Nintendo finally did SOMETHING right.
Nothing earth-shaking, perhaps, but something right. Specifically, they released The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask on the Virtual Console. The game was originally released in late 2000 on the Nintendo 64, and again in 2003 on The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition for the GameCube. Somehow, though. Majora’s Mask has never managed to shake the image of “little brother” to its predecessor, Ocarina of Time.
To be sure, Majora’s Mask doesn’t quite live up to the near-perfection that was Ocarina of Time, but the bad rap it often receives is hardly deserved. It’s a shockingly underrated, overlooked game and if you haven’t experienced it yet, there’s no reason not to now. It’s a game from a time when Nintendo had more to offer than tricks, gimmicks, and (at best) solid gameplay experiences.
You may wonder why I (apparently) list “solid gameplay experiences” in the list of cons pertaining to Nintendo. I’ll explain: Nintendo, at their best, can still give core gamers one hell of an engaging, solid, and fun gameplay experience. Titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption are perfect current-generation examples. Speaking strictly from a core gameplay standpoint, those two titles are the best in their respective series’. The combat in Metroid Prime 3 works beautifully on Wii controls, refining the experience to a point where it’s difficult to imagine it could get much better. The dungeon crawling in Twilight Princess is practically flawless; undoubtedly the best dungeons and boss battles ever seen in a Zelda title to this date.
What, then are these titles missing? It’s simple: character. The lack of personality in the latest installments of Nintendo’s two flagship franchises is blatant and damaging.
I’ve said this before: Twilight Princess is essentially an attempt to make an Ocarina of Time 2. The game makes a singular attempt to set itself apart through the implementation of the “Dark World,” but sadly, the mechanic comes off as ho-hum and derivative. Link’s imp-like sidekick, Midna, tries hard to pack enough personality for the entirety of the game. As good a job she does, it isn’t enough. Aside from that, the entire game just comes off as an attempt to re-create the experiences gamers remember so fondly from 1998. Adult link is back, the “serious” graphical style is back, horseback riding returns, and the dungeons (which, admittedly had been slighted in the previous few installments) are back with a vengeance. What hasn’t returned is the emotion, personality, or character.
Metroid Prime 3 is an even worse offender in this case. I haven’t yet finished the game, and I’m unsure if I ever will. Gone are the masterfully crafted atmospheres of the first two installments. Gone is the feeling of loneliness, desperation, and mystery. Gone is the challenging nature of the combat that kept players on their toes even outside of boss battles. In Metroid Prime 3 we get military bases filled with poorly voiced Space Marines, bounty hunter buddies who pop up with annoying frequency, and bosses who shoot energy blasts than can be deflected with Samus’s own shots – and then drop health orbs. Metroid Prime 3 is an extremely solid (albeit insultingly easy) gameplay experience. However, the game might as well have been entitled Halo: Nintendo Edition.
There was once a time when Nintendo games offered more, and Majora’s Mask is a perfect example. Frankly, speaking from an atmospheric perspective, it’s the most masterful Zelda title ever created. You can tell as soon as the game begins. Link isn’t in Kansas anymore – it’s one of the few Zelda titles to take place outside of Hyrule. The player is constantly assaulted with the feeling that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the world of Termina simply isn’t real. It’s a twisted mirror image of Link’s homeland, with familiar faces and customs, offset by a cartoony moon glaring down on the world, and a ridiculously contrived overworld layout. (Swamp. Mountain. Ocean. Canyon.) The music is top-notch; perhaps not the best in the series, but perfect for the atmosphere of the game. The themes presented are often quite dark; ironically, Majora’s Mask is a far darker experience than Twilight Princess could ever hope to be, despite how much harder the latter tries. (Purply dark worlds doth not a gloomy atmosphere create.)
It can’t be denied that Majora’s Mask lacks some punch in the gameplay department, but the miniscule dungeons and three-day cycle restriction is far easier to forgive than the haters would like you to believe. It’s still Zelda, and it’s a ton of fun. In fact, it’s MORE than just fun. Majora’s Mask is practically a work of art. So, to all of you who have yet to give the game a go: hop to it, it’s available for 1000 Wii Points now. To all the haters: I highly recommend a second look. Nintendo needs to replay this game themselves – maybe they’ll remember a few things they’ve apparently forgotten.