We’ve recently seen the release of the New 3DS XL, the latest in Nintendo’s unstoppable line of handheld gaming devices. It’s a pretty nice chunk of reflective plastic, but if you pick one up you’ll probably want something new to play on it. Nintendo has you covered, don’t worry; The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, a remake of the N64 classic, was ready to go on the system’s launch day. You might already have it. If not, well, just know there’s no Expansion Pak required.
Majora’s Mask has always been among the black sheep of the Legend of Zelda series since it was released way back in 2000. The most obvious divergence from how the series usually works is the fact that you’re on the clock; the moon is going to fall and destroy the land of Termina in three days, which is roughly an hour of real time. While there are readily available means of dealing with the clock, including an only-marginally-hidden secret means of slowing things down, time is an ever-present concern in a way that none of the other Zelda titles share.
Three days isn’t enough time to get everything done. Characters have schedules, quests must be done on the appropriate timeframe and, as you might expect, you’re going to find yourself living the same few days over and over again until you get things right. Bill Murray, etcetera etcetera. Mercifully, the game does a decent job of keeping notes on quests and NPC schedules for you automatically, but you can expect to go through quite a few time loops even when you’ve got a good idea of what you’re meant to be doing. It also bears mention that going back in time costs all of your consumables, with the exception of any money you’ve stored in the bank, so you’ll need to build your stock back up each time you go back; it’s a bit of a chore.
Another way that Majora’s Mask is unique in the series is the way it boasts a more open world than its predecessors. You have a little more freedom than the usual Zelda game, though the series’ signature “get a new item to open new paths” style of gameplay is present and accounted for. You can’t do everything you want right from step one, but you can do a lot more than just going to each dungeon in order and completing them. It’s kind of neat.
In terms of gameplay innovation, the most noticeable feature is Link’s ability to change forms. There are several masks representing various races from the Zelda universe that can be equipped to shapeshift into a member of that race. Different forms have different advantages; the Deku Scrub, for instance, can skip across water, while the Zora can just swim through it like no other form can and the Goron will just sink. Meanwhile, Link’s normal Hylian form also has its advantages, since it’s the only form that can use many of the items you’ll find during your adventure like the classic Bow and Hookshot. The various forms have their own special abilities and can be upgraded further as you explore, plus NPCs react differently to different forms, so you’ll need to carefully choose the form that’s most appropriate for your goals.
Otherwise, the gameplay’s fairly similar to Ocarina of Time, and therefore Ocarina of Time 3D. You still use lock-on targeting, there’s still annoying-but-addressable limits on the amount of money you can carry, and it’s still not especially difficult. Boss battles, as always, tend to revolve around learning and exploiting a particular gimmick, though the range of tactics you’ll need to try is a little wider thanks to Link’s multiple forms. The 3DS version of the game, as with Ocarina of Time, features improved 3D graphics (which I can’t comment on), gyroscopic controls for ranged weapons, improved controls for swimming in Zora form and various other little quality-of-life changes. I found it to be a little more hospitable than I did playing the N64 game as a kid, but that could just be the additional decade or so of gaming experience I’ve had since then talking.
The graphics and sound are superb as you’d expect from a first-party Nintendo game. As far as the plot goes, without spoiling too much, Majora’s Mask is again unusual in the Zelda series by being a bit of a darker game. Despite the cutesy veneer and first impressions it offers, Termina isn’t the happy place you’ve come to expect from Hyrule, and you just don’t have enough time to make everything better. You’ll do what you can, you’ll save the world if you try hard enough, and, well…that’s about it. It’s a little sobering if you think about it, really.
To put it plainly: if you don’t like Zelda as a concept, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D isn’t going to change your mind. It’s different, sure, but not that different. First-party Nintendo strikes again with the same level of quality we’ve come to expect. If you’ve picked up a New 3DS XL, well, this is the game that probably should have come packaged with it, so grab a copy and go nuts. Even if you don’t, fans of the original Majora’s Mask and Zeldaficcionados know they’re going to fall in love with this updated Majora’s Mask. New players should definitely consider getting their feet wet as well.