The best version of one of the best Zelda games.
Going back to games I loved years ago tends to lead to at least a little bit of disappointment. Game development and structure have changed dramatically since I was young, and replaying those old titles can serve to underscore that fact. The games themselves aren’t inherently bad (ok, some of them are), they just lack the polish and systems that have become commonplace. Majora’s Mask probably concerned me on this front more than most other games; it’s a fun, brilliant departure from the norm in the Zelda universe, but the time mechanic that made it so unique could also make it very frustrating. Within the first hour my fears had been dismissed. Nintendo managed to update the time management in a way that feels totally organic, and in the process makes the jewel that is Majora’s Mask shine.
If the internet existed the way it does now when Majora came out in 2000, message boards would have melted over the game’s departure from the standard Zelda formula. The events of the game play out over 72 hours, culminating with the end of the world. Game minutes go by faster than real seconds, which doesn’t leave much time. Fortunately, Link can use his ocarina to slow time, or go back to the beginning of the first day. Majora’s Mask is full of events that take place at different times, and time manipulation is key to completing tasks.
Although time management is a constant, it’s really the masks that make this the most un-Zelda Zelda game. There are two dozen of them, each one with a different effect, like attracting lost fairies or providing an enhanced sense of smell. Three of the masks will physically transform Link, into a Deku, Goron or Zora. He will not only gain the attacks and abilities of those creatures, but he will also be recognized as one of them, which is important as well. The combination of clock and masks makes Majora a game about doing the right thing the right way at the right time, rather than simply getting it done.
If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, it’s because it is. If I was working on a side quest and missed an event on day 3, I had no choice but to go back to day 1 and start over. The game’s solution is the Bomber’s Notebook, which keeps track of people’s schedules and when events happen. Originally that’s all it did, but in Majora’s Mask 3D it has gotten some important updates.
The notebook now not only shows when things are happening with various characters, it also tracks rumored events – things that I didn’t fully know about but had heard mentioned by someone. I could also select an event and view a map of the area it was happening in, so I was never frantically looking for something that would end soon. Even when I knew when something was happening, a lot of the original game was waiting for it when I got there. The song of double time, which previously jumped to the next noon or midnight, now allows players to jump to any time in the future, in 1 hour increments. I could also set alarms in the notebook, so I didn’t have to constantly keep an eye on the clock when I had something coming up. These additions allowed me to spend my time playing the game instead of watching the clock, which went a long way towards dismissing my original fears.
The presentation is almost identical to the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time, which is no surprise, as Majora re-uses most of that game’s character models. It feels like an odd sort of reunion when the fire and ice witches from Ocarina sell me a potion in Majora, and it winds up feeling more fun than just recycled. Like its predecessor the game looks great on the 3DS, although I did feel like the 3D was not quite as easy on the eyes. Generally (especially with Nintendo first party games) I don’t have a problem with the 3D, but with Majora’s Mask it never seemed to stay “right” for too long, eventually leading me to turn it off. It does do a nice job of adding scale to environments though, especially when the camera pulls back to a wider shot.
The game benefits from the 3DS hardware as well, with the touchscreen again allowing easy item swapping and four assignable buttons (as opposed to the original 3), which is a great help with the mask swapping dynamic. It also supports camera control via the right stick, provided by either a circle pad pro or N3DSXL. I didn’t have either of those to test with, but having the camera control from the original back would have been helpful.
Majora’s Mask is a rarity in several ways. It stands alone in the Zelda series, for both its time and character transformation aspects. It’s also a rare blast from the past that actually outperformed my fond memories of it, thanks to some thoughtful work put into the game’s systems. The complaints that kept some people from playing it originally have been addressed, and anyone who either passed it up or never had the opportunity before should give it a shot. For those who loved the original like me, happiness awaits. After years of petitioning we have our Majora’s Mask remake, and it’s absolutely worth the time.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.