Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask review: Freak out in a moon-age daydream
ANXIETY is not an emotion associated with the Zelda adventures. Tension, maybe, such as when Link is whittled down to half a heart against a tough boss. But anxious hours abound in Majora’s Mask, this most peculiar scion of the series that has now been reshaped for the 3DS.
Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (3DS); rating: 8.5/10; age: 7+
Nintendo is responding to a fan campaign that sprung up in the wake of 2011’s successful remake for 3DS of the brilliant Ocarina of Time. The fanbase next wanted a game that was a direct sequel first considered not much more than an expansion pack when released for N64 in 2000.
It took just a year to make after Ocarina debuted but Majora turned out to contain Zelda’s oddest, darkest and, yes, most anxious moments.
Under pressure to churn out another Zelda quickly, Shigeru Miyamoto and director Eiji Aonuma took inspiration from the perpetually repeating timeline of Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day. Layered atop a familiar Zelda-esque structure of puzzles, combat and exploration is a three-day countdown that means the world must reset every 72 hours (about 60 minutes in real-time).
The explanation is tied to the giant moon overhanging the land of Termina (a sort of alternate-universe Hyrule) that falls and destroys everything after three days - unless Link rewinds time.
But like Groundhog Day (and recent Tom Cruise sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow), Link can learn a little about the people around him in every replay of the three days - what they need, where they’ll be, how to help them.
This is where the anxiety is injected. Link retains the knowledge but loses most objects acquired during a playthrough after a reset. Thus, you need to complete a complex series of tasks with one worried eye on the clock – and risk the loss of considerable progress if you fail to tie up loose ends.
The jittery time-bending structure disguises the fact that Termina is a relatively small land (just four Zelda-style dungeons, for instance). But despite the obvious repetition, the kooky cast of characters, some great bosses, the masks-as-powerups and an enduring sense of foreboding give Majora’s Mask long-term appeal.
Nintendo has tweaked the 3DS remake to give more save-point flexibility. A new notebook that automatically records a calendar of events also makes wrapping your head around the timelines much easier than in the N64 days.
You’ll never forget that first time Link howls as he puts on a Deku mask, as if in genuine pain. It’s just one of the many unsettling tropes that recur in Termina. Zelda fans used to the unhurried, bright adventures of years past may find Majora’s Mask too edgy to truly enjoy.
My own preference is still for the masterpiece that was Ocarina of Time but you cannot fault Nintendo for its willingness to experiment with Majora’s Mask, even if it was driven by the desire for a quick sequel.