I recently got around to finally playing through all of The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time; a game which I’d watched my cousin and brother play through several times over the years, but never managed to complete myself. Seeing as the new 3DS remake of the game has more polished graphics, a more navigable water temple, and, perhaps most importantly, a much faster text speed, it seemed like playing this game would obviously be preferable to the N64 version.
I played up through the Forest Temple and found myself utterly frustrated with the game, taking little enjoyment out of it. I wasn’t getting sucked into the world at all, the way I did when I played The Minish Cap about six months prior. I got pissed off at the archaic death system (which I’ll talk about more in another video), and overall I just wasn’t having much fun. But it’s probably quite telling that the first solution I came up with was, “maybe if I play this on my friend’s 3DS XL, I’ll enjoy it more.” So I gave that a try.
The XL did not help. I still didn’t find myself enjoying the game. But I had a niggling feeling this wasn’t entirely the game’s fault, because I also realized that I’ve never played a Nintendo DS game all the way to completion. My family has owned several Nintendo DS systems for as long as the console has existed, and my brother has bought most of the big titles to hit the system. The only game that I ever bought for it and played a significant amount of was Izuna 2: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja. No matter how many games I tried, I never found myself gelling with the console the way I did with the Game Boy Advanced SP, which I’d been a huge fan of and played the most games on before the arrival of the DS.
In spite of this, I never was sure that this was a problem with the DS itself. I’ve always thought that the console has one of the most interesting output of games, especially with tons of unique and innovative RPGs coming out for it, but I didn’t give much thought to the hardware. It never came full circle for me until I finally played through Ocarina of Time on the N64 and realized that it’s quite possibly one of my top ten favorite video games.
I don’t like the 3DS, and I especially don’t like it for this game. Why?
I think what it comes down to is that the 3DS itself is too big to be held comfortably, and too small to contain a large 3D world. When I was playing Ocarina of Time on the 3DS, I kept thinking about how small Hyrule feels as a 3D game world.
I thought this was just a quirk of being from the dawn of 3D games, but when I played it on the N64, I didn’t feel that sensation at all. The world can be traversed quickly for sure, but it’s full of very large structures and memorable landscapes and imagery. The areas are densely packed with content, making it feel alive and interesting rather than cooped up.
I simply think that the world of Ocarina of Time isn’t as effective when looked at on a handheld screen as it is on a big screen. After all, the game was made with the intention of being played on a TV, and it happens to fit that format better. I haven’t played a lot of 3D games on handheld consoles, but I do know that from what little experience I’ve had, handhelds are far better at containing 2D worlds. The worlds of The Minish Cap and even side-scrolling games like Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow feel right on that screen, whereas Ocarina of Time feels cramped.
I have an even bigger problem, though, with the way the 3DS feels in my hands compared to the feeling of a controller. The 3DS is flat and long, and I’ve always felt that the L and R buttons were awkward. Having to take my hand off of the console to use the touchscreen, or even just having to look down at the bottom screen, breaks my focus on the game. Even though managing the inventory on the bottom screen seems like a great idea, I found that when I played the N64 version, it never bothered me to have to open up the item screen. It flowed naturally with playing the game, so I never paid it any mind, the way I did when I had to re-orient myself when turning my attention away from the main screen.
This brings me to the topic of kinaesthetics—the feeling of movement—which I’ve come to appreciate as one of the most important feelings to me in the world of gaming. Playing Ocarina of Time on the N64, one of the coolest things about the game was how it handled the sense of motion. The relationship between Link and the space around him—the sensation of rolling around, jumping from ledges, slashing, etc.—was a big deal for me. There were several points in the game in which I got distracted and just started doing backflips and rolls around Kakariko village for like forty minutes. Whenever I was on the static screen outside the Temple of Time, I would just start rolling into the walls for no fucking reason, other than that I loved the sensation of hitting the wall and making the screen shake.
The sensation of moving in a 3D environment was what made Ocarina of Time special in the first place, and it’s absolutely amazing that Nintendo nailed it so beautifully right at the dawn of the 3D age. Modern games have expanded on the sense of motion beautifully, leading up to the fast-paced thrill rides of games made by Platinum such as Bayonetta, Vanquish, and Metal Gear Rising, as well as the satisfyingly methodical movement of cover-based shooters like Gears of War and Uncharted. But even though Ocarina of Time isn’t adrenaline rushing or fast paced, the sensation of movement is a huge part of the game’s structure and design. Items like the Iron Boots and Feather Boots play around with the way it feels to walk in Link’s… boots. The Megaton Hammer has a different sensation of weight to it compared to the sword. These mechanics are brilliant ways to make the sense of movement more apparent.
So what does all of this have to do with comparing the 3DS version of the game against the N64 version? Mainly, it has to do with the satisfaction that comes from actually activating Link’s movements. The literal pressing of buttons and movement of the joystick.
The 3DS joystick doesn’t feel right. When you push forward on a joystick, the distance and force that you exert on the stick creates the sense of movement. When you just barely hold the stick forward, it feels right that the character walks slowly, and when you slam the stick forward, it feels right that that the character hauls ass.
The 3DS tries to replicate this feeling by having a tugging sensation when you put pressure on the thumb pad. Rather than the sensation coming from the pressure that your thumb is putting on the stick, the sensation comes from the pressure that the stick is putting against your thumb. Yes, this sounds like an incredible nitpick, and maybe a lot of people wouldn’t ever notice it, but for me it makes the subtle difference between a game in which I gave no special thought to movement, and a game in which I was so enamored with running around that I took way longer to finish the game than I probably should have.
The same can be said about the 3DS face buttons. They’re too small, and clicking them doesn’t feel as good as pushing a button on a controller. Plus, the 3DS is altogether not as comfortable to hold as a controller with grooves to fit your hands.
Pretty soon, I’ll be doing a full analysis of Ocarina of Time, but I wanted to get this video out there because it’s relevant to gaming in general outside of this game, and also as a way of pointing out why I’ll be reviewing the original Ocarina of Time as opposed to the 3DS remake. I hope you’ll look forward to that video and more from this channel, and I’d be super happy if you showed this video around, too.