The launch of the 3DS is an event that has got everyone with even a passing interest in gaming quietly assessing their financial obligations in the hope that, come the 25th March, somewhere – perhaps down the back of the couch, or in that pointless little pocket in their jeans – lies a spare few hundred quid of disposable income, so they can treat themselves to a lovely new Easter gadget.
Dogs can live without food, can’t they? I’ll let you know in April.
Despite the launch of the system itself being so close you can almost stick out your tongue and lick it, harrumphs have been harrumphed and scowls have been scowled in response to the news that The Legend Of Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time 3DS will not be a launch title. This seems to be the main source of disappointment regarding the launch, and the question is: why, exactly?
Those of advanced enough years will remember the almost unbearable levels of hype that preceded the original Z-Day. Since its announcement at the Space World expo in 1995, tongues were wagging about the prospect of a fully three-dimensional adventure in Hyrule, and Nintendo kept screenshots and tidbits of information trickling through to such a sadistically minimal effect throughout the development process that each would be pored over minutely by the dribbling gaming press.
At a time when developers were still playing catchy-uppy with Nintendo, the N were once again set to shift the goalposts as they had done to the Nth degree (yes, a very shit pun) with Mario 64.
It was the ultimate piece of anti-PlayStation propaganda for N64 fanboys to waggle in the faces of their foes in the bipartisan playgrounds of the time – a belated, but worthwhile challenger to FFVII’s dominance of the console RPG market, and a game that, together with Mario 64 and GoldenEye, would come to define the platform and, to a large extent, the hardware generation.
The rest, as some fools say, is history. Near-perfect scores from every critical outlet, sales through the proverbial roof and a proverbial star on the even more proverbial Gaming Walk of Fame. Adulation. Fawning. And then… here we are today, bemoaning the absence of that same game from the clutch of the 3DS’s launch catalogue. The thing is, in the middle there are 12-and-a-bit years of other stuff that happened, and it’s almost as if none of it did. Let me explain.
Following its release, The Ocarina of Time was thoroughly dissected. Its controls, graphical flourishes, narrative devices and gameplay techniques were used as a foundation on which other developers based their own games, and wisely so – it was so accomplished, in so many areas, that developers had no other choice.
These elements have been steadily evolving ever since, and it would be fair to say that a fair few improvements have been made to the winning formula over this time.
Beyond the game’s practical mechanics, the sense of wide-eyed mystery and foreboding that Ocarina Of Time was expertly imbued with was bettered by Ico, truly one of the great games of all time (as Ryan pointed out). Zelda’s revolutionary and intuitive combat system was also implemented to perfection in Metroid Prime, and the lock-on mechanic has been used in countless other great games since Ocarina Of Time, including more than one other Zelda game, incidentally.
That palpable sense of wonder upon entering Hyrule Field for the first time (a “Where were you?” moment in many people’s gaming histories) was taken to its goose-pimply extreme in Fallout 3, when the player’s initial emergence from the vault produced a vista that bruised jaws and dented an exactly equal number of floors.
And even the venerable Epona’s place on the horsey podium has been usurped by many more recent titles, most notably by the wondrously equine goings-on in Rockstar’s superlative Red Dead Redemption.
The fact is that there is not a single aspect of The Ocarina Of Time that has not been (for want of a better word) bettered in some way in the 12 years since. This is not a slight to the game in the slightest; it is merely an acknowledgement to the passage of time and the inevitability of human endeavour.
The game itself gets replayed on my knackered old N64 every couple of years or so, revisited like a favourite dusty old book or a familiar dog-eared stack of trusty gentleman’s literature. The game is still immensely playable, and picking it up on its faults – of which there are a few – is like calling a waddling toddler an idiot because they are rubbish at walking in a straight line, such was the magnitude of the game’s innovation at the time.
It holds such a place in many people’s hearts that some may be blinded to the fact that, come its release on the 3DS, we punters will be asked to pay full whack for what is essentially a game whose merits have been far surpassed by the games released since.
Nintendo has released The Ocarina of Time in some form on every system capable of running it effectively, and yet we are still asked to fork out for a tweaked version with 3D tacked on as little more than a cosmetic selling tool.
Nintendo used a similar trick (minus the 3D, obviously) with Mario 64DS, and it seems to be following the same George Lucas-inspired strategy that asks you to reinvest in the original Star Wars trilogy every five years because the subtle changes made are profound improvements. The fact that it’s much cheaper and easier to dick around with an already beloved title than it is to put in the time and effort necessary to create a new one is irrelevant, and probably never enters into the decision making process. Probably.
Saying it will give a new generation a chance to experience one of gaming’s true high water marks is fair enough, but who will be getting the most enjoyment out of its re-release? Will it be those that will be peering at the new 3D display through rose-tinted specs – those who remember the experience from the first time round?
Those who began gaming more recently (who may not revere the game quite so much) will notice that the game’s world is actually quite small and sparse, that some of the puzzles are mightily obscure, and that the Water Temple – new controls or no – is rubbish.
The new version began as a 3DS tech demo and has since become a full-blown title in its own right, but it would be naive to think that Nintendo would use this particular game for its demo without having half an intention of releasing it.
The 3DS in particular is vulnerable to a potential onslaught of 3D ports of existing titles, and shouldn’t we – the consumers – be resisting this? The Big N didn’t charge us full whack for the versions released on the GameCube or Virtual Console, after all.
The Ocarina Of Time is still a truly great game, and if you haven’t played it yet it really is worth seeing what all the fuss is about. Think of it as a Citizen Kane or a Lamborghini Countach, in that it was the absolute peak of what was possible at the time. These days, though, we’re actually quite fond of high definition colour displays, air conditioning and suspension that doesn’t force your coccyx up through your sinuses. Appreciation of the past is good. But so is progress.
The Ocarina Of Time’s place in the annals of gaming history is always assured no matter what happens, and I say all of this as someone who loves this game more than I love some members of my own family. Many people do.
When they shell out top dollar for it in all its 3D-ishness, though, despite any nips and tucks it may have enjoyed, many may come to realise that it is so dear to them not because of what it is, but because of what it was.
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