Sunday, April 12, 2015
Yup! My friend, Ryan Acheson and I, decided to get together in a room and record ourselves talking about our gaming histories, the merits of Super Mario Sunshine, old PC games, Sonic the Hedgehog lore, and much, much more.
This is the pilot episode to our as of right now unnamed podcast (name forthcoming). Essentially, the main angle here is both Ryan and I pick an important game from our past that the other has not played, and then we compare our partially nostalgia-fueled reminiscence on the games with the other person's fresh, modern take on these experiences. In this inaugural episode, I had Ryan play the original Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and Ryan suggested I play Rick Dangerous, a game which I had zero experience with before this. Likewise, Ryan had barely any experience with the original Sonic.
Sonic the Hedgehog is available in a lot of places (I also assume you've probably heard of the game at least), but if you aren't familiar with Rick Dangerous and want to get some context for the conversation, you can check out the Flash remake that I played here.
If any of this sounds interesting, or if you just want to listen to two people who like video games perhaps a little too much talk about them while you go on a run or write your thesis or whatever, you can find our musings (and ramblings) at the following links:
Here's the podcast in ogg format.
And here it is in mp3 format.
The current plan is to try to do this around once a month. I've never done anything like this and any and all pointers and constructive criticism is very welcome! Again, this is the pilot, an experimental beginning if you will, and I hope we only improve the format and discussion as we go on!
Please feel free to share this anywhere you want if you enjoy it and find any value in it! We'd appreciate the exposure and it would certainly help encourage us to keep doing this!
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Note: I’m not going to be worrying about avoiding spoilers in this review; I won’t be laying the whole game out in front of you, but I will be going into detail about things like boss fights and certain sidequests, so if you want to avoid that kind of thing, be warned.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is a misguided remake of a brilliant video game. While the core experience is still something truly special, this new “3D” version has gotten what some might call the “George Lucas” treatment. From Link’s first steps in the Lost Woods and onward throughout the entire experience until the game’s surreal and memorable conclusion, MM3D is riddled with changes, alterations, and adjustments from the original Nintendo 64 classic, some of which nicely streamline the experience, while most, unfortunately, bog down the experience. These changes include several head-scratching alterations to how the game plays, overhauls of every boss battle, and several new hand-holding elements that damage the subtle design of the original and often did a nice job of breaking my immersion throughout my playthrough. What resulted was a very mixed experience for me: the essential Majora’s Mask experience is still buried in this remake underneath all the “enhancements” (big sarcastic airquotes here) and this game still emotionally moved me just as the original Majora’s Mask always has, but for every ten steps of supreme immersion and enjoyment I had, there’d be another two or three that made me shake my head and wish I was just playing the original game.
If I was going to sit here and lay out everything that makes Majora’s Mask such a triumph and address my extensive feelings on the many changes in this remake, this review would end up being twice as long as my Paper Mario: Sticker Star review, and no one wants that. Instead, I’ll save my extended thoughts on the heart of Majora’s Mask for another time or another several times (probably another several times). Thus, most of this review is going to focus on the changes and alterations from the original. But before getting into that, I do want to say a few words about the core experience here, as I’d be remiss if I did not. By and large, MM3D is still Majora’s Mask. It has a new coat of paint (with a lot of cracks) but this experience still thrilled me, moved me to near tears, and engrossed me just as it always has. Every time I play Majora’s Mask, I get something different out of the experience. This time, the loneliness of Link’s quest really sunk in…at least at first. Getting to know a bunch of interesting characters, helping them, helping the world at large, and then having to undo all of it so those people not only have no idea who I am anymore, but are also once again faced with the same hardships is heartbreaking. But as my adventure wore on, and more and more of the complete picture of the land of Termina and its troubled people became clear to me, it began to feel like home and its citizens inevitably began to feel like family, just as always. Even though they often didn’t know me very well, I knew them intimately. So, after so many cycles of the same three days, by the time I raced up those clock tower stairs to try to finally put an end to all the madness, I cared about saving this world like it was my own home, just like I always do. The world in Majora’s Mask, despite being built fifteen years ago in about a single year on primitive hardware, and despite having numerous nonsensical elements, feels more real than any other world in any other video game I’ve ever played. The genius of the three-day system, the falling moon scenario, and all the events that make up the adventure is astounding; it’s a wonder not only how the original developers were able to achieve what they did in such a short time so long ago, but also that no one has really done anything like it since. But beyond this, it’s all the details that make MM so incredible: an extra line of dialogue from a simple shopkeeper that addresses the state of the world, countless hidden reactions based on the many masks in the game, a random bird that drops rupees if you play music for it, countless mysteries and strange scenarios, and some of the most emotional moments in any video game I’ve ever played coming from completely optional, hidden conversations or even just from a single line of dialogue. All this makes Majora’s Mask not only a cut above most other Zelda games for me, but most other adventure games in general. Despite thoroughly playing through the original game multiple times over the years, I’m still discovering moments I don’t think I’ve ever seen or experienced before, and I know there are others still. Majora’s Mask is a game of many faces (pun fully intended) and many experiences, and no two people’s will be quite the same. MM might be one of the most tense, nerve-wracking games I’ve ever played, but it’s also one of the chillest: just hanging out and getting to know NPCs, watching the rain fall at Romani Ranch or a fireplace crackle in the Stock Pot Inn. It’s an experience that shifts and surprises from moment to moment and all of it is special. But that’s the core experience. All of that applies to the original as well as this remake. Majora’s Mask 3D, however, wears a new mask over all of that.
Let’s get the most apparent change out of the way first: obviously the title has received a visual overhaul and for the most part, it looks quite nice. The most notable aspect of the cosmetic change is how many new little details were added to the world at large, not only in terms of textures and models, but in regards to physical architecture and new objects and other elements brought into Termina. New posters, flyers, and newspaper clippings posted around Clock Town add flavor to the world and make a lot more sense in a big town in the midst of carnival season than these elements did in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. Interesting new landmarks have been added everywhere: a miniature model of Clock Town in the Mayor’s office, an ostentatious painting of a young Mayor Dotour and Madame Aroma hanging above the front desk of said office, new statues and other artifacts in the dungeons, and just overall a world full of even more detail and small touches that make everything feel lived in and alive. My favorite of all of these new touches though has to be the interesting family pictographs that can be seen in Anju’s grandmother’s room and in the Romani Sisters’ bedroom. These pictures are an excellent and smart detail that fleshes out a world I already know so intimately even more, and I love seeing these new kinds of details in a remake like this.
Obviously, the game looks better in a “technical sense”: better textures, smoother models and animations, higher framerate and so on (and as in OoT3D, the 3D effect is pretty great too), and some aspects really benefit from the new visuals, such as the sky (not sure how I feel about the new green-tinged purple sky on the third day though, which reminds me of an Easter egg or something), but that’s not the whole story. On such a small screen, often the experience can look a little fuzzy and jaggy, which is especially noticeable when talking to NPCs. Also there seems to be some truly unfortunate camera work sometimes, such as trying to talk to an NPC only to have the camera decide to take up position behind a giant plant, blocking the player’s view (this kind of thing is especially irritating with the 3D turned up). In addition, many of the character animations, while mostly smoother-looking, often just don’t feel as special as the original’s, either because they are too quick or not as emphasized as they originally were. These are nitpicks, but much more questionable are the artistic changes made in this remake. Everything is a little too bright and the lighting seems to be a lot flatter and less atmospheric than in the original. This is especially noticeable inside dungeons, during nighttime, and also anytime when Link is near torchlight, which flickers and dances about the environment in a more impactful way in the original. There are subtle artistic differences all over the place, but most notable of all is the change to perhaps the most important visual motif in the game: the moon. The moon’s expression in the remake is basically straight-up maniacal, as opposed to the more subtle, ambiguous expression of the original moon (which looks more sad and disturbed than particularly “evil” or “angry” to me, but it was open to interpretation really). This new face can be quite frightening, especially on the final day when it’s leering directly above Link, but it can also be seen as too comically over the top, depending on how you look at it. At least one scene that loses part of its value in the remake due to the moon’s revamped design is when the “Moon’s Tear” falls from its eye; in the original, the moon looked like it could indeed be crying or was in pain (which had interesting implications), while in the remake the scene doesn’t even make sense anymore really. I think that the moon’s expression being one of sadness, or perhaps of regret or remorse, suits the world and its events much better, but no matter how you interpreted the original moon’s expression, its demented ambiguity enhanced the subtle, strange narrative and surreal atmosphere of the game. It's worth noting that the art in the remake still overall looks very good, there are just a number of subtleties that make me mainly prefer the art in the original. As one final note about the retouched visuals and art, some very interesting visual details present in the original game were actually completely removed from this new version for some reason; I think all the Zelda theorists out there will know exactly what I’m referring to here.
|MM3D mostly looks great, though the art has taken some hits|
It’s difficult to know where to start with the rest of the changes in the game, so I suppose I’ll start at the beginning, with the very first change I encountered, one that made me quite literally bury my face in my palm. Here I was, watching the beautiful and haunting opening scene of Link solemnly riding Epona through the Lost Woods, having a good time and thinking about how this remake was perhaps a good idea after all, and then, BAM! Big dumb tutorial sign. Right in the middle of the path. “You may already know this…”, the sign read, and then proceeded to tell me the basic controls of the game for the small price of shattering my immersion. This was not a good omen for the changes to come. This new trend of shoehorning out-of-place elements into the experience that sacrifice immersion for feeding the player information in an effort to hold their hand is something I encountered throughout my time with MM3D, and all of it was to the detriment of the experience. Another example is some new text added to the “bad ending” of the game if you let the moon fall. Effective, stark minimalism is a strength of the original MM that has been repeatedly stomped on in the remake. My 3D journey through Termina was repeatedly interrupted by too much extraneous information, and this is a perfect lead-in to the next big change I want to discuss: the new Bombers’ Notebook.
In the original, the Bombers’ Notebook was simply a way of keeping track of the particular NPCs in the game that had detailed schedules across the three days. The notebook has been completely overhauled in the remake, however, to now be a record of just about every single sidequest and hidden event in the game, with mixed results. On the one hand, I like how the notebook acts as a comprehensive adventure log to refer to and a way to look back on and keep track of your progress in the game. It also feels really satisfying when an entry in the notebook is “stamped” after you fully complete a certain character’s quest-line. The notebook itself is set up nicely into two separate sections, one being an NPC schedule that is nearly identical to the original notebook (except it now removes a few NPCs that were there in the original and adds a handful of new ones), and the other being a list of quests that are separated into “ongoing”, “rumored”, and “completed” in an easy to follow manner. In a game with such a large amount of things to do and discover, where it all risks being overwhelming, it’s nice to be able to concisely keep track of everything. There’s also a clever new “alarm” feature, where you can have your fairy companion, Tatl, remind you that you have something important to do at a certain time.
On the other hand, the notebook is very intrusive on several levels. It’s annoying how the experience is interrupted so often for something to be added to the notebook and this process always seems to take way longer than it should. Instead of wrenching control away from the player to sluggishly record the information I just heard in the notebook, perhaps this remake could have taken a page from the smartly-designed mega-JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles (and hey even the original Majora’s Mask, why not?) and instead just had a subtle notification at the bottom of the screen and perhaps only given the full “notebook screen” treatment when first starting a quest and ending one. On that note, I’d also appreciate it if that ending notebook update came after I received the reward for a quest instead of before I get that piece of heart, mask, or whatever else. Oh, I got the “Stone Mask” as a reward? Well, gee whiz, magical notebook, thanks for spoiling the surprise. This immersion-hampering notebook is especially heinous after finally reuniting Anju and Kafei, when immediately after the big scene the game jarringly goes to the notebook screen to slowly update things with some unnecessary text before going back to the game, which really took me out of the experience; I was quite literally almost in tears before becoming incredibly annoyed. I like that satisfying stamp at the end of a quest, but it’s not worth this slow, intrusive process.
|The Bombers' Notebook is an entirely different beast in the remake|
The gang of Bomber kids around Clock Town are given a bit more usefulness as they now give the player hints for rumored quests, but these hints range from subtle enough to not bother me too much to giving away way too much information. Sometimes the kids themselves give a vague hint, and your seemingly magic, sentient notebook fills in the rest, telling you a specific location to go to. I hate this disconnect; it should be as though Link is writing the information in the notebook himself, or at least the notebook should only record information that Link actually encounters. Instead, the magic notebook (with its new wordy descriptions that sometimes seem out of tone with the rest of the game) just makes the experience feel more artificial. Sometimes the Bombers’ hints are just way too obvious and ruin the whole purpose of wearing certain masks (like Kafei’s Mask and the Mask of Truth) to discover hints on one’s own.
In a nutshell, instead of being a helpful supplemental tool, the notebook now pushes the quests and hidden things in the game down the player’s throat, which goes a long way in diminishing the magic. It’s more exciting and interesting when I feel like I’ve found something really neat on my own that other players may have never discovered, like say following the town Business Scrub down into an underground cavern, and being rewarded for my discovery, than witnessing the same event and having the game make a big deal out of it and making it seem like a major part of the game that every player will likely be directed to. Despite the positive elements of the new, more detailed notebook, its intrusive nature makes me much prefer the more subtle record-keeping of the original notebook combined with other subtle hints already present in the fabric of the original game. These original hints are still present in the remake; the difference is that the player has to work for these by exploring and talking to NPCs and observing their routines, and by finding the Mask of Truth and using it to gather information from gossip stones. It feels better to piece everything together and make discoveries this way, instead of being led by the nose and advised that ‘you’d better do all this extra stuff because the developers worked really hard on it’. Unfortunately, with the new Bombers’ Notebook’s intrusions being completely mandatory and with the way the Bombers annoyingly rush towards Link to feed him hints whenever the player happens to go near them, the remake makes it very difficult to play the game by solely relying on the older, subtler method of hinting. And this is all on top of the returning, hint-giving “Sheikah Stone” that was first introduced in Ocarina of Time 3D (which is luckily very easy to ignore in MM3D and tucked away in a place that many players will likely never visit more than once during their quest; hopefully most players will just forget about the stupid thing).
|Not too much information, I hope|
The new handholding elements are not that surprising to me given Nintendo’s modern game design credo; what is surprising to me though is how much of the core gameplay was messed around with. A huge part of the Majora’s Mask experience is obviously the masks, and more specifically the three transformation masks that allow Link to turn into a Deku Scrub, Goron, and Zora. Alterations have been made to the way all of these forms play, which range from “ok, that’s pretty cool” to “oh, Goddesses, what did they do to the amazing swimming mechanics???” Ahem. The new Deku Link is pretty much an even split in terms of bad and good: it controls a lot more sluggishly than in the original and oddly stutters when it starts to walk which really screwed me up when hopping across the water, and its spin attack seems to have less momentum and feels less fluid and fun to use. However, firing bubbles with the Deku is much easier thanks to a new crosshair and the game’s gyro controls (which overall work nice; I just wish they weren’t almost mandatory in some sections since aiming with the circle pad on its own is so dang sluggish, much slower than in the original). There is also a new option to look directly beneath Link when floating with the Deku, complete with a target that lets the player know exactly where they’ll land, which is a very helpful addition. Goron Link generally feels better to walk around with and his attacking prowess has been greatly improved, now with much faster and more effective punches. I’m not as much of a fan, however, of how rolling around with Goron Link now requires one tap of the ‘A’ button to get into ball form and another tap to get out. I presume this was changed so players don’t have to worry about holding down the ‘A’ button when rolling anymore, but personally it really tripped me up for a good while before I finally got used to it, and even then I still prefer the much quicker and more instant feeling the original control setup had. But the real topic of conversation here is the doozy they did on Zora Link.
If you’ve played the original Majora’s Mask, I’m guessing you probably had fun swimming around as Zora Link, speeding through the water, doing that dolphin jump, etc. I’m making an assumption here, I know, but in truth I’ve only ever heard praise for the swimming mechanics in the original; in fact, the original Majora’s Mask probably has my favorite swimming mechanics in any video game ever. So of course, the remake’s developers decided to “fix” this too (and by fix, I of course mean “break”). In the remake, the default swim speed for Zora Link is now much slower (and similar to the Zora Armor in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess) and the quicker speed of the original (or something close to it) has been quite negligently tied to the magic meter and combined with the magic shield attack which was present in the original (with both now being activated simultaneously by holding down the ‘R’ trigger). Once you very rapidly deplete your magic meter, no more having fun as Zora Link, I’m afraid. And if you don’t have the magic meter upgrade? You’re in for a very slow journey around the Great Bay. Now, before I get into what is so wrong with this change, I will say that I don’t mind having a new moderate swim speed in-between the really slow “doggy paddle” and the fast speed. It did come in handy when I wanted to navigate some tight underwater corridors in the game, and also when I just wanted to take things at a measured pace and look around, and didn’t feel like walking on the bottom. This moderate speed certainly isn’t worth sacrificing an unlimited fast speed, however, and if they were going to incorporate this new slower speed, there are definitely smarter ways they could have gone about it. How about simply requiring the player to hold down a separate button that is unused while swimming to swim more slowly? Or maybe players could tap ‘A’ once to go slow and hold it down to go fast (which might still be a little cumbersome, but would at least be better)? Or at the very least, still allow the player to swim fast when their magic is depleted (instead of just giving them a pathetic little momentary dash) and just take away the magic shield (which, by the way, would make a lot more sense). Besides souring one of the funnest aspects of the original MM gameplay-wise, what really grinds my gears about this change is how much it just doesn’t fit with the overall design of the game (this is another unfortunate trend in this remake that I’ll also talk more about when I get to the boss changes). The Great Bay region is full of huge, open underwater areas designed around the ability to swim fast as a Zora (with the ability to walk on the bottom being helpful for the few tighter underwater areas). The Pinnacle Rock area in particular is such a chore now because it involves navigating a massive underwater pit with this new clunky, stifled swimming mechanic. It is so annoying swimming fast in short spurts in order to conserve my magic shield, which comes in handy when defeating the gigantic sea snakes in this area. Also, might I remind you that conserving time is hugely important in Majora’s Mask? And how making a slow swimming speed the default and a fast swimming speed limited in this game makes absolutely zero sense and is incredibly frustrating? I really hate to rip off the “Angry Video Game Nerd” here (plenty have done that already), but seriously, what were they thinking? I should also mention that even when going fast, Zora Link just isn’t as fun or as easy to control with the 3DS’s circle pad as an analog stick, and rolling Goron Link can also be a pain in the ass in this regard as well (especially during the Goron moon dungeon at the end of the game).
|What were they thinking?!|
While on the subject of the aquatic portion of Majora’s Mask, I also need to bring up the way this remake ruins the fun of one of the neatest items in the game (I mean, besides the Zora Mask, of course): the ice arrows. The original Majora’s Mask took the ice arrows, a relatively useless (not to mention completely optional) item in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and put a clever spin on them that led to not only some neat little puzzles in the Great Bay Temple but just a fun new toy to play around with. Basically, in the original game, you can fire the ice arrows at almost any body of water to freeze it and create ice platforms to hop around on. As long as you have the arrows and the magic, you can do this as much as you want. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Well, it was. Apparently, the developers of this remake just really didn’t seem to want the player to have too much freedom or fun because they decided to “fix” this element too. Now, instead of being able to freeze the water and make platforms anywhere, specific, nonsensical “sparkle spots” (I can’t think of any other way to describe them) in the water are the only places you can create ice platforms (although bizarrely enough, you can actually make platforms in the water anywhere in the Great Bay Temple boss, Gyorg’s chamber; but this one room is the only exception). Oh, and these spots only appear in a handful of rooms in the Great Bay Temple and nowhere else. In the original game, certain monsters could also be frozen to create stepping blocks of ice, and yup, those monsters now sparkle too, making everything just a bit too obvious (to understate it). When the players gets the ice arrows in MM3D, the game tells them that they can fire the arrows at sparkling things to freeze them. This makes the following puzzle, where one needs to freeze an octorok to reach a high platform, completely rote now. This makes all of the puzzles surrounding the ice arrows completely rote now. The ice arrows aren’t a fun item to play around with in the remake: they’re a banal key used to unlock progress. What was once a cool puzzle element in the original Great Bay Temple is now just mindless target-shooting. Suffice it to say, the fun of the ice arrows in the original game is all about freedom and experimentation. The remake’s developers completely missed the point here and it’s just another way this remake is overall less enjoyable to play. I think the worst thing about this change is that whereas I can maybe see some reasoning behind slower Zora swimming being “easier to control” (which, again, doesn’t excuse the poor implementation of that concept), I can’t think of any logical reasoning behind the ice arrow change, besides just over-simplifying things. But was the ability to create ice platforms anywhere really just too much overwhelming power for players? Did the people testing the remake really just get overwhelmed with confusion when they realized they had this kind of mind-blowing freedom? I mean, really? Was it really that complicated?
I’ve brought it up a few times already, but one of the bigger changes in this remake comes in the form of drastic alterations made to every boss fight (barring the final one, though even that one may have been altered a bit by way of having less attacks). All of the bosses look relatively the same and while Link’s battles with them share elements in common with the fights from the original game, each one has been greatly shaken up, some more drastically than others. I’ve already seen online that these new boss battles are polarizing, with some people loving the changes, others hating them, and many others liking some changes and disliking others. For me personally, the new bosses are almost entirely a step down (surprising, I know). Something I love about the boss fights in the original Majora’s Mask, and why they stand out from other 3D Zelda games, is that they are all very energetic and fast-paced. All of the bosses have multiple ways of going about defeating them (which is something the remake does retain at least) and the majority of them don’t have giant obvious weak-points. They also aren’t quite the basic “stun them with the item, go in for the attack” formula (most of the bosses still somewhat fall into this, yes, but I just mean to say they aren’t quite as formulaic as in most other 3D Zelda titles). Well, Majora’s Mask 3D has something to say about that! The majority of the bosses not only now do fall into a very stale and repetitive formula, but also every single one (again, barring the final one) now has a giant eyeball weak-point that you will frequently be pelting with arrows, over and over and over again. Many of the bosses have also been dumbed down in terms of their number of attacks and ferocity. The first boss, Odolwa, for example, doesn't mess around in the original: he is a force of nature, dancing and chanting around the arena, slicing his gigantic sword in every direction, summoning swarms of bugs and moths, and even conjuring up rings of fire to entrap Link. In the remake, Odolwa just kind of…stands around, before clearly telegraphing all of his attacks (which he has less of). The only good part about the new Odolwa is that Deku Link is actually useful in the fight this time around. My favorite regular boss fight in the original game, Goht, is now an awkward, tedious affair in the remake thanks to Goron Link having to slow down to punch its eyeball or, even worse, requiring the player to occasionally (and in my experience, more often) remove the Goron Mask to slowly lob arrows at the eyeball. In the original game, if you are good enough, you can do the entire Goht fight without ever having to stop rolling as Goron Link. It's a blast in the original; it’s a chore in the remake.
| Shooting arrows at a giant eyeball in a Zelda game: how novel|
While the first two regular bosses were certainly changed up, the latter two are basically entirely new battles, Twinmold especially. Gyorg the giant fish now has two very different phases, the first of which is a dull, toned-down version of the original fight. Here, the remake’s brighter and flatter lighting really works to the detriment of the experience and goes a long way in dulling the tense and foreboding atmosphere of the original fight; Gyorg itself is responsible for most of this decrease in tension though, as in the first phase it’s basically just a giant, stupid moving target for Link’s arrows. The second phase of the fight takes things completely underwater, which isn’t nearly as terrifying as it should be. The second phase is fun, certainly more interesting than the first half of the battle, but ultimately it all boils down to a new twist on the very stale rinse and repeat “bomb in the mouth” gig we’ve seen in countless, countless Zelda titles before. The Twinmold fight does its best to make up for my misgivings with the other fights by starting out fantastically with a Shadow of the Colossus-esque first phase against the first sandworm, after which a chest containing the Giant’s Mask appears in the middle of the arena. Link can then transform into a gigantic luchador, ready to take down the second, more aggressive worm and its freaky babies. Instead of being just a bigger version of standard Link, the Giant’s Mask now really made me feel like a giant as I stalked around the arena, lobbing fiery punches at the giant worm and throwing massive boulders at it. This is all enormous fun (HA!) and the battle as a whole is an awesome concept; the way it progresses and the variety it brings to the table feels like an adventure in itself and is exactly the kind of interesting and surprising boss battle I want to see more of in new Zelda games. Unfortunately, the second phase of this battle is harmed by two big problems: it’s unclear how to effectively damage the second worm at first and more detrimentally (and also partly consequentially), the fight drags on for way too long, both of which can lead to severe amounts of frustration. There isn’t much to the original Twinmold fight; the spectacle of the battle is more its appeal than anything really, but like the other original bosses, it’s fast-paced and fun. The new Twinmold battle perfectly exemplifies my overarching central issue with all the new boss fights (with the exception of Odolwa): the bosses have way too much health and just drag on and on and on for far too long, especially Gyorg and Twinmold. This, like many other elements in this remake, just isn’t an aspect that is smartly designed around an experience running on a time limit. The original game’s fast-paced bosses and faster gameplay elements (like Zora Link) are elegant in their execution and allow players to focus on getting as much done in a three-day cycle as possible. Refighting bosses (which is often required to complete all of the sidequests) in the original is also a fun way to test how fast I can defeat each boss; in the remake, it’s more of a chore. I want to be clear: I don’t universally prefer “fast-paced” boss fights, and actually in regards to the more traditional games in the series, I’d say sometimes Zelda bosses go down too quickly, but the pacing of the bosses in the original MM is on point and smartly designed around the core three-day mechanic of the game, whereas in MM3D, the bosses are plodding and unwieldy (and even in a non-timed Zelda game, they would still be tediously paced).
Before discussing a few of the tweaks in the game that I actually do like, I want to briefly touch on the new saving system in the remake. While being able to permanently save at any owl statue now (as well as numerous new additional save statues) is certainly more convenient and can alleviate some frustrating situations like losing progress due to the power going out, the new saving system takes away some tension from the experience because it allows players to create a safety net. My main issue with the new, more traditional saving though is that it can be exploited to avoid having to deal with failures and some truly heartbreaking moments, which I feel are important to the MM experience. For example: during my playthrough of MM3D, I failed to retrieve the Sun’s Mask during the Anju and Kafei quest, and leaving Kafei trapped in Sakon’s Hideout and seeing Anju waiting resolutely in her bedroom for someone who will never come, while the moon was mere moments away from crashing down, was downright devastating and left a big impact on me. But in MM3D, if I or another player had saved right before doing the Sun’s Mask section, I could just reload my last save and try again. Not only does this drain all the tension out of what is supposed to be a very stressful section and lessen the impact of failure, but some players will likely immediately reload their last save and won’t even bother thinking of visiting Anju and having an experience like the one I had, or letting the weight of their failure sink in, which in the end made finally reuniting the two lovers on a separate cycle feel so much sweeter for me. This is yet again another change that affects the immersion factor of Majora’s Mask for the sake of convenience and makes everything feel more artificial; in short, it reminds the player that they are playing a video game and that failure is of little consequence. This same notion can be applied to other quests as well, such as failing to save Romani from the aliens. These are just a few examples, but the new save system can be exploited in other ways as well that just overall dulls the importance of the three day mechanic. Obviously, traditional save systems are not universally negative in video games, but Majora’s Mask is a special case, and such a system is harmful to the immersive nature of the experience. Personally, I played MM3D as I have always played the original and mainly only saved at the end of a play session, which for me was almost always equal to one three day cycle during this playthrough, and I also made it a personal rule that I’d never fall back on a previous save, even if I failed and had to redo something (I barely saved during the middle of a three day cycle anyway, only occasionally in case of unforeseen circumstances like the 3DS’s battery suddenly dying on me or something). So at least the player still has some options in how they choose to experience the game. I do, however, hate how the game doesn’t save after playing the Song of Time and returning to the Dawn of the First Day like in the original (which I’ve heard has unsurprisingly tripped up some veteran players and caused them to lose progress), which always felt relieving in the original and came with a sense of finality, and knowledge that one could never return to a previous three day cycle. With the way I played MM3D, it was annoying for me to have to immediately play the Inverted Song of Time and run or warp to the nearest save point after rewinding time (I would try to conserve as much time as possible in doing so); I wish at least the option to save after rewinding time was left in.
But, despite there being so much I take issue with in this remake, there are a handful of adjustments and tweaks that I found to be overall positive in MM3D, believe it or not. Little touches of convenience that don’t harm immersion and a few smart tweaks are sprinkled throughout the game in moderation. Most notably, the touchscreen interface and all the menus being on the bottom screen, which leaves the main screen uncluttered, as is having more buttons for items (though the two touchscreen buttons are a bit awkward; I used them for masks personally which works out nicely) is great, just as all this is in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. This feels especially great in MM3D though due to the high volume of items, bottles, and masks you carry around and need to utilize. Having quest-specific items be on their own separate screen and not needing to equip them is nice as well, and the process of giving an item to an NPC, a task done frequently in MM, has been streamlined wonderfully. The new world map looks pretty nice too, and I love how there’s a map for every area (from the insides of buildings to mini-dungeons and everything in between) on the bottom screen that can be zoomed in on. In addition, there are simply many other adjustments that cut out tedium, at no cost to the core experience: these include time-saving alterations in the Deku Palace as well as new hookshot targets around Great Bay and the entrance to the Pirates’ Fortress. I also like that the Woodfall Great Fairy upgrades Link’s magic meter now, and the much less useful improved spin attack upgrade has been relegated to the Snowhead Great Fairy. Magic is crucial in MM, and even more so in the remake thanks to the unfortunate change to Zora Link, and so having that big meter early on is very appreciated. Finally, one neat new difference is that Shiro, the invisible soldier, has been moved to the Pirates’ Fortress, which, as the new story goes, he hoped to infiltrate in order to prove his courage and get noticed. This change fits his character nicely, but also allows especially discerning players to conveniently get the Stone Mask in a location where they can get a lot of use out of it. While I certainly wish that this remake had been more faithful to the original overall, I don’t necessarily mind minor changes in remakes like the Shiro one that trip up veteran players like myself in a fun way, as long as they are clever and well-implemented (the superb Resident Evil remake for GameCube thrives on this kind of stuff; that game is such a drastically reimagined experience that I basically consider it an entirely new game from the original though).
|Zelda games have time and again made the best use of Nintendo's dual screen idea|
I’ve gone over all the major stuff, but there are countless other small changes throughout Majora’s Mask 3D that differentiate it from the original. This review has already gone on for way too long though, and in the interest of wrapping things up as quickly as possible, I’m going to skip talking about all of these other differences in detail. Most of these other minor changes I’m either mixed on, largely indifferent to, or like so many of the larger changes, simply don’t like for one reason or the other, in some cases for the reasons I’ve already talked about: they don’t jive well with the design of the original game and/or they harm immersion and the game’s sense of realism. There is one other change I probably should address though: the Song of Double Time now allows the player to skip ahead to any hour they like, instead of just to dawn or dusk. I know for many players, this change is enough to make them play the remake over the original; for me personally...eh. It fits in the game nice enough and doesn't really mess with the core design too much like many of the other changes, but there are only a few moments in the game at most that I might have used this new feature for (I actually never used it once and forgot it was even an option for most of my playthrough). Since I find that there is almost always something to do in Majora's Mask, I never found "wasting time" by skipping ahead to really be something I wanted to do. Also, for a few events, the anticipation of waiting for something to happen is part of the fun for me and immerses me in the experience more. During the few other rare occurrences when I did find myself simply having to wait around for an extended period of time, I just soaked in the game's atmosphere; watched that aforementioned rain fall or fireplace crackle. Besides things that were altered from the original, there are a few outright new additions to the remake as well. There’s a new, seventh empty bottle received from a new quest involving the three Gorman brothers. This new quest is decent, but its implementation is a bit awkward and ultimately it’s all just a bit unnecessary. There are also two fishing holes that were added to the game, one in the swamp and one at the ocean; I’m mostly apathetic to this addition, and think that Majora’s Mask was the last Zelda game that needed any new extra stuff to do, but at least the fishing gives veterans something new to check out and I will applaud the developers for putting a fair amount of effort into these sections. It’s clever and appropriate how they utilize Link’s arsenal of masks to catch a wide variety of fish. I do have one big gripe with the ocean fishing hole though: it hugely contradicts the narrative going on in the Great Bay, as the fisherman and the Zoras are having trouble catching fish in the murky sea, and indeed the fisherman states that there are no fish to catch. Several NPCs refer to this problem and it’s not exactly a minor detail: it’s a big part of one of the four main curses affecting the four worlds of Termina. Yet in the remake here’s a little section of the ocean teaming with fish at all times, right next to Zora Hall. I once again hate this kind of disconnect and it’s yet another immersion-ruining element thoughtlessly jammed into this remake. This could have been easily remedied as well by simply having the fishing hole be closed until after you defeat Gyorg.
|A lot of effort was put into the new fishing holes|
To some of you reading this, especially those of you that overall like this remake and the changes that it made to the original Majora’s Mask (which is fine, by the way, as we are all different people; I’m really glad that we don’t live in some dystopia where we all have the same thoughts and interesting discussion is never achieved), you might be thinking that this is all just “a bunch of nitpicks”. First of all, remember that details, even minor ones, are very important to me (especially in a game like Majora’s Mask), and all of these details impacted my experience with the remake. I’ve talked a lot about ‘immersion’ in this review, and while I think immersion and details that enhance it are important in just about every video game, this element is especially important in Majora’s Mask, and therefore the changes in the remake that harm immersion are a big deal. Secondly, remember that Majora’s Mask 3D is a remake; if it was a brand new, original Zelda title, we would not be having this discussion and I would be praising it for being a really, really, really good game. But Majora’s Mask 3D is not original; it is a remake that intended to improve on the original work, and thus stands to be compared to that work, and in this regard I have found it wanting. Therefore, I inevitably have to ask myself: does this remake justify its own existence for me? I would say ‘yes’ at first, if only for the enhanced technical side of the game and extra environmental details, as well as the novelty of being able to play a portable version of the game in 3D (although Majora’s Mask is not an experience that you should be playing on the bus with the sound turned off). Also, the idea that people who have never experienced the original game will get exposure to at least a version of the Majora’s Mask experience because of the remake is nice as well. I would say this very flawed remake’s existence is justified because of all this…except I recently went back and played the original for a little bit, and found after testing several different setups that the Wii Virtual Console release (being played on an SDTV with a GameCube controller) still holds up remarkably well and the game actually looks great with such a setup. When I like the original’s art better, and when the negative changes outweigh the few positive ones in the remake for me, than yes, I have to come to the inevitable conclusion that I’d much rather be playing the original and could have easily passed on this remake. And while new people being exposed to Majora’s Mask is nice, I’m very torn up about them playing a butchered version of it instead of the still brilliant original. If I view the remake as a separate entity, I can appreciate its few merits more and be more forgiving of its shortcomings, but what bothers me is that Nintendo and the remake’s developers believe this to be the definitive version and from now on will likely act like the original doesn’t exist. I want to say that the Wii Virtual Console release of the game (ideally, but not necessarily exclusively, played with a GameCube controller) is the current definitive version of Majora’s Mask, but in truth, I honestly think the true definitive version rests somewhere between that one and this remake, due to the improved technical aspects, added environmental details, and few positive adjustments the remake made with things like item management. Ultimately, however, I don’t see myself returning to MM3D that much, if at all. And you know what? As much as I didn’t particularly want this remake and respect the integrity of the original so much, I’m not happy about that. I wish MM3D was at least as good as the original, more in line with Ocarina of Time 3D and The Wind Waker HD, where I can appreciate both those versions and the originals in a somewhat equal manner. I’d like to appreciate MM3D’s new visuals, improved technical performance, and details and enjoy playing MM on a handheld in 3D, but thanks to so many misguided alterations, I’d just so much rather play the original instead. It really is a shame. Perhaps more troubling though is that in terms of its handholding and its stale boss mechanics (Twinmold excluded), MM3D feels like a regression for the Zelda series, which is such a shame after the smart A Link Between Worlds made such great strides in progressing the series past these conventions that have been weighing it down.
Obviously, the original Majora’s Mask is a work of art that is very close to my heart, but I hope I at least have gotten across the fact that I have very specific, detailed reasons for thinking its remake is largely a bust. I will, however, say that despite it being inferior to the original in many ways in my eyes, Majora’s Mask 3D does ultimately retain the core essence of the original Majora’s Mask, and underneath the coat of cracked paint that has been haphazardly dumped on it, the brilliance of that original classic shines through. In essence, most of the thematic, narrative, and atmospheric elements of MM that are so important remain intact in MM3D, but from a functional perspective, the game is lacking, and many of its alterations unfortunately do bleed into the atmospheric side of the game and harm immersion as well. Ultimately and essentially, Majora’s Mask 3D is a game that is a brilliant experience in spite of many of its very questionable changes, instead of because of them, which is just another way of me saying that the original Majora’s Mask is easily the greater experience and the one I would still recommend to people, in particular the Wii Virtual Console port of the game (which can also be accessed from the Wii Menu on a Wii U via the Wii Shop Channel…which I know isn’t confusing at all, right? Blame the way Nintendo handles these things, not me), which looks better than the N64 version and controls great with a GameCube controller. But if one simply cannot get a hold of the original in any format for whatever reason, or is unwilling to accept its dated technical aspects, then and only then would I recommend Majora’s Mask 3D to somebody.