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Majora’s Face Lift
Time for another cash cow rodeo? The gaming community is in fresh hysterics awaiting final details and hands-on experimentation with the Majora’s Mask re-skin. Fans everywhere experiencing the anxious interim of waiting for Nintendo’s critically acclaimed black sheep to materialize on a game store shelf near them. So, in the spirit of the coming drop, here are some thoughts on the original and what there is to be excited about in the coming re-release.
The moon, with a pained expression on its face, makes a slow, insidious descent into the sleepy Clock Town. An androgynous creature toting a petrifying, purple, horned mask – also levitating – torments you from the start line. An angry dancing plant is there. A creepy man with an unfortunate habit of shaking people bodily, experiences mood swings between unsettling sangfroid and despondent rancour. Shouldering an inordinately huge pandora’s box-type bag of mystery, he tells you in no uncertain terms, that ‘you’ve met with a terrible fate’. There’s a disembodied hand in a toilet accosting pedestrian traffic through a derelict hotel in the vain hope that they might be able to ‘spare a square’. At facile first impression, you could say it was terrifying, that it was just a bit odd, that it tested the boundary between creativity and questionable sanity. I think much of the game’s enduring charm is down to the sheer ridiculousness of some of the characters and events at face value.
This is a game that you can access on any level. From just getting a kick out of battling martian men who are attempting to abduct cows, to writing a master’s thesis on the representations of mental illness, you can get involved at any level and to any extent. One of those rare games that allows you to be completely emerged in the mythos and lap up the symbolism, the at-times dark, nihilistic themes, the emphasis on mortality and extemporaneity, the nexus of conflicting ambitions that you experience vicariously through increasingly desperate NPCs and side objectives; or you could simply knock it over in a measly 12 hours and add it to your list of vanquished Zelda titles. There’s allusions to King Lear, Dante’s Inferno, Romeo and Juliet, there’s a little classical allegory for everyone. Everything familiar from earlier titles has a twisted shadow, a sepulchral cadence woven into it. The environments, from the Milk Bar to the Stone Tower Temple, have an internal chronometry that inculcates an expectant dread of the Third and Final Day. There are explicit and implicit narratives of death and lost love, it’s a palpably melancholic journey. As if the creative team for Ocarina of Time that weren’t allowed to propagate their brand of psychological thriller and body horror on the flagship 3D Zelda project were given a dark, red-lit room somewhere to piece together this Frankenstein alloy of inverted realities and horror conventions. The result is a game that feels more like a haunted house than the historiography of comparatively jolly, time-skipping carnival rides to rescue the hollow, plush doll Princess Zelda that antedate it.
Visually, it was impressive. With the addition of the expansion pak, it left behind some of the frustrating graphical pitfalls in Ocarina of Time, as well as being able to load a more populous cast of characters, most of which are familiar faces to OoT veterans. The control scheme was a straight copy-paste from the OoT engine, but the addition of a few much-needed tweaks, mask transformations and the compounded complexity of puzzle-solving in the notoriously difficult temples augmented OoT’s model of transition into 3D. The score deserves an essay of its own. Koji Kondo created a memorable symphony of minimalist instrumentation and dissonant themes that underscored the overwhelming free space of Terminia, the loneliness of the landscape. The core music is also palindromic, just as a fun fact. This was pitched with jarring juxtaposition in brief moments of a crowded, jocular feeling, like the upbeat theme of the Milk Bar and the almost aggressively felicitous score of Clock Town (much like the townsfolk; a mass amnesia and conscious ignorance of the impending apocalypse) – gradually polluted by the crazed melancholy of Majora’s Theme as the third and final day approaches.
But of course, no masterpiece is without its flaws, no Gioconda smile without its crooked teeth. Majora’s Mask can be, in a word, overwhelming. The narrative is so nebulous, the direction so vague, woven at every point with side-quests and missions that are almost as laborious as the story-line itself. It’s certainly not a game for the dim-witted or the uninitiated. Many of the big fish in the game’s exiguous pool of criticism are something to that effect. Personally, I feel that it adds a thin lacquer of anxiety, of constantly being taunted and pursued that I can’t help but feel was intentional – not poor design. You’re meant to feel like a precarious tourist in a world that’s tearing itself apart in the vain attempt to preserve order and jocundity. The difficulty curve can be steep at times, it certainly feels like an expansion of OoT, and not an autonomous title. The temples can rouse many a pejorative from even the most pious of adventurers and there are moments in side quests – like the chain of events leading to a sword upgrade or the Anju and Kafei quest – that are contingent on the tightest of time frames. But, whining about the difficulty aside, I feel like anyone would leave the game unsatisfied without filling that mask screen and uncovering the mystery behind the largely uneventful main plot.
As for the remake, new graphics are the most obvious alteration. It looks as polished as it likely ever will. Water glimmers, the halation of torch-light blends more naturally into the dark, Link looks as strapping a lad as always. As far as sound, we can expect Koji Kondo’s original score to go unmolested into the 2015 release, and rendered crystalline by the new hardware. The control scheme, if the OoT remake was anything to go by, will be a slick equilibrium of convention and modest translation that unleashes the full potential of the 3DS control scheme without feeling gimmicky or over-stretched. As far as the actual landscape, nothing has been said of surprising additions. But, there will be fishing! That’s right, Eiji Aonuma confirmed the new feature, stating that there will be something monstrous lurking in the deeps for players to catch. (A new Hylian Loach?). Also in the news, is a re-shuffle of one of Majora Mask’s boss battles such that it will be unrecognizable in a play-through of the original. Personally, I hope they changed the Twinmold battle. A pair of overgrown earthworms is bad enough without having to constantly fill your magic meter for a gimmicky, single use mask.
For those that have played the original, I’m sure you each have your own memories of the title that you will be excited to relive in the imminent re-make. If you haven’t played the original yet, do yourself a favour and get a copy. It truly is a perennial classic. A lively skeleton in the extolled closet of the LoZ franchise, and an unforgettably quirky, disturbing journey through the imagination of Nintendo’s great creators. You will meet some heart-breaking characters, a passive aggressive dead guy or two, some unusual mechanized monstrosities, and you’ll probably cry a bit; from fear and/or joy. But you’ll almost definitely go back for seconds and thirds of this well-seasoned retro buffet.