Title  : The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Platforms  : Nintendo 64
Publisher  : Nintendo of America
Game Rating  : 9.9
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Everything Shigeru Miyamoto touches is golden. The mind of this Nintendo designer has borne Mario, Metroid, and uncountable other best-selling titles. After three years in the making, one of his most popular characters returns in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, for the Nintendo 64. 

The first Zelda helped revive the video gaming industry in the late 1980's, but the game has not enjoyed sequels since its last appearances on the Super NES and Game Boy in 1992 and '93. It is soon apparent that the wait was worth it. 

Set chronologically before the previous titles, the story is of Link, a young lad who sets out to save the land of Hyrule, and its Princess Zelda, from the evil thief Ganondorf. He'll cross valleys, mountains, deserts, and lakes, to challenge the many dungeons that hold the keys of power, and the legendary artifact, the Triforce. 

Like many Zelda games, there is a duality to the quest. The child hero suddenly finds himself seven years in the future as an adult, battling Ganon across space and time. 

Miyamoto's world is fully 3D, and pulls players in unlike any other game, compelling them to explore every nook and cranny. That mountain in the background is not just eye candy: keep walking and you can climb it. While you're up there at night, look down at the lights from a nearby village: you can go there, too. Although the main quest is linear, there are many side quests which can be completed in any order, at the gamer's leisure. 

Hyrule has never been smoother and more colorful. The graphics take the basic 3D engine of today's games and up it several notches. Whether Link in riding his horse along a shore, dodging fireballs in the pit of a volcano or watching the sun set and the moon rise over Castle Hyrule, the line between fantasy and reality blurs majestically. There are a few prerendered backdrops, ala Final Fantasy VII, that appear blurry in typical N64 fashion. The bosses are some of the biggest and meanest ever! 

The music is a delightful mix of old and new. The game knows when to set a action pace, and when to let the silence speak for itself. There is almost no digitized speech, but the sound effects of screaming monsters and clashing steel help draw the player in. 

None of this daring exploration would be possible without a finely-tuned control configuration; in this, as in all other categories, Zelda takes the cake. Three buttons can be set for quick access of any items in Link's inventory. There is a general-purpose action button, which changes according to the situation, and an attack button. These are labeled on-screen for easy reference. Link automatically climbs walls and jumps gaps he comes across, eliminating a timing factor that otherwise might dissuade the less veteran action gamers. Auto-targeting keeps Link pointed at the enemy no matter what direction he moves in, but it's easy to miss the initial lock-on. 

During his journey, Link will come across many puzzles and locked doors. Sometimes the solutions are simple, such as lighting all the torches in the room. Other times they are not, and sentence the player to hours of frustrated wandering. Only those with patience will prevail. The depth of the game and the number of such enigmas contribute to a reasonable minimum gameplay time of 40 hours. 

Players with the Rumble Pak will experience enhanced gameplay, as the controller will shake with every hit and fall. Players who acquire a magical stone will be able to determine the proximity of hidden items by the vibrations. 

More than just "Mario with a sword," Ocarina of Time captures the spirit of the series while bringing it into a modern perspective. Words do not do this game justice; it must be experienced. Only the rare control problem and puzzle solutions more obscure than they need be keep the game from being perfect, but no other game has come this close. The legend continues!


This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 30-Nov-98