Pop quiz, hotshot – there’s a moon about to flatten your borough. What do you do?

Logotipo_Majora's_Mask_3D

Legend of Zelda, The: Majora’s Mask 3D (2015)

So here’s your story prompt – you’re sat on the loo, taking care of business and picking your nose at the same time. Then it happens: a red alert warning pops up on your phone, screaming at you and informing you that an enormous meteor will impact Earth in three days’ time, and the cataclysmic smash will engulf us all. It’s a good thing you were sat on the throne, because this revelation’s really got things moving for you down there. It’s no false alarm like the nuclear scare that Hawaii had a couple of years ago either, this is a bona fide apocalypse you’ve got on your hands. What’s your next step?

Me? I’d just stay right where I was. Why not? There’s nothing I can do about it, only die, so why not do it with a bit of comfort? You’ve got three days to prepare. 72 hours, you can get around the world in that time. But you can’t prepare for a meteor to hit you. No, that’s the sort of thing that you’ll want a few months to acquaint yourself with.

There’s just so many things that need doing, when it comes down to it. The grass still needs cutting, for starters. And I’ve been putting off this haircut for quite a while. I’ve got a few major downloads ongoing. I never finished Final Fantasy 8. And when will I get time to complete that most vital task of all, clearing my search history?

Immediately after the red alert warning, you’d get people screaming and scrambling around. This is wrong. It arouses contempt in the meteor-heart. Mind you, there’d probably be a whole lot of hanky panky going on. With any luck, you’ll get some farewell sex from people way above your league, people who in much more desirable circumstances wouldn’t have gone near you. All credit to the meteor for that. But that all depends on your definition of ‘dying doing what you love’, doesn’t it?

No, in my daily life I don’t really have the time or energy to get stressed, so I just don’t bother with it. I’m much more likely to treat impending doom with passive acceptance. That is, by standing with my legs apart, putting my head down between them and kissing my butt goodbye.

Although if I still had time, I’d stand up on the roof of my house, strip off naked, wave an enormous Ireland flag, and blare Darude – Sandstorm through my phone. This phone would then be held in place by my bumcheeks as I turned and welcomed the meteor with my mooning and erotic dance moves. That’s the thing about death, you have to embrace it. Dance, dance against the dying of the light.

At no time in Majora’s Mask did it ever look likely that Link would take this approach. Like us doomed humans, Link’s got an apocalypse to deal with. But this one’s got personality – rather than a generic asteroid, it’s an angry moon that’s causing all the aggro. Not to mention a bratty Skull Kid, being controlled by the malevolent Majora’s Mask in question.

You might remember Skull Kid from the indomitably popular Ocarina of Time. In fact, you might remember a huge chunk of the characters and assets from that game as well. Released less than two years after Ocarina, Majora was considered a challenge to the Zelda development team: get a new Zelda game out in 18 months, by whatever means possible. Of course, a lot of recycling had to take place to get anywhere near that target. Gamers who were around at the time will remember just how often Ocarina was delayed, after all.

It leads to Majora’s Mask being a much more self-contained game: you start in Clock Town, dead centre of the mysterious alternate dimension world of Termina. The four dungeons are located in the four cardinal directions, and you’ve got to evict the bosses of these dungeons in 3 days or it’s a fiery grave for all.

That’s not 3 real-life days, mind. That’s a matter of 54 minutes, which is a pretty tall order. No matter, you can use your Ocarina to time travel back to the beginning of the 3 day cycle. But as you might expect, everything reverts – you lose all bombs and arrows on hand, all dungeon progress if you haven’t beaten the boss, all flirty progress made with Termina’s Malon equivalent, everything. All you really keep your grubby mitts on is key items, and rupees if you remember to speak to your banker.

That was the crux of Majora’s Mask, when it released in 2000, a time when the Nintendo 64 was just about clinging onto the generation by its fingernails, fingernails which the PS1 was teasingly running its shiny Doc Martens over, ready to stamp down on the N64 for good. The Dreamcast was most likely a dainty, hapless female in the background, screaming for a saviour – who knows really, in this wild metaphor, but my point is that the 3DS hadn’t been conceived of yet. Fifteen years later, however, and following the immense success of Ocarina of Time’s 3DS port, Majora hit the 3DS and became another portable Zelda adventure.

Let’s talk about items, another important thing for Zelda games to get right. And Majora’s Mask never did a great job here as such: with the severe reduction of dungeons, a dwindling number of items needed to get through the game is an unfortunate consequence. And the variety suffers as well: the items of the four dungeons are, in order, the Bow and Arrows, the Fire Arrows, the Ice Arrows and the Light Arrows.

Isn’t that great? Predictable dungeon items, with limited use for the latter two. A whole seven Bottles instead of four, which tends to be one or two more than necessary anyway. 3 spaces on the item screen are reserved for trading items which serve little purpose to Link beyond satisfying a character’s needs – until you go back in time and erase your gesture from history anyway.

But your item buttons won’t be left barren, as one of Majora’s Mask’s primary gameplay changes comes to the rescue: the transformation masks. 24 in all, with all kinds of varying effects. 3 of them are major masks, constantly used in transformation throughout the game: the Deku Mask, the Goron Mask and the Zora Mask primarily. Other masks allow Link to be rendered invisible, to speak to Gibdos, and best of all, to run faster. However some masks are just about worthless, used only for heart pieces, of which there are a whopping 52 (still a series record).

The graphics are at least a lot better than the overambitious N64 original, and that was even with the Expansion Pak backing it. The 3DS version also gives sidequest hints, and details of their starting points and current progress are made more accessible. A big improvement from the original, where you could either use an external guide, stalk everyone at every minute of the day, or succumb to insanity and beat the game with 7 hearts instead.

As you might have gathered, there’s quite a bit of emphasis on the build-up to dungeons in this game. This is the same angle they later tried in Skyward Sword, and it didn’t work well there either. It becomes the kind of stuff that simply obstructs the player. I’ve said it before, and indeed it should go without saying, but a Zelda game lives and dies by its dungeons (don’t hit me with your Breath of the Wild retort either). And with only four to its name, and the faff involved in getting to them, I’m afraid Majora’s Mask 3D is doomed from the first tick of the clock.

3 March 2020

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