The problem with remastered classics is that they so rarely live up to their status, or indeed your own memories. What was once revolutionary now seems antiquated. Visuals that once evoked awe now evoke nothing more than pity. Developers face a choice between enhancing the game beyond all recognition or throwing out something that the majority of the playing public won't want to buy or play; 5, 10, 15 years later, most games just don't stand up.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is an exception. Playing what's supposed to be one of the best and most-loved games of all time, you come away thinking that it's still one of the best and understanding why it's so much loved. While Nintendo's 3DS remaster isn't perhaps all that it could have been, it succeeds in making the dated graphics look less dated and throwing in a few 3DS-specific features. Most importantly, the game beneath still shines.
Ocarina of Time 3D can feel old-school and some of the ideas it introduced have been expanded on umpteen times in subsequent games, yet it remains one of the most graceful, seamless and engaging works of game design ever produced. Think of it like the first Star Wars trilogy: it's of its time and the technology is no longer cutting-edge, but that doesn't mean it isn't great.
Let's get the disappointments out of the way first of all. Graphically, this is an update rather than a wholesale remake. If you were hoping for something on the scale of what Capcom did with Resident Evil on the Gamecube, Ocarina of Time 3D isn’t it. Characters, landscapes and monsters look smoother and rounder than they did on the N64, but they still have a weird, very angular appearance, and while many textures have been replaced and backgrounds rebuilt in full 3D, we’re talking enhancement, nothing more. On the plus side, the original game had character and none of this has been lost. Ocarina of Time 3D still looks and feels like Ocarina of Time, but it’s a version you can play without looking at the screen and wincing.
There are also some elements of the game that could have done with updating or fixing. The save system, which saves the status of the world but not your actual position in it, is a menace, and most of us will use the 3DS's close-to-sleep function when we want a rest. Some of the camera angles, particularly in certain boss battles, are terrible. It's impossible to lock on to a specific part of a monster's body if you can't even see it, and it just adds insult to injury when the camera has decided that what you really want is a nice view of the other side of a wall.
The game has its share of mildly irritating fetch quests, and it's annoying to run out of bombs, arrows or other useful consumables, usually just when you need them most, then have to run around picking up rocks, smashing pots and slashing grass in the hope of finding what you need. It also seems silly that the Master Quest - a remixed version of the game with different dungeons - isn't unlocked at the start. Those returning to Ocarina after 12 years might have liked the chance to try a different version straight away.
Most of all, the 3DS's USP - 3D - remains a bit of a problem. Ocarina of Time 3DS uses it just about better than any 3DS title to date, and it genuinely helps enhance the feeling of being immersed in a grand fantasy game world. However, it's nearly impossible to put up with the effect for more than half an hour or so, and Ocarina of Time 3D is a game you'll want to play for hours at a time. Throw tilt controls for aiming missile weapons into the mix, and the need to keep your head at the right angle becomes a nightmare. In practice, we switched in and out of 3D mode depending on what we were doing and how tired we felt, and we suspect most sensible souls will do the same.
Oddly, the more you play, the less any of these things matter. Words like “absorbing” and “engrossing” don't really go far enough for Ocarina of Time 3D. You go into it expecting a history lesson or a nostalgia exercise, and instead get sucked clean into the game. As Nintendo's elfin hero, Link, transforms from anonymous orphan to the saviour of Hyrule, roaming the land in search of spirit stones and sages, the tale grows ever more magnificent. Let’s get real: the idea of a big, open world to explore isn't as new or exciting as it was in 1999, and Zelda's land of Hyrule isn't anywhere near as big or as crammed with people, monsters and things to do as the worlds of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion or Fallout 3. Yet, despite this, the things you can see and do in Hyrule make it seem just as full of life and opportunity for adventure. Ocarina of Time still has drama and mythic grandeur to spare.
The dungeons are the stars. When Ocarina of Time first appeared it seemed like a masterclass in 3D games design, and even now it's hard not to feel impressed at the way the game introduces new tools or new principles then runs with them, twisting ideas and messing with your preconceptions so that you're solving puzzle after puzzle without ever feeling like you're running through a gauntlet of conundrums. Even the smaller monsters aren't cannon fodder - each one demands a strategy to take them out - and the bosses are imaginative and challenging without ever becoming unnecessarily complex damage sponges (we're looking at you, Darksiders: Wrath of War). Certain dungeons - the Water Temple, the Spirit Temple, the one inside a monstrous fish's stomach - have become legends, and playing Ocarina of Time again it's not hard to see why; they're tough, ingenious and memorable. Frequently copied, they've rarely been surpassed, even in subsequent Zeldas.
As the game throws in its biggest concept - allowing Link to switch between child and adult forms in two specific periods of time - the game only grows deeper and more enjoyable. It's not just that there a superb contrast between the sunny, hopeful world of the child Link and the dark, deadly world of his adult self; Ocarina of Time explores the potential this brings, as changes you make in the past transform the world you see in the present.
And when you're not wrapped up in the dungeons, there's always something else to see and do. Whether you're engaged in weird chicken-grabbing challenges, planting seeds, learning tunes or hunting the rare golden “skulltulas”, a trip away from the main quest is constantly rewarding. As we said, Hyrule isn't big or heavily populated by any means, but Ocarina of Time 3D makes the most of it. Somehow, the game does more to establish interesting situations, locations and characters with primitive graphics and a few lines of text than some modern games manage with all their photorealistic, motion-captured mumbo-jumbo. Even now, it still holds up. What strikes you more is the role of the music. For all its plinky-plonky midi tones, the Zelda score conveys more emotion and atmosphere than many fully-orchestrated blockbuster soundtracks, and effortlessly nails a sense of place and occasion every time.
Changes are few and far between, but very sensible when you spot them. A new hint system, tied in to the weird carved stones dotted around Hyrule, works wonders, almost obviating any need for FAQs while still retaining the game's sense of mystery. The tilt controls for firing slingshots and arrows works well, though you may slip back into the old analogue-stick based targeting after a while. The touchscreen menus are the best feature, making powers, items and equipment more accessible, and saving you a lot of time paging through the menus. You’ll appreciate it when you hit the later temples.
There's something a bit sad about the fact that the first must-have game on the 3DS is an update of a 12-year-old classic. It’s even sadder when you'll spend half your time with the 3D effect switched off. But then Ocarina of Time 3DS isn't your average remastered oldie. Those of us who worked our way through the original version 12 years ago will find Ocarina of Time 3DS every bit as brilliant as we remember. Those of us who didn't have a treat in store: it’s a seriously wonderful game.