JAMES O’CONNOR doesn’t want to take the mask off.
If Ocarina of Time was the game that best exemplified what the N64 was capable of, Majora’s Mask was the game that, at the time, best showed what Nintendo could achieve regardless of the technological advancements or limitations they were working with. Here we had a game that took the framework of the best reviewed game ever made and rejigged it into something that, while still very recognisable, was clearly operating under a different agenda. Majora’s Mask is Nintendo at their most melancholy, a game that takes Zelda’s central theme – a child or young man exploring the unknown – and turns it into something weird, funny and frightening.
YOU’VE SUFFERED A TERRIBLE FATE >>
If you’ve never played Majora’s Mask before, the central time-travel gimmick may take a while to wrap your head around. In the opening scenes Link stumbles into the Termina, a sort of bizarro-Hyrule, which is three days away from being crushed by a giant moon. By playing the Song of Time on his trusty ocarina Link can restart the three-day cycle, retaining some items and progress while losing others. It’s your typical Groundhog Day/All You Need Is Kill system of recognising patterns, using information about the future to change events, butting into people’s lives and ultimately saving the world if you keep going long enough. It’s a brilliant system - knowing that resetting the timeline will undo a lot of your actions will produce melancholy rather than frustration nine times out of ten. Majora’s Mask was originally built in a year, largely from existing assets, while this remake has been in development for three; the original speediness allowed for a sense of experimentation and intimacy, a smaller, more personal experience than Ocarina, while the time spent remaking has largely been about sanding off the rough edges and polishing the whole product. What we have here isn’t a radically different product, but a version of Majora’s Mask that is far less finicky, one that makes its multiple strands and subquests easier to track. It takes an intimidating game and makes it less stressful without touching the game’s heart – a land and people on the verge of destruction and despair, whose salvation you must render and then undo time and time again.
Fourteen years after its initial release, Majora’s Mask’s position against other Zelda games is still hotly debated (I’d personally place it second, just behind Wind Waker and half a fraction above Ocarina). But it’s the most interesting one to have a conversation about, to share anecdotes from, and the one that seems to garner the strongest emotional reactions. The dungeons, puzzles and abilities are brilliant (you can turn into a Goron and roll around at great speed, which is perhaps the most fun thing in the world), but it’s the game’s structure and world that have kept it so fresh and exciting, several Zelda games later. Thanks to additions that make the game’s constantly ticking timer easier to reckon and work with, this is easily the best version available of one of Nintendo’s very best games.