I never got around to playing the N64 original, although I remember my sister raving about it at the time. I seem to recall that it came in for some criticism for reusing a lot of the assets and game engine from Ocarina of Time, and the fact that it came out at the very end of the N64’s lifespan probably didn’t do it any favours in terms of reaching a wider audience. By the time of Majora’s Mask‘s European release in November 2000, I’d long since fallen in love with the Dreamcast, and I was happily hoovering up every SEGA game on offer. It wasn’t until the launch of the GameCube in 2002 that I drifted back towards Nintendo.
But it seems that during my Dreamcast love-in I really missed out on something rather special over on the waning N64. Majora’s Mask may share assets with Ocarina of Time – and in fact it’s a rare direct sequel in the Zelda canon, following on from the events of OoT – but in every other respect it’s utterly distinct from every other Zelda game out there, not least because Zelda isn’t even in it.
For a start, it’s dark. Whereas Twilight Princess was dark in a literal sense, as well as having the whiff of teenage angst about it, Majora’s Mask is dark in the sense that bad things happen to good people quite regularly. Oh, and the world is going to end because a massive evil moon is about to smash into it.
You can help the people of Termina with their problems, but at the end of the game’s three-day cycle, as the moon is just about to smash into Clock Town, you’re forced to got back in time and start over again, with everything reset except for a few key items in your possession. That means all of your good work is undone over and over again. At the end, I had the sudden realisation that although I’d managed to cease the tyranny of Majora’s Mask, all of the other terrible tragedies in the game had still unfolded in that time line, because it’s impossible to help everyone in the space of three days. The cows still get stolen from Romani’s Ranch. The robber still steals the bomb bag from the old lady. The Goron elder still remains trapped in ice. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt ennui at the end of a Zelda game.
And in fact, the ending itself is a bit melancholy. There’s no punch-the-air triumph. It’s all just… well, sad. And then there’s the fact that the masks you wear contain the spirits of dead people. And when you put them on, Link literally screams as his body transforms. Every. Damn. Time.
Majora’s Mask is also downright weird. It feels like the designers have been given total free reign to run with the strangest characters and ideas they could think of after the success of the relatively strait-laced Ocarina of Time. There’s a dead dancer who gives you a blank mask with a tiny version of his head poking out of it. There’s a huge, masked blacksmith who only communicates in grunts. There’s aliens. There are giants who are seemingly all legs and noses. There’s the utterly mysterious Happy Mask Salesman. There’s a ghost that lives in a toilet bowl. And of course there’s Tingle, the 40-year-old would-be fairy in a green unitard.
In short, it’s bloody brilliant.
And although I never played the N64 game, I’m extremely impressed with the job Grezzo have done with this remake after seeing some comparisons of it with the original. The 3D works wonderfully, and the graphics have been given a complete overhaul. But perhaps more importantly, they’ve made some very sensible tweaks to remove some of the frustrations of the N64 game, like giving you the invisibility-granting Stone Mask right when you need it, rather than just after the frustrating stealth section in which it would have been really kinda useful.
I simply couldn’t get enough of Majora’s Mask 3D. Whereas I eventually wandered away from Ocarina of Time 3D, leaving it unfinished, I spent tens of hours hunting out every last secret in MM3D – and I still want more.
Bravo, Nintendo. Bravo.
Buy The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D from Amazon.