A decade after its release on Nintendo 64, the time is ripe for Nintendo to refresh one of its most popular games.
There's a lot of love out there for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; but let's be honest, it hasn't aged very well. These days, it has all the hallmarks of an N64 game, including the exceedingly blurry textures and chunky framerate. Add in that it's now close to 13 years old, and it seems that the time is ripe for a remake.
Let the record show that Nintendo is not one to cut corners on its remakes, Metroid Zero Mission and Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver being just two examples. Nintendo has a knack for bringing their classics into the modern era while retaining the core of what made them appealing in the first place, and they tend to add a nice layer of visual polish as well. From what I've seen, the upcoming remake of Ocarina of Time is much the same as the original; but in this case, the added graphical tweaks may be all it needs to bring it back to the modern era.
The visuals were the main focus of the most recent demo I saw at Nintendo's offices recently. To drive home the point that, yes, Ocarina of Time looks awful on an HD television, they had a copy of the original running on a 1080p monitor mounted on the wall when I walked in. In some ways, it's disingenuous -- the Virtual Console version looks much better than the GameCube update that they had running. If they were trying to make a point though, they made it. The 3DS version is stunning by comparison.
Basically, the team at Nintendo has kept all of the basic geometry of the original, but they've remade the models and skinned them with entirely new textures. The Deku Tree is one example of a model that has roughly the same outline as before, but looks far better thanks to rich textures that simulate the effect of bark (as opposed to the brown smudges of the original). Given the upgrades, I imagine this game would look great on Wii...provided that it were scaled to fit a television.
The effect is most striking in the two new areas shown during the demo -- Castle Town and Jabu-Jabu's Belly. It's the former that benefits the most from the upgrade, I think. Mere featureless blobs in the original, locations like the Happy Mask Shop take on new life; little details like the items sitting in the foreground in the Bazaar stand out all the more given that there was nothing to see save the shelves in the original.
Jabu-Jabu's Belly, meanwhile, reminds me a bit of Innerspace (you know, the move with Martin Short). Previously, the level looked like a swirl of multi-colored textures; it now looks like...well...a body. Buttons are now creepy knobs of flesh, and the walls have a sickly pink color. And, of course, it all looks great in 3D.
What I'm curious to see is whether Nintendo decides to add in some new content to further increase the game's value. Back in the day, Metroid Zero Mission had an entire "stealth" section following the defeat of Mother Brain, while Pokemon FireRed featured a chain of islands featuring Pokemon from the Gold/Silver generation. Naturally, the Nintendo representatives that I spoke with were coy about the inclusion of additional content. The only comment I received was that they still had "plenty more to show us" in the future.
Honestly though, I like what I've seen of Ocarina of Time enough that I would probably buy it even without content like the additional Master Quest (an added bonus released as part of the GameCube Ocarina of Time update). After all, the dungeon design and combat is just as solid as ever -- better even with the facelift, and the swordplay feels much smoother. Given the benefit of the graphical upgrade, it may just supplant Twilight Princess (yes, that Twilight Princess) as my favorite Zelda adventure. The only annoying element will be having Navi chirping in my ear constantly while I'm playing on the bus. As if she weren't irritating enough already.
Regardless, I expect Ocarina of Time to be the 3DS's first "killer app" when it rolls around in June, especially for those who have never played the orginal (I'm sure there are plenty of 12-year-olds out there who have never owned an N64). Even if you have finished Ocarina though, the substantial facelift really does add a lot to the game.
In the fine tradition of games like Super Mario All-Stars, I think we're in for another quality remake.