, the changes, while annoying, don’t stop them from being any less fun. Chasing Goht in the Snowhead temple is still just as exhilarating, even though he is a lot easier to hit when you do finally chase him down.
The most noticeable change is the graphical retouch. The graphics have been rehashed to a similar standard to those found in Ocarina of Time 3D, and just like the original Majora’s Mask it reuses a lot of assets from its predecessor. It’s worth noting that the 3D effect is greatly improved over Ocarina of Time’s, which was a little too full-on and jarring. It’s not hard to see that in the time since the original 3DS launch, Nintendo have really got to grips with how to subtly use the tech to enhance visuals without giving you a headache after half an hour of play.
Though, to be honest the best way to talk about the improved visuals is to just show you, so… voila. (Thanks, MasterOfHyrule)
You can now also control the camera either using the c-stick on the New 3DS or by attaching a circle pad pro to a regular one. It’s a nice addition, but the camera controls on the N64 Zelda’s were always pretty spot-on so I found myself reverting to just occasionally re-centering by hitting L. Still, it’s a nice addition for those that like to be able to get a better angle on the action it comes in especially useful when you’re hunting for the fairies scattered throughout the game’s temples.
All of these small enhancements serve to iron out the creases in what was (Zelda’s current custodian) Eiji Aonuma’s first turn in the Director’s chair, and has characterised his desire to create a more diverse Zelda universe, one that leaves Hyrule behind (as seen in Wind Waker). One that tells darker and more brooding tales (Twilight Princess, which according to the Hyrule Historia follows on from MM) and create stories within the universe with a more Human and personal touch (Skyward Sword).
In the case of Majora’s Mask, Aonuma created a bold and altogether-different kind of Zelda and one that finally has the chance to step out of the shadow of its much-lauded older brother. If you own a 3DS, do yourself a favour and play this game. If you’re a Zelda fan, chances are you already have, but if (like me) you missed it the first time around, you finally have the chance to go back and rectify the mistakes of the past. So to speak.