Sunday, 26 June 2011

Review: The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D

I want you to be under no illusions with my feelings towards Ocarina of Time before reading this review: I love it. It is without shadow of a doubt my favourite game. With this review I had to make sure I was reviewing this new version and not the game I wished to marry all those years ago. It was with some trepidation therefore that I picked up The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (Ocarina). I hadn't played any new versions of it since the N64 days and I was somewhat concerned that all the charm, elegance and brilliance might somehow be absent. Nintendo after all only played some part in the remake, with Grezzo taking on board the bulk of the project. However, from the opening moments it is clear that this game has been remade with all the care and attention that it deserves; Grezzo really have done something wonderful.

I have been calling it a remake thus far but I don't think that quite does the game justice. It is a remastering. It's the same game fine tuned here and there, polished elsewhere and tightened up to make what was already a stunning game even better.

I was lucky enough to see the 3DS and some games at a prelaunch event a few months before its release here in the UK and I brought away from that event some lasting impressions, that in all caused me to fork out my hard earned cash. One of the main reasons was Ocarina. Of all the games on show, with perhaps the exception of Kid Iccarus: Uprising, I thought Ocarina by far looked the best. The colours are really crisp and pop in this game, far more than some other games I've seen on the handheld. Hyrule is as bright and as vibrant as I remembered. Not only that but the 3D actually adds something to the game. It makes the world feel more deep and real and cutscenes especially look superb with the 3D turned on. It is immediately noticible in Kokiri Forest with all the particles and fireflies looking, quite simply, striking.

Textures have been completely updated. Gone are the bland monotone building textures or blocks of trees. Buildings now have individual bricks and the world is full of foliage and details that simply weren't there before. Bricks on a building or in a dungeon may not sound like much but the updated textures really do stand out. It's nice to be running through somewhere so familiar yet be seeing it how the designers originally intended it to be seen.

Links animations have also been refreshed and he now moves much more fluidly in the world. Backflips, rolls and climbing have all been updated and remade from the ground up causing Link to no longer suffer from jerky movements.

There are some gripes though: I often found pop ups a bit frustrating here and there - characters would still suddenly disappear from view when you are only a few meteres away from them or textures/environment objects would pop up as you got closer. It's a shame really since generally the updates really add to the sense of realism and life in the world of Hyrule, yet graphical glitches somewhat remind you that this is not necessarily a game of this generation.

I also found that, as nice as it was, that I had to turn the 3D off whilst in dungeons. I found that I was moving the system around too much and often lost the "sweet spot" resulting in flickering images and something of a headache. I tended to leave it on when just exploring though and made a point of using it through cutscenes, which as I mentioned, look especially good this time around.

The controls in some cases remain unchanged from that of the N64. The circle pad now replaces the analogue stick and the action buttons replace the A, B and C buttons of the N64 pad. The circle pad is really responsive and comfortable but I have noticed that after some longer play sessions my thumb started to slide off it a fair bit - perhaps it could do with just a little more grip than it currently has. Z-targeting has now been reinvented as L-targeting, making use of the 3Ds' Left bumper. I found this difficult to use initially as the 3DS is a little bulky to hold comfortably and keep the L button depressed. I ended up changing the lock-on settings so that I didn't need to keep the button held down and this seemed to help a great deal.

One of the biggest differences in this version of Ocarina is the use of the 3DS touchscreen in gameplay. Maps, Items and Gear have all been removed from the Start menu and occupy the bottom screen in the form of tabs. This works especially well as navigating between Gear and Items is especially fast. The size of the screen also accommodates room for further quick item buttons and both a permanent home for Navi and your Ocarina. One thing I missed though was having the item screen laid out in a more organised fashion. Not being terribly organised in my real life I do like to take pride to organising things in my games and I would quite like my bottles to live in a bottle area, my childhood equipment to live in childhood equipment and my adult equipment to...well, you get the idea.

Aiming and looking around the world has also been enhanced by utilising the 3DS' gyroscope. You can still aim manually with the circle pad and then move the 3DS in order to fine tune, or you can move the 3DS or analogue stick entirely independently if you want to. I wasn't sure at first about using the gyroscope as it felt a bit odd and I didn't fancy moving the system around and, frankly, drawing more attention to myself in public than I necessarily wanted to. But when I got used to it I found aiming much improved over the original and I would often use the former method of positioning primarily with the circle pad and fine tuning with the gyroscope. If however you really don't want to use the gyroscope you can turn it off. Also moving the system does lend to the problem of you losing the 3D sweet spot unless you have, as I also did when aiming, turned the 3D off.

The Ocarina interaction has also been altered allowing you to play the Ocarina in a variety of ways: via button presses on the hardware or by pressing the corresponding buttons on the touch screen. A welcome addition is that you can also switch to the music scores on the touchscreen and still play along on the Ocarina whilst reading the music. This is much improved over the original where if you forgot a tune you had to go into the Start menu, look it up and hopefully try to remember it when you quit out. I found myself making use of this quite a lot since, to my dismay, the position of the notes have been moved on the 3DS. I can still play Zelda's Lullaby and Epona's Song through muscle memory ([Left - Up - Right, Left - Up- Right] and [Up - Left -Right, Up - Left - Right] respectfully) but alas, on the 3DS the notes are mapped to different buttons. It's something that could be frustrating for Ocarina aficionados, but likely wont bother newcomers.

Shiekah stones have also been added in several points throughout the world in order to help players who find themselves getting stuck. They do this by presenting a "vision" to the player which essentially indicate to the player where they should go or what they should do next. Fortunately they never outright show a solution but merely provide enough information that a player can then work out what to do for themselves. Its a nice mechanic and akin to the visions players recieve in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and new players may find it's inclusion useful. However, if you have played the game before then these stones will likely serve no purpose to you, say for reminding you of the odd minor gameplay event here and there.

If, like me, you were hoping that at least this time you could go to bed at night after playing and not be plagued by nightmares of a million niggling miniature lights screaming "HEY! LISTEN!" over and over again then I'm afraid you may be disappointed. Navi, much to my dismay has not been toned down in the slightest, but Grezzo have actually managed to make her more annoying than before. She now not only reminds you repeatedly of where you should be going and how urgent it is, but contradicts herself by advising you to take a break as you've been playing for far too long. Additionally she also advises you in her condescending helpful way to seek out the help of the Shiekah stones scattered throughout Hyrule, as you are taking too long to do what she wants and are therefore, obviously, stuck and/or stupid. That being said, I do like aspects of Navi's existence, mainly in that it's nice to see information about the enemies your fighting: both in terms of their name and possible weaknesses. It's a shame that there isn't a difficulty setting of sorts though, whereby I could turn off the need for hints or somehow mute the annoying midge until I wanted to talk to her.

The biggest disappointment however is that the soundtrack remains largely unchanged. Orchestral Zelda tunes are something fans have wanted for a long time and I remember being very disappointed to see that Twilight Princess hadn't made use of an Orchestral score, especially as Super Mario Galaxy had done so, and had shown just how brilliant that could be. Unlike Super Mario Galaxy, Zelda games rely quite heavily on musical hints, cues and also serve a purpose in rewarding players when they solve a puzzle. Whereas the Ocarina score was praised and the music is recognisable it is a shame that this is one of the areas that wasn't improved in the remastering. For the most part it isn't too bad, but some jingles do grate a bit and, quite bluntly, lend to the game feeling a bit dated.

The story is essentially unchanged in this remastering, with only some minor dialogue twists and additional animations included to explain the new features such as the Sheikah stones and different controls. Predominantly however I found the story just as enjoyable today as I did when I first played it. I love the journey Link goes on as a character and I love the interactions you have with all the characters in the game. Spanning seven years and revisiting places in the future that you had so often seen in the past is still as effective and shocking as ever. You really get a sense that these are characters all with their own lives and things they should be doing, who are just trying to get on with life in the trying times they've found themselves in. I don't want to say too much about the story as it is certainly one of the games strong points and one of the main reasons I fell in love with it the first time around. Whereas today it may not stand up to the likes of The Uncharted series or Red Dead Redemption in terms of story depth and believability I still think it holds its own. At it's heart it is a fairy tale, with a young boy becoming a hero, tasked with not only saving a princess, but the world they both reside in. It doesn't come much simpler or perhaps textbook than that, but the way Ocarina tells it's story makes it far from a textbook adventure.

Closing Comments

Ocarina of Time is still a wonderful game and is also a sterling demonstration of the 3DS' capabilities. It has been lovingly injected with new life by Grezzo whose own love for the game is clear in what they have produced here. For the most part the improvements made by the team are extremely welcomed, but a more annoying Navi and lack of orchestral score do hurt it somewhat. If you have never played a Zelda game before then I couldn't recommend a better game to get you introduced to the series. There's still plenty to do and explore in Hyrule and it is sure to keep you entertained for many hours. If you have played Zelda before and especially Ocarina then there is still enjoyment to be had with this version. The game looks better than it ever has before with animations, locations and characters finally being realised as their designers intended. If, when you finish the main game and are hungry for more, The Master Quest is also included. Unlike the version released with Wind Waker, this Master Quest not only has reorganised dungeons, puzzles and tougher enemies but also a completely mirrored world: which is sure to totally mess with your noggin and to keep you entertained for even longer.

I said at the start of this review that I had to remind myself that it was the 3DS version I am reviewing and not the original game. Were it the original the score would be incredibly easy to give: 10/10. However, as much as it pains me to award lower, the lack of orchestral score, some niggling graphical issues and gameplay annoyances mean that I have to be more realistic:


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