It's long been a well known fact that, generally speaking, most film remakes are utter rubbish. You only have to look at the Italian Job for proof of that. In games, however, it tends to be a slightly different story. When games get remade, they more often than not tend to put right the problems with the originals, and - thanks to the rate at which games hardware improves - offer a vastly improved version of the original, free of whatever limitations existed at around the time the originals were made. For the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, the latter certainly seems to be true.
Late last week, we were invited down to London, to a special pre-launch event for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D - a game which is arguably Nintendo's biggest 3DS game to date. Not an original Zelda title, but rather a remake of a game which first graced the N64 way back in 1998, which is actually a whole lot longer ago than it feels. So, prior to being plied with medieval food and mead, we settled down for a hands-on session with the updated Ocarina of Time, to see what's different this time round.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D tells the story of Link, a young boy who grows up something of a social outcast in a remote village populated by an elven folk called the Kokiri. Link stands out from the others, as every other Kokiri in the village has a fairy, and poor old Link's the only one who's alone. However, one day, a fairy finally comes to Link, but instead of apologising for being so late, it instead warns him of a grave danger. The village's guardian - the Great Deku tree - is under threat, and much worse than that, so is the entire land of Hyrule - and it's up to you to try and save it.
What follows is an adventure in its truest form, that'll see you journeying from one side of the land of Hyrule to the other, entering dungeons, defeating bosses, solving puzzles, riding horses, and even travelling through time, as you try to reunite the three Spiritual Stones and the five sages, in an effort to stop the evil Ganondorf from getting his hands on the legendary Triforce - an ancient relic that grants the wish of whoever holds it - and ruling the land. There's a reason the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is widely regarded as a classic, and that's because this is a game that truly has it all.
The demo we played at the event, which we were assured was an almost final copy of the game, was divided into three sections - one near the start of the game, one in the middle, and one at the end, in order to give us chance to experience as many different parts of the game as we can. And experience them we did - for several hours on end.
Dropping into straight into the action, we found ourselves in the middle of Hyrule Field, which acts as the game's hub between the various regions, in the middle of the night. As well as regularly coming under attack by undead skeleton warriors, that sprung from the ground (but were easily despatched thanks to a few slices of our sword), we came across a farm, which had horses for rent, and several secret passages that were buried beneath rocks, and led to buried treasure, which are only a minor hint at the rewards that lie in wait for those of us who like to explore. Eventually, we came across a strangely small looking castle, which had its drawbridge up, presumably to prevent the same undead hordes we'd been encountering from getting in. Running up to the edge of the moat, we tried to leap it (Link automatically jumps when you near a ledge, so there's no awkward platforming here), and promptly splashed into the water. Not in the mood to wait, we had a flick through our inventory, which is now handily found on the touch screen, until we found our Ocarina.
Yes, the Ocarina in the game's name isn't just a coincidence - as well as being a hero of time, Link is also quite the dandy musician - and much like the rest of the land, the Ocarina has its own magical properties. By setting it to one of the slots in our inventory, we pulled our virtual Ocarina to our virtual lips, and had a look at the song book until we found a song we thought might help. Ah, the Sun's Song - that sounds about right. With the song book containing its strange, game notation of the notes you'll need to play (displayed as 3DS buttons on a cleff, rather than notes), all we had to do was to press the buttons in the right order - thankfully, timing wasn't important. Entering the right combination made young Link play the relevant song, and, in this case, turned night into day, and lowers the castle's drawbridge.
This is just one example of the way the Ocarina can be used, because, as you may have guessed, it's often central to the game's puzzles. Whether you need to make it rain in order to fill a lake with water; to prove you're a messenger of the game's Royal Family; or even simply to summon your horse, the Ocarina plays a key part in many of the game's puzzles, and learning new songs, and figuring out when to use them, is key to your success.
In fact, that's a perfect example of the way the game works as a whole, as the Ocarina of Time 3D's full of little things like this that force you to stop and think logically about what you're doing. Experimentation is encouraged, and if you don't explore, you'll struggle to progress through the story at all. In fact, while we initially felt a bit disappointed by the game's reluctance to tell us where we're meant to be heading next, the more we played, the more we realised this is actually one of Zelda's highlights. Rather than outright telling you to go and do X, the characters you speak to in the game instead hint at things they've seen, suggesting, in a by-the-by manner, that you may want to take a look at it - and it's up to you to figure out exactly what they're talking about. As a case in point, earlier in the game, we'd come across a gloomy looking village, we came upon two men who were talking near a tree. The one was openly mocking of the other, who'd apparently seen a ghost in the graveyard. Again, no objective popped up, but being the inquisitive souls that we are, the tip off was all we needed, and off to the graveyard we headed.
Once we'd managed to find the graveyard (again, thanks to the game's frankly awful maps), we found that in fact, the presumed loon was right, and the graveyard was being haunted - but luckily, these were some fairly weak ghosts. Taking a quick look round, we came across something which claimed to be a Royal Tomb. That was all very nice, but what use was it to us? Then we remember - our Ocarina. We know a song that proves we have a connection to the Royal Family. Whipping out our Ocarina, we played Zelda's Lullaby, and as if by magic, the tomb opened up, revealing a secret mini-dungeon below.
It's this sort of game logic that you rely on to progress through Zelda. Experimenting, drawing your own conclusions about things, and, more than anything, exploring around the vast land of Hyrule to make sure you've seen everything, and explored every option are the order of the day. When you're not exploring, you'll mostly be solving puzzles and progressing through a dungeon, and although we go into a lot more detail about those in our last preview, in our most recent hands-on, we came across a rather interesting inclusion that's been designed to help new players get the hang of it.
Nintendo are keenly aware that while some of their fanbase will have played The Ocarina of Time years ago on the N64, there's a huge chunk of it that won't even have owned an N64, yet alone played it. If you fit into that category, you might be interested to learn that for the 3DS, Zelda's been designed to appeal to players like you. By going up to a strange marker/stone during the game, you'll be able to access hint videos - much like the ones found in Super Mario Galaxy 2 - which offer small tutorials of various parts of the game. With semi-cryptic names that don't give away exactly what you've got to do, these brief clips hint at things rather than give in-depth solutions, and work as mini-guides for everything from boss battles, to key item locations, giving you a brief insight as to what you should be looking to do, without spoiling it for you. They're a neat little idea, although we'll have to wait until we get our hands on the finished copy to better see how they work.
But, with its new features for Zelda novices, and altogether spruced up game for veterans of the first time round, Ocarina of Time is shaping up to be something very special indeed. You can tell a game has something special when, some twelve years on, the game still feels every bit as fresh, every bit as freeform, and every bit as intelligent as it did before. If you've got a 3DS, this needs to be on your shopping list. If you haven't, then you should be getting one to play it.
The Hero of Time is back. And he's better than ever before.
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