Developed by: Nintendo EAD/Grezzo Published by: Nintendo of America Reviewed on: Nintendo 3DS
Originally released on the Nintendo 64 in 2000, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask had the unenviable task of being the follow up to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, widely considered as one of the best games ever made. Majora’s Mask also had the audacity to stray away from the formula perfected in its predecessor, going into a different, much darker place. 15 years later, Majora’s Mask has been updated and re-released on the Nintendo 3DS, offering a smoother, more accessible experience.
Following events of Ocarina of Time, Link ventures into a forest in search of a lost friend, where he is ambushed by a pair of fairies and the mischievous Skull Kid. The troublesome trio steal his horse, leading him on a wild chase through the insides of a tree. There he falls into a hole, transporting him into a parallel world called Termina. Skull Kid then uses the powerful Majora’s Mask to turn Link into a Deku Scrub, a diminutive tree like creature. Fortunately, Link meets the mysterious Happy Mask Salesman, who offers to restore Link if he can retrieve Majora’s Mask within three days. Link discovers why he’s given so little time: a monstrous looking moon is rapidly descending upon Termina and will destroy everything in 72 hours.
As such, the player is given only three days (or about 54 minutes in real time) to find his horse, defeat Skull Kid, retrieve the mask, and stop the moon. Thankfully Link possesses the Ocarina of Time, allowing him to manipulate time to relive and extend these 72 hours. By playing the game in multiple three day cycles, players can find a way to defeat Skull Kid while solving the many mysteries in Termina. Not all of Link’s actions are reset, however; all the major items he obtains is carried over into successive cycles.
The game’s constant timer creates a sense of urgency to get as much done within a three day cycle as possible, whereas previous Zelda games allowed the players to explore at their own pace. Thankfully, Majora’s Mask is as full of mysteries and places to explore as its predecessors. Of all the games in the series, it makes the best use of space, with each area being packed with things to do and discover. The most significant of which is Clocktown, the game’s main hub where a majority of Termina’s residents reside. In a change from other Zelda games, Link has to involve himself in the day-to-day affairs and secrets of Termina’s residents to unravel the game’s mysteries. This makes up a majority of the game’s sidequests, offering rewards like items, heart pieces to extend Link’s life bar, and powerful masks. The four areas surrounding Clocktown offer up a more conventional Zelda experience with open areas to explore, expansive dungeons filled with puzzles, and epic boss battles.
Although Link acquires his usual arsenal, ranging from bows, bombs, boomerangs and more, it’s the masks he finds that truly empower him. Some serve very specific purposes, like the Bunny Hood giving him the ability to move faster, while others like the Deku, Zora, and Goron’s masks transform Link into creatures with unique abilities. These unique transformations are often required to reach and advance through the game’s dungeons.
The 3DS version offers several improvements, offering a smoother experience in both gameplay and performance. The original Nintendo 64 release was often a choppy experience in open areas whereas the 3DS version is a more steady experience. The graphics also boast more detail, particularly Link’s updated look. The moody, atmospheric soundtrack remains the same, masterfully setting the tone for each scene. Other updated features include a more detailed Bomber’s Notebook, the notebook used by players to chart the day-to-day routines of Clocktown’s residents. The 3DS’s secondary touch screen is used well, constantly displaying the game’s maps as well allowing quick access to items and masks. Perhaps the most controversial revision is the save system, which does away with the original’s temporary save system, which deletes save upon loading, in favor of permanent saves. This makes the game more forgiving of mistakes as players can reload their games at any point.
Majora’s Mask isn’t for everyone, however. Issues from the original release persist. The initial three day cycle can be an unforgiving turn-off for players looking for a traditional Zelda experience. It only has four main dungeons compared to the nine in Ocarina of Time. Having to repeat certain events to progress can be annoying, though this is somewhat offset by the newly added ability to fast forward to specific points in time. Despite all these flaws, Majora’s Mask remains one of the more compelling and inventive entries in the Zelda franchise. The more intimate world, the foreboding atmosphere, the inventive use of masks, and the perpetual sense of urgency creates an unforgettable experience unmatched by most games.