When Majora’s Mask landed on the Nintendo 64 nearly 15 years ago, it’s no secret that it faced an uphill struggle to win over Zelda fans. As the direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, a game widely considered at the time (and still today) to be one of gaming’s all-time greatest achievements, creating a game of equal appeal was a monumental undertaking for Nintendo. Nintendo could have gone the safe, fan-pleasing route and expanded upon Ocarina’s winning formula, but instead, they did nearly the complete opposite and crafted the most un-Zelda-like game ever made. It’s for this reason that Majora’s Mask is often referred to as the “weird” Zelda game, for better or for worse.
So what makes Majora’s Mask so different from other Link adventures?
Well, for starters, rather than being set in the familiar land of Hyrule, the story begins with Link waking up in the peculiar and unexplored realm of Termina. We’re used to seeing Link start his adventures with dire situations, typically involving the abduction of Zelda by an evil force (mostly Ganon), however the plight facing Termina is more dark and unsettling. In just three days’ time, a decidedly creepy-looking moon with bulging red eyes and a devilish grin, will collide with the planet, initiating a cataclysmic chain of events and end all life. With the apocalypse close at hand, this once lively land is consumed by hopelessness and despair, felt both in the characters’ moods and the vast, barren settings.
Overcoming hardships is nothing new for our daring Link, but again Majora’s Mask breaks the mold by intentionally setting up our hero for failure. In order to reverse this calamitous turn of events, Link has just 72 hours to search the four corners of Termina to acquire the strength the defeat Skull Kid, a character possessed by an evil mask and the one behind the moon’s sudden descent. However, with each in-game hour lasting about 45 seconds of real time, there’s not enough time in a single play through for Link to complete his required tasks, forcing him to use the Ocarina of Time as often as needed to rewind time back to dawn of the first day, and start anew. From a plot perspective, Majora’s Mask is like the video game equivalent of Groundhog Day meets Armageddon.
Time traveling has many unwanted consequences in Majora’s Mask, including stripping Link of all his consumable items (arrows, bombs, bottled fairies, and even rupees), wiping clean your side-quest progress, and resetting all dungeons. Fortunately, all of the key items you obtain, such as the bow, hookshot, heart containers, and empty bottles are immune to the temporal purge, allowing you to be more powerful each time you restart the cycle.
Having an imposed time limit to complete your quest may seem quite punishing at first, but this system is core to why Majora’s Mask is such a unique Legend of Zelda experience. Instead of having full freedom to explore the world of Termina as you please, the constant pressure of your looming date with destruction forces you to strategize with each and every cycle. This means planning out your three days in advance, including establishing your objectives and mapping out your route. If you fail to properly plan, you may have to redo entire dungeons, something you’ll want to avoid.
A key aid to helping you plan your days is an improved version of the Bombers’ Notebook found in the N64 version. The notebook acts as your personal organizer, recording information on all of the side quests you’ve discovered, your current progress with each, and identifying which ones you’ve previously completed. It also contains a detailed schedule of the times and locations for each important character, and you can also schedule alarms to remind you when it’s time to travel to a particular location in Majora’s Mask 3D. Another useful addition is that now, whenever you encounter a member of the Bombers around Clock Town, they’ll give you a clue about unfound “rumored” side-quests, which are logged in your notebook as reminders to hunt these side-quests down.
Nintendo went even further to make Majora’s Mask 3D more accessible by revamping the unnecessarily harsh N64 save system that forced you to trek to sparse Owl Statues for a temporary save state, or reset the entire time cycle for a proper save. With this new version, not only can you save your progress at each owl, but there are also additional Feather Statues, typically located at the entrance of dungeons, that allow you to save your game. The only constraint is that these new statues cannot be warped to with the Song of Soaring.
The most welcome gameplay change though is that in Majora’s Mask 3D, playing the Song of Double Time lets you fast-forward to any hour of the day you’re currently on, instead of limiting you to the next night or day. Having the ability to choose the exact time to travel to means that there is far less waiting around required (a downside that plagued the N64 version), which is extremely convenient given that this is a handheld game likely to be played in smaller bursts.
With all this added convenience, I don’t want you to get the impression that Majora’s Mask 3Dis an easier, watered-down version of its notoriously challenging predecessor. Common enemies are just as tough as they ever were, and you’ll still find yourself getting locked into rooms with mini-bosses that will sap your heart containers if you venture in ill-equipped or unprepared. Additionally, all the boss battles have been tweaked to make them more interesting, dynamic, and challenging, so even if you’ve played the prior version you’ll need to rethink your strategy.
Graphically, Majora’s Mask 3D has received tremendous upgrades, with every pot, plant, board and wall looking more detailed than before. Clock Town is particularly impressive, with its beautiful central clock tower and bustling side streets filled with many of the finer intricacies. All characters, including Link, have been touched up with improved character models and higher resolution textures, breathing even more life into Termina’s wacky, yet oddly charming population. Plus, the superb added 3D depth gives you a neat, new perspective that further absorbs you into this vast and varied game world.
Controls in Majora’s Mask 3D remain mostly faithful to the original, though the improved framerate means that both combat and movement feel slightly more precise this time around. All 24 masks return, including the shape-changing ones that turn Link into a flying Deku Scrub, a rolling Goron, and a swimming Zora. Each of the first three main dungeons contain numerous puzzles that can only be solved using one of these form-changing masks, with the final, culminating dungeon challenging you to use all of Link’s transformations to overcome elaborate obstacles.
Similar to Ocarina of Time 3D, Nintendo has also added new control elements, including using the bottom touchscreen to manage your inventory, assigning items to X and Y button hotkeys, and viewing your maps. You can also use the Nintendo 3DS gyroscope to control the camera when firing arrows or your Deku’s bubble, though in the heat of battle I found this mechanic too finicky so I opted for manual targeting.
While the game handles perfectly fine on a Nintendo 3DS, playing Majora’s Mask 3D on a New Nintendo 3DS XL console gives you the ability to have dual analog controls using the C-Stick, enabling you to freely move the camera in any direction. I found this extra control to be extremely useful during dungeons, as I was able to more thoroughly examine rooms for clues to solving puzzles. Also, since this enhanced version of Majora’s Mask has such beautiful graphics, you’ll want to use the free camera movement to pan around all the game environments, from the murky Southern Swamp to the vast Ikana Canyon, just to soak in the gorgeous sights.
Majora’s Mask 3D may be a dark and twisted tale, but it’s also completely original and feels unique compared previous Legend of Zelda games. Over this griping and meaningful adventure, you’ll come to genuinely care about the world of Termina and its doomed citizens, which makes the game’s conclusion all the more satisfying.
The upgraded visuals look fantastic on Nintendo 3DS hardware. The improved character models, vibrant and decorated towns, and the finer intricacies seen in the dungeons truly bring Majora’s Mask 3DS to life. You’ll want to spend lots of time admiring this game, especially when you see how beautiful the world looks in stereoscopic 3D.
The controls on the original Majora’s Mask were fine, and this version handles slightly better with an improved framerate and intuitive new touch screen controls. When played on a New Nintendo 3DS system, the dual analog controls significantly add to the overall gameplay experience, giving you full freedom to move the camera for combat and exploration purposes.
Replay Value: 8/10
Majora’s Mask 3D is not the longest Legend of Zelda game, but it still offers a solid 20 hours for the main campaign, plus an extra 5-10 hours’ worth of side-quests if you’re the completionist type. What’s really handy is the improved Bombers’ Notebook that lets you easily track and manage your current side-quest progress.
I’ve long felt that Majora’s Mask is one of the most underappreciated Legend of Zelda games, and having a chance to relive the experience, with all the enhancements this new version brings, only reaffirmed that it’s still one of the best in the series. Majora’s Mask 3DS ignores many of the series’ traditions s with a strange plot and quirky characters, but given a chance, it will win you over with its exceptional design and heartfelt tale of hope and despair.