Why Are Remasters Tampering with the Source Material?

Remasters are a solid part of any publisher’s release schedule these days. Starting last generation with the God of War Collection, the “HD Remaster” was a way to bring older titles to modern platforms while increasing image quality. In Sony’s case it minimised the effects of cutting Backwards Compatibility from the Playstation 3 and provided a bridge from the PS2 crowd that had defected to Xbox 360. In recent years it has given companies like Nintendo the chance to recoup investment on games developed for less successful platforms like the Gamecube. Now they focus less on “HD” but improving performance, and packaging hits together for a second shot at the charts. They’re also cheap to outsource and can keep a franchise alive between big releases. Unfortunately a disturbing trend is starting to creep in; they aren’t just updating the technology behind scenes, but altering stylistic and creative choices too.

A prominent example of this is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD on the WiiU.

Wind Waker Gamecube Ghoma Fight

Wind Waker made quite a splash when it launched on the Gamecube. One of the first Cel-Shaded games, the look was divisive but it’s part of the reason the game aged so well. Link often looks entirely two-dimensional, rendered in thick acrylic with heavy and flat shadowing that merges beautifully with the environments and hand drawn puffs of smoke. The game was ahead of its time, launching when the industry was all about realism. When Zelda returned for Twilight Princess, Nintendo adopted a style closer to Ocarina of Time.

Now let’s look at Wind Waker HD.

Wind Waker HD lightingThe same character models and general design remains, but there’s a modern lighting model here. The entire cel shading effect has been reduced by the presence of softer lighting and shadows. It might be a mistake generated by the remastering process, but given Nintendo’s admitted disappointment with the public’s response to Wind Waker, it’s likely they intentionally softened the effect for the re-release. The problem is that by destroying the flat cartoon look of the game, it exposes the age of the character models far more. Wind Waker HD is technically superior to its WiiU counterpart, but there are frequent moments where the original looks cleaner and bolder, despite its limitations.

Bioshock Textures FloorA more recent example is The Bioshock Collection, which contains a remastered Bioshock 1 and 2. Great effort has been put into revising the original game’s geometry, increasing the polygons in a lot of character and environment models. Texture quality is also massively improved over the original console releases, while time has been spent preserving the way classic Bioshock gameplay should feel. Unfortunately, one small artistic change has a surprisingly dramatic effect on the tone of the game. Originally, scenes in Rapture were flooded. Everywhere you looked, the floor was coated with a layer of seawater. These have been mostly removed in the remasters. Water still flows from pipes and appears at inopportune moments, but the feeling of water and the ocean everywhere has been stripped from the environments. Everything looks a lot drier.

Bioshock Remastered TexturesThis might seem like a petty complaint, but it represents an important part of the look and feel of the setting that no longer exists. And this is Bioshock. A game revered not just for its graphics, but for its overall visual design, and its perfect unison of look, feel, and narrative. It is one of the most respected and beloved games of the modern era, and the first game on most people’s lips when you ask the question “Are games art.” It raises serious questions for the archival of digital media, and the ability to keep playing these games in their original form in years to come, when even Bioshock can’t survive untweaked.

Even now, with the launch of the Return to Arkham Collection, we see similar retcons taking place. One of the more subtle changes, the collection is showing tweaks to the colour grading that mostly affect Arkham City. Asylum is graded and rebalanced, but largely in keeping with the game’s original look. City isn’t so fortunate, and a great effort appears to have been made to make the two look more consistent. The biggest change affects Batman himself who, after appearing in a tradition Black cowl and cape in Arkham Asylum, took on a blueish tone in City. While the blue toned Batsuit from City was the source of some complaints, it was in keeping with the look of the game, and the tone of the game which was lighter and drew more from source material in Batman’s 70s era. On the surface, it’s another small change, but it represents another classic game being altered to meet someone else’s creative vision, years after the fact. In this case it makes the games less distinct also, removing creative evolution that occurred between the two releases.

These changes are in some respects, understandable. Warner Bros. aren’t just thinking of Return to Arkham as two individual games, but a foundation of a franchise. A franchise that didn’t have a lot of luck on its last outing. Both Bioshock and Wind Waker suffer from a problem of keeping up with modern technology. Lighting and particle effects have come a long way, the temptation to tweak is very real, particularly if the tweaked is easier to implement than faking a lighting model from the early 2000s.

As long as we avoid a Star Wars Original Trilogy situation and the unaltered releases are still available in some form, changes are acceptable. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is probably going to outlast the PS3 versions by quite some distance, but it is a very authentic port. This isn’t the case for all games. Wind Waker HD is, for most consumers, the only way to play that game right now. In time this will be true of Ratchet and Clank, God of War, and many other console exclusive remasters. That’s why we need to step back and ask what Remaster releases are for. Do they exist to respectfully convert the titles, to preserve and future proof them so future generations can share the experience, or do they exist to improve and edit the source material like a second draft. These are very different approaches, and they have very different implications for games as an art form.

So far the publishers have avoided this topic, choosing instead to prioritise budget. What they really want is to sell the game again with minimal hit to the wallet. This creates a problem, as the ultimate question of how authentic the job should be is then left in the hands of the porting house. By refusing to answer this question, publishers are letting quick-and-easy budget conversion studios make the decision for them. That’s not a professional and respectful way to treat a work of art.

Halo anniversary in classic modePublishers and developers need to take charge of this situation. Remasters need to be given a little more oversight, someone to consider these questions. Studios should feel free to embrace the opportunity to make changes, but when these changes interfere with the creative vision of the original product, preservation and distribution of the unaltered material needs to be a priority too. So far, only Microsoft has met this challenge, with their Halo Anniversary remasters offering both a total recreation and a straight port in the same package.

Early in the life of Film and Television, huge swathes of content was destroyed due to ineffective or negligent approaches to archival. The games industry needs to tackle this problem while the medium is still young, or risk losing some of its history forever

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass – Review

Don’t I spoil you, dear Zelda fans? Don’t worry, I have only one more Zelda review lurking in my archives after this one, and I might not post it. It’s a piece I wrote about the GBA port of A Link to the Past and is concerned much more with the port than the game itself. I know I’ve been swamping you with Zelda reviews over the last few days, but I’m really trying to get my old dooyoo reviews here where they belong. This is a review for one of my all time favourite Zelda, Phantom Hourglass on the DS. A divisive title, to be sure, and overshadowed by recent successes like Nintendo’s 3DS ports, and A Link Between Worlds. Still, I liked it then, and I like it now. Read on, dear Zelda fan, and let me know what you think. 

Zelda Phantom HourglassThe Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is the first game in the Zelda series to see a release on the Nintendo DS. As such it has a lot to prove, not only in proving that the DS is capable of adapting to the series’ varied gameplay but also demonstrating that the massive and lengthy stories that the series is famous for can be squeezed into one of those tiny little cartridges. It rises to both these challenges superbly.

Firstly, Phantom Hourglass is a little unusual in the series in that it follows on directly from a previous game. Most entries in the series take regular components, the hero Link, the Princess Zelda and the villain Ganon and then place them in a totally self-contained story. This time around we pick up not long after the conclusion of the last home console entry in the series, The Wind Waker. Fortunately the game does not depend on too much back story but for players of The Wind Waker it’s nice to find yourself in a familiar world.

The game begins upon a pirate ship populated by some of the most cheerful pirates I’ve ever seen. You play Link, a young boy this time around, a member of the ship’s crew under Princess Zelda who has taken to playing captain. While the whole set up will probably make more sense to players of the previous game it doesn’t matter too much as thirty seconds in the jolly pirate ship runs afoul of the ghost ship. A fog clouds the entire vessel and Zelda is abducted. Link being the hero that he is, dives overboard in pursuit only to get caught in the current and wash up on a strange beach. And so it is that all is washed away and we embark upon a new adventure.

Link soon becomes acquainted with a fairy, a wise old man, a sea captain and a fortune teller. Between them all they piece together enough clues about the ghost ship and set sail. Players of The Wind Waker will remember sailing from island to island in their personal yacht. This time around Link has access to a small paddle steamer and so things move a fair bit faster.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this game is that it has some of the most beautiful graphics ever seen on a DS game. When The Wind Waker was released on the gamecube, a surprising uproar erupted from Zelda fandom about the graphics. The Wind Waker demonstrated a very well designed example of cell shading at a time when games didn’t dare to be different. The visuals were very stylised, bright and colourful with a hint of ancient chinese art about them. Character designs were very exaggerated, water was a mix of pure blue and pure white, great explosions blew out in a flurry on inky spirals.

It remains one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. Apparently some of these “fans” however, had been operating under the delusion that Zelda was and ever should be an ultra realistic, gritty fantasy series with polygon perfect characters. While that doesn’t match any Zelda game I’ve ever seen, this corner of fandom was particularly vocal and objected strongly to the direction The Wind Waker had taken. Shigeru Miyamoto, the game’s designer was a little hurt, I believe and when the next major Zelda title arrived we were presented with a dark and gothic tale set in an ultra realistic, fantasy world. It was a great game but really only a fraction as innovative and as fun as The Wind Waker.

All is not lost however and The Wind Waker’s visual style has been kept for Zelda’s handheld titles, where gamers don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. Phantom Hourglass benefits so much from the heritage of The Wind Waker, it’s hard to imagine the game being possible without it. The diminutive child version of link makes a perfect little hero to guide around the world and while the power of the DS pales in comparison to the Gamecube, a more stylised more is far better suited to its hardware. Textures here are the biggest weakness with most being blocky and rough, however the whole game is assembled beautiful and I was overjoyed to see that explosions still blow out into inky spirals. I think Phantom Hourglass is probably the best looking DS title that I own, while it doesn’t push the hardware as much as some it always presents a consistent image that suits the game. In the end it is games such as these that we remember.

The game also makes use of the entire DS capabilities, often in very clever ways. Controlling Link is done via the touch screen however, unlike Super Mario 64 which expected you to use the touch screen like an analogue stick, here you merely touch the stylus to the screen and Link will run to that point. The stylus must be held down allowing Link to follow but unlike other titles you aren’t require to push forward; it’s much handier. Links typical range of sword attacks are all here and made highly intuitive. Simple quick attacks are done by tapping the screen while more complicated attacks are done through a series of swipes. The spin attack is probably easiest and just asks you to draw a quick circle around Link. It’s quick and easy to do, most players will probably get to grips with it in minutes. Phantom Hourglass also makes use of the microphone, though only for a few specific events. As they’re part of some very entertaining puzzles, I won’t spoil them here, I’ll just say it’s nice to see developers using this feature.

While the gameplay is strong, I was a little disappointed int the storytelling which seems to have taken a step backwards this time around. Ostensibly the game places its emphasis on exploration but this is far too easy to be truly diverting. The game doesn’t feature a wide range of other characters and those that are around often aren’t that interesting. he game also doesn’t last as long as I’ve come to expect from a Zelda title. The story can be worked through in a good few days and the ocean has somehow shrunk since The Wind Waker. However, it is playing the role of an epilogue more than a completely new adventure so perhaps that’s intentional.

There’s a lot of really solid gameplay to be found here and peeks of a really solid game hiding beneath the surface. The dungeon segments have the added twist of a time element that makes them somewhat more interesting than usual and I often felt like this could have been a classic with perhaps a better story. There’s a lot to love including a fantastic visual style and a control scheme that’s a dream on the DS but I was left wishing the visuals were all they’d taken from The Wind Waker. The game feels more tied down by the ocean setting than liberated and as much of the vast world has been cut out it seems somewhat pointless. I keep finding myself drifting off to a world where I was playing with exactly the same engine but a whole new story. Perhaps next time, eh?

If you’re considering buying Phantom Hourglass, don’t let this review put you off. It’s a first rate game that not only looks stunning but is fun and compelling. However, if you’re coming over from other entries in the series then I would advise you to think of it more as a short trip than a whole new world to fall into.

This is available at most game stores and online for around £20, it will run in any Nintendo DS console.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – Review

I was surprised to discover another Zelda review lurking in my dooyoo archives, but here it is. I hope you enjoy it!

Our hero has changed a bit over the years.
Our hero has changed a bit over the years.

Link’s Awakening for the original Gameboy was the first Zelda title released for a handheld device, and only the fourth in the series when it launched. Developed at a time when the franchise was still working through unfamiliar territory, it doesn’t have any of the usual cliches inherited from Ocarina of Time on the N64 and remains a remarkably solid adventure.

The story is a direct sequel to the Super Nintendo game, A Link to the Past. Our hero Link is shipwrecked on a the small Koholint island and discovers that all is not well. Monsters are roaming the island and Link is stranded, to escape he must wake the mythical Wind Fish that is supposed to watch over the island. In typical Zelda fashion this means working through a series of puzzle laden dungeons and retrieving some powerful artefacts. In this case, eight magical instruments. Hey, I didn’t say it was completely free of cliches.

The plot develops in a surprisingly intricate fashion and though the story has developed a reputation for having an “it was all a dream” twist ending, that is a little inaccurate. As Link explores the island, he discovers more about its nature. Things become a little surreal as questions are raised as to the island’s reality and more importantly, the role the Wind Fish plays in all this. As Link completes more dungeons he becomes embroiled in sentient nightmares trying to stop him from waking the Wind Fish. It’s a surprisingly sophisticated narrative that one would not expect to find on a Gameboy title and is probably the best RPG to ever see release on the system.

Link's Awakening GameplayGameplay is very simple, taking its cues from the original Legend of Zelda on the NES and A Link to the Past. The player controls Link from an overhead perspective and is equipped with a sword and shield. Most monsters are relatively simple to defeat but large in number with some challenging boss battles scattered throughout. The game is challenging when it comes to puzzles but keeps combat manageable, the focus here is the adventure as a whole and the game rarely disappoints.

Graphically, Link’s Awakening is a gem. The Gameboy’s power was in the same region as the original NES but this title is so much more stylish than the original Zelda that you would think the hardware was a world apart. Developed in a very similar style to A Link to the Past it really fits as a sequel and looks absolutely beautiful.

Links Awakening was released twice back in the day. The original Gameboy version was followed by a Gameboy Colour release that added a few new dungeons and some nice use of colour. Both are largely the same though both are also quite difficult to find. If you want to play this, and I would recommend it to anyone, then your much better off playing the virtual console re-release on the 3ds.

Link's Awakening Egg

The Legend of Zelda – The Wind Waker – Review

Hey guys, this is another review carried across from my old DooYoo account. I believe this is the last of my Zelda reviews, but I like to save the best ’til last. This was written before Wind Waker HD hit WiiU.

Zelda WWNintendo’s Legend of Zelda series is easily one of the most well designed and superbly executed series of games around. They are, to me, the definitive adventure, puzzle and RPG titles; offering superb gameplay and excellent characterisation that has something for everyone. While the gameplay style is fairly consistent from game to game, we rarely see more than one or two titles a generation and so it doesn’t get old as you’d think. Often, playing a new Zelda title is more like slipping into an familiar old jumper. I suppose what I’m saying is that if you’ve played a Zelda game before, you know what to expect. Usually, excellence. While the series has branched out a bit in recent years with sequels and side stories on the DS, Nintendo’s home console is always the place for the main adventure, the significant chapters that contribute most to the overall story. This is definitely one of those chapters.

The Wind Waker was the first Zelda title released for the Gamecube and presented a major change in direction from its predecessors, Ocarina of Time and its direct sequel Majora’s Mask. From the start Nintendo seem intent to push the series into new ground, the influence of Ocarina of Time is never far off however. As the game opens, we are informed that many centuries have passed since the Hero of Time defeated the evil Ganon and sealed him away in a magical prison; referencing the events of Ocarina. Since then, the world has changed a great deal and thanks to a great catastrophe, much of it is underwater. Here we find Link on his tenth birthday, he and his family live on a small island surrounded by a vast ocean. To mark the special day, he is given an outfit resembling Link’s usual green gear, complete with his famous pointed hat. Young Link isn’t too impressed with this dorky getup but his grandmother politely reminds him that all boys are dressed like the famous hero on their tenth birthday, it’s tradition. Trouble soon erupts on the island as Link’s sister is abducted by a giant bird, rumours that other young girls have been snatched leads Link out into the wide ocean to save the day. Along the way, he strikes up a friendship with a talking boat, visits the flooded land below and even faces off against an ancient enemy. It’s a vast world to explore and the story is great; a good foundation for any Zelda game.

The Wind Waker distinguishes itself from other entries in the series somewhat with its distinct style. The most obvious element of this is the unique artistic direction taken with the visuals. Unlike the more realistic Ocarina of Time, Nintendo developed Wind Waker to resemble a living cartoon. Using early but excellent cel-shading techniques they have created a game in which the very environments seem to have been formed up out of acrylic paint. It’s very effectively done and is probably one of the most beautiful games ever made. Stylised art also dates far more favourably than realism in the video game world and so Wind Waker is still easily one of the best looking games around.

Wind Waker SailingThis visual approach suits the games back to basic approach very well. We are following a Link that is very young, similarly to earlier titles such as A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. While the game inherits the stronger puzzle elements of Ocarina of Time, it really strives to play on different sides of the series’ heritage. It’s an approach that works very well, creating a Zelda story that is more accessible for younger players while still being deep and challenging.

Unfortunately, Zelda is a long running and very successful series which leaves it contending with its own fans. The Wind Waker suffered from a great deal f criticism from these fans before it even saw release. Despite a history of varying styles, Wind Waker’s more stylised graphics and colourful story were attacked as selling out. Nothing could be further from the truth, this game is absolutely excellent throughout and produced with a real caring hand. Still, it performs the biggest crime in the eyes of fandom, it attempts to be different.

While Zelda titles released on the Gamecube and Wii since have reverted back to the style of the Nintendo 64 games, it’s nice to see that Wind Waker’s influence is carried on in a series of titles for the Nintendo DS. These offer a lot of new gameplay ideas but maintain the cel shaded style that suits the system very well.

If you’re a newcomer to the Zelda series or just missed this one the first time around, The Wind Waker is an easy one to recommend. It’s as long lasting and intelligent as other entries in the series but has a nice feel to it that sets it apart. It’s easily one of the best home console versions and much better than Twilight Princess a few years ago.

This title will also play on a Nintendo Wii, however it will require a Gamecube controller to play. It is, unfortunately, a little hard to get a hold of and will set you back around £15. It’s as good as any new title though and well worth the investment.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess – Review

As with my Ocarina of Time review, this was originally posted on Dooyoo. Reposting it here because I’m still on a big Zelda kick. 

Darknut-twilightThe last few years have seen the Zelda franchise splinter in two directions. The “offspring” of Wind Waker are thriving on the DS, while games like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword represent the “main” series; the franchise flagships, and find themselves firmly plonked on Nintendo’s home console. Twilight Princess is something of a bridging game, the last major title to see release on the Gamecube and one of the launch titles for the Wii; it kickstarted Nintendo’s new found success and no doubt brought in a lot of fans early on. In many respects it is typical of the series, offering a familiar combination of dungeon exploring, puzzle solving and adventuring, however it also takes time to really try out new things. It makes a few missteps along the way but Twilight Princess is, at times, a surprisingly original entry; though not perfect.

Things get off to a good start with Twilight Princess standing alone, requiring no back story or catchup intros. You begin as a young goatherd in a small village, your first hour or so will be spent here simply meeting characters you’ll come to know and helping out with the small problems that crop up in day to day life. It’s a slow yet rewarding opening that introduces you to the main features of the game, particularly the control scheme, without piling on too much challenge early on. Different tasks in the village will see you fish, climb, call birds from the skies and even scare a monkey, before the adventure really kicks off. It will be a slow beginning for those eager to get right to the dungeons, but it really worked for me. Soon however, the Kingdom of Hyrule is attacked and a shadowy twilight falls over the world. You are transformed by the dark powers into a rather friendly looking wolf and with the help of Midna, a spirit from the Twilight, you must go on a quest to return to your human form.

This however is just how the story begins and before you reach the end you’ll have had some surprisingly varied experiences. I’m sure I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that you will return to human form soon enough, though a short spell as a canine is never far away as you must repeatedly venture into twilight blighted lands. This dual world, dual character setup works surprisingly well and riffs a lot on themes established way back in A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo. It creates a second perspective on every area and each new land must be cleansed before you can really progress through it. The ultimate effect of this is that the player is uniquely connected to the threat that consumes the land, entering Twilight not only changes your body but releases more challenging puzzles and monsters, a very real effect the player must confront.

You will also have access to the series’ remarkable arsenal of boomerangs, bombs and other bric-a-brac. These are collected as your work your way through the game’s numerous dungeons and usually serve as the key to their completion. Weapons in Zelda titles rarely serve no purpose, instead the designers use the addition of new skills to craft progressively more fiendish puzzles. It’s a good system but unfortunately it is becoming very familiar territory by now, often I felt a little disappointed when I could think of a couple of good solutions to a puzzle only to find that I was only allowed to use one specific weapon to proceed when five or so others would have done the job.

It’s a little hard to sum up my feelings for Twilight Princess because I find myself wondering on what standards to judge it. As an entry in the overall series, it is one of the most successful. The balance of dungeons to over world exploration is probably the best the series has achieved and it’s fair to say that I was never frustrated with the rate of progress. I also particularly liked the story and the characters. There were a lot of times when I felt more connected to this world than in a lot of other games I’ve played, a feeling I credit to that well paced introduction. And yet, certain aspects of Twilight Princess left me surprisingly hollow.

I have written before of the enjoyment I had with The Wind Waker on the Gamecube, despite the criticism it received I felt the art style to be beautiful and the overall story to be nearly perfect. While Twilight Princess is probably a better title when compared to The Wind Waker, I’m not sure it moves the series forward in any meaningful way. Part of the game’s problem is that for all its original ideas, it tries too hard to be Ocarina of Time. The tone of the game, the return to a dual world approach and even the nice, gentle opening are so clearly taken from the N64 hit that often I felt as though it were a simple remake. While this seems to have been a hit with the series fans, I want to see the series try new things, Twilight Princess seems like too little, too late. While Ocarina on the Nintendo 64 was a revolutionary game, arriving at just the right time to impress all the right people, Twilight Princess isn’t. Rather, it is a small step in a long line of small steps that just happens the travel the furthest so far.

Graphically, while Twilight Princess is a reasonably attractive game, most of that comes from its well defined visual style. It’s very clearly a Gamecube title that has had Wii functionality hammered on (though successfully.) While character models are all fairly impressive, scenery features a lot of very simple design choices and some depressingly muddy textures. The game was ready for release about a year before the Wii hit the shelves and so it doesn’t even attempt to exploit the Wii’s extra power and merely settles for what it has. Furthermore, it is games such as these, with vast surroundings and foliage that really show the Wii’s shortcomings when it comes to resolution. A bump of a few pixels would have really cleaned things up and it’s such a shame that for all the fun I had playing Twilight Princess, I kept wishing I were playing it on a different console.

In the end, it’s very hard to fault Twilight Princess when taken on its own merits and I had no qualms about giving it the full five stars. Taken as part of a series however, I couldn’t help being a little let down. It really doesn’t break the mould and it was a shame to see the Wind Waker backlash have such an influence. I could help feeling that Twilight Princess wasn’t just designed with adults in mind but was done so to the exclusion of younger players, something I would have never wanted to see. In the end I found it surprising that despite the many good things I had to say about Twilight Princess, I enjoyed Phantom Hourglass a lot more.

However, if you are a Wii owner you can’t do much better than this. It’s a first rate title that offers a lot for adults and older children, there’s nothing I’d class as being seriously unsuitable for a young child in here but there are a few scary moments and it can be very challenging. It’s available at most game shops stocking Wii games and will probably still set you back around £15.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D – Review

This review was originally written a few years ago for a review site called dooyoo. I don’t really use the site any more, but I have a lot of pieces over there that I’m pretty happy with, so I’m in the process of carrying them across. I’m playing Majora’s Mask 3D right now, so it seems a good time to bring you this review of its predecessor.  I’ve given it a re-write, a bit of polish to clear up Younger-Me’s little eccentricities, but it’s largely how I wrote it. Enjoy!

Ocarina of Time 3D CoverWhere should a review of Ocarina of Time begin? Most start off with a bit too much fawning. “Greatest game ever made” will probably turn up somewhere. My review won’t go like that. Firstly, because I don’t think that is necessarily true, and secondly because the original title came out fifteen years ago. Most reviews of Ocarina of Time 3D say more about games in 1998 than today, and more about the Nintendo 64 than the 3DS. Despite its great reputation among gamers, we are dealing with a whole new audience now and so this port must be able to stand on its own two feet.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is a remake of the first 3D Zelda title. It features the entirety of the original game, along with upgraded graphics and a few minor adjustments to the control scheme. Otherwise, this game is generally unchanged. The game stars Link, (unless you change the name) a young boy who lives in the woods with a community of childlike people called the Kokiri. The game opens as Link is sent on a quest by the protector of the Kokiri village, a wise talking tree. It’s all a bit outlandish in the way games and films from the 90s so often were, but it’s not as goofy to play as it is to write down. As Link leaves the forest, he eventually finds his way into the vast kingdom of Hyrule, where he is given his world-saving quest. The story takes Link from settlement to settlement, dungeon to dungeon, where he’ll meet royalty, fish people, lava monsters and, if you’re lucky, a horse. Along the way he meets the Princess Zelda, eventually kidnapped by the seedy Ganondorf, who wants to kingdom for himself. Rescuing the Princess will see you travel the kingdom, jump back and forth in time, and eventually come full circle to what is an ending so satisfying, it’s a real rarity in games today.

ZOOT_PR_050811_06If this all sounds familiar, don’t be surprised, Ocarina of Time was so successful that it eventually became the template for almost every Zelda game that has come since. It’s only by replaying this game that I realised just how derivative, and dull, the series has become. Ocarina of Time 3D, despite its age, manages to be a better game than its successors by remaining so conceptually pure. Link is a young hero who sets out to rescue a princess, the kingdom of Hyrule is a recognisable fantasy medieval kingdom and the various dungeons have clear structures and puzzles based around their theme. There’s a sense that the game is reduced to its most basic elements here and the result is that it feels very accommodating. It’s a difficult game at times, but it never feels like the game is cheating or deliberately confusing.

I think one of the most enjoyable experiences to be had here is the sense of scope. This is a big game, it was a big game back in 1998 and it’s bigger than a lot of games now. It will take you a long time to work through, but there’ll be real twists and turns in the gameplay along the way. The 3DS is still not exactly rolling in great games, (EDIT: No longer true, it easily has the best library of any console out right now.) so it’s nice to have one that you can really get invested in. The flip side of that is that the game is not really pick up and play friendly. The 3DS might fit in your pocket, but this is a console game through and through. Put it down for a few days and you’ll probably have lost your way a bit, forget where you went last and where you should go next. In some ways it’s very modern, in others there’s a frustrating sort of trial and error about it. I’m not fond of modern gaming’s tendency to hold the player’s hand, but Ocarina of Time throws you into the deep end in a way that’s refreshing and irritating at the same time. Its style lends itself to continuous play, but its length prohibits it.

B003O6E800.02.lgThere are some problems here though. Most are leftovers from the 90s. The controls are alright, but the camera controls are a little awkward. The original game used an awkward “3D look” setup which had not aged well and has unfortunately been carried across here. For the most part it’s easy enough to adjust to, but it still becomes an obstacle now and then. There’s also the small problem that small 3DS screen makes a few things trickier to deal with. Shooting a tiny spider off a web from the other side of a dungeon is a lot easier on a 20+ inch TV. It’s not all bad. The developers have used the 3DS touchscreen to implement better swapping of inventory items. This makes quick switching between gadgets and weapons much more pleasant, and takes away one major design flaw from the original game that made a particular dungeon a nightmare to traverse. I wouldn’t give this game a great score for controls alone, but it’s never a serious infringement on your fun.

Graphically, it’s a gem. The style of the game is preserved, but improved. It looks clean, colourful and fits the console well. The 3D effect is a bit of a waste. The game doesn’t lend itself well to the 3DS style of depth, which works better for games with tighter, more locked in visuals. Though, I might be biased. I played this game with the 3D off most of the time. I don’t have anything against the 3D effect, but Ocarina of Time features a nice anti-aliasing option that is only enabled when the 3D is off. This very well implemented feature smooths out a lot of the aliasing and makes the picture dramatically better on the 3DS’ low res screen.

I was all set to bash Ocarina of Time 3D. A port of a 15 year old console game on a handheld that really needs more innovative releases. In the end though, I came away with the feeling that Ocarina of Time 3D had been really worth my time. It’s a nice, lengthy adventure that is accessible and well made. It feels more fundamental than more recent Zelda titles and held my interest far better than I expected it to. Its inherited a few problems as a remake, but none of them are deal breakers. Overall, I’d say it’s a 3DS must own.