The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time hands-on preview

One of the most lauded games of all time has been remade for the Nintendo 3DS, but can it recapture the original’s magic? Here’s our hands-on preview...

Ocarina of Time

Let’s face it, any updating of a venerated, much-loved classic is a risky proposition. Making Legend Of Zelda sequels is one thing – though that process is frought with danger in itself – but presenting a fully-fledged remake of Ocarina Of Time, one of the most critically lauded games ever, couldn’t have been an easy decision for uncle Nintendo.

As George Lucas’ repeated fraternisations with his Star Wars franchise have proved, even the deepest well-spring of goodwill can run dry, so Nintendo would surely have thought long and hard about the changes and improvements they could make to this much-loved 1998 classic.

It’s unsurprising, then, that when we sat down for a bit of hands-on time with the 3DS incarnation of Ocarina Of Time, we found a game mechanically identical to its N64 predecessor. Sure, the graphics are far smoother and now in 3D, but the sprawling adventure that so many of us fell in love with over a decade ago is exactly the same as it ever was.

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Once again, young Link must leave his idyllic woodland home and prevent the evil Ganondorf from getting his hands on the sacred Triforce. And just like the N64 original, there’s loads of exposition and wandering around before you’re allowed to get into the proper quest. In fact, if there’s one aspect of Ocarina we wish Nintendo had fiddled with, it’s the opening chapter, which was originally created at a time when gamers were still coming to terms with Zelda’s transition from 2D to 3D.

It’s easy to forget these days, but Ocarina Of Time’s Z-targeting mechanics, which allowed for 2D-style combat in a 3D environment, were brand spanking new back in the late-90s. These days, we don’t need these mechanics to be explained to us in such detail.

Once on Link escapes from the confines of his village, however, and makes his first forays inside the Deku Tree and then ventures out into the widescreen vista of Hyrule, we’re reminded of just how brilliant Ocarina Of Time is as a piece of interactive storytelling. The world of Zelda really is a place of whispered magic, and Ocarina’s adventure remains one of the very best stories yet told in a videogame.

Just how good Ocarina 3DS looks only snaps into focus when directly it’s compared to the Nintendo 64 original. The masterminds behind the remake’s preview cannily rigged up a bank of N64s in the corner of the room, so it was possible for even the laziest hack to look across from the 3DS version in their hands to the 90s original a few feet away.

The fact that these ageing consoles were rigged up to some equally antiquated cathode-ray televisions may have been a sneaky move on the evening’s organisers, but there’s no getting away from the fact that, after more than 12 years, Ocarina Of Time no longer looks like the genuinely gorgeous piece of programming it once was.

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The genius behind Ocarina 3DS, then, is that it looks like the game that many of we older gamers still hold in our minds. For those of us lucky enough to have experienced it in the late 90s, the game Ocarina Of Time was an interactive fairytale; we were enthralled by the seemingly flawless animation of Epona, Link’s steed, and marvelled at the apparently vast landscape of Hyrule and its atmospheric temples. We barely noticed the smudgy colours, low-resolution textures, and worst of all, the jerky frame-rate.

Now refreshed and enhanced for the 3DS, this is Ocarina Of Time as we remember it in our rose-coloured memories. The updating is so competent and faithful, in fact, that those who haven’t played the game for a few years may struggle to pinpoint what, exactly, has changed.

Subtle though the visual changes are, Ocarina Of Time nevertheless looks wonderful on the 3DS. Even those not entirely sold on the console’s gimmicky stereoscopic functions will note that, as the sun sets over the plains of Hyrule, and those distinctive zombies come clattering out of the ground, this really is a sumptuous-looking, atmospheric game.

But enough about Ocarina’s visuals – let’s address the 3DS version’s controls. First of all, the handheld’s analogue nub is as suited to guiding Link as the N64‘s controller, and running, jumping and slashing with a sword feels as natural and instinctive as you’d expect. The 3DS’ lower screen houses the inventory and map screen that was hidden from view in the original version, and items and weapons can be mapped to the face or shoulder buttons with a few taps of a finger or thumb.

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That you now have to hit a small button on the lower screen to shut Navi up seemed  a little irksome, but it’s something that’s eventually forgotten after a few cries of “Hey!” or “Listen!”.

Do you remember firing catapult shots from a first-person perspective in the N64 original? That’s now been revised to incorporate the 3DS’ gyroscope sensor here, meaning that you have to physically move the handheld around in the air to aim at, say, a Skulltula. There’s a free-look mode, too, that lets you scope out the environment from a first-person perspective, though this is only available in selected locations.

For those anxiously thinking of the weird looks they’d get on tube trains, as they waved their handhelds around in the air in the attempt to hit an enemy with a catapult shot, don’t worry – you can also move the analogue pad around for the same effect.

The biggest improvement, in terms of its controls, is the accessibility of the game’s menus. Now constantly available on the lower screen, it’s now easy to equip items with a jab of a stylus or your thumb. As designer Eiji Aonuma said at last year’s E3, the task of equipping and unequipping Link’s iron boots in the infamous Water Temple should now prove rather less irksome than it once did.

While it’s impossible to make a definitive judgement based on a comparatively brief preview alone, our hands-on time with Ocarina reassured us that, in its new home on 3DS, the game handles as well as it ever did, and looks more captivating than ever.

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For those too young to have played the N64 original, this enhanced Ocarina Of Time will give them the perfect opportunity to discover just what all the fuss is about. For those who haven’t played the game for a few years, meanwhile, it’s another chance to fall in love with the game all over again.

The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time will be released on 17th June, and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.