|Title||:||The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask|
|Platforms||:||Nintendo 64 (RAM Expansion Pak required)|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
The Legend of Zelda. For those familiar with it, the name invokes images of worlds to explore, mighty foes to topple, and powerful items to acquire.
You can add Bill Murray to that list.
In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, a Nintendo 64 game published by Nintendo, players become the hero Link, who has 72 hours to stop the moon from crashing into the world of Termina. This 3D, over-the-shoulder adventure game sends Link across fields, swamps, and mountains, to enter sacred temples and revive the guardians who have the power to save the land.
Majora's Mask is like Groundhog Day, times three: Link will relive the same three days over, and over, and over, until he has completed all his tasks and saved the world. Every time he returns to the dawn of the first day, much of the world and his inventory will reset as though nothing had ever happened. This concept presents some interesting replay opportunities and time paradoxes, but mostly, it's frustrating. Link must accomplish some tasks several times, since their results disappear regularly. He must also manage his time well; it is not smart, for example, to delve into a dungeon on the third day, since Link must rewind time and lose his progress before the end of that day. Large tasks are best tackled early.
There is also more focus on the people of Termina than in previous Zelda games. Link keeps a notebook of dozens of people who need his help, several of whom will reward him with items necessary to his quest.
The previous Zelda had a night-and-day cycle, but things are even more different this time around, as each day is unique. Some people and events are available only on the second afternoon, or first evening, or third morning.
But get past all the record keeping and you'll find devilish dungeons, tremendous terrains, and malicious miscreants. Yes, there is a Zelda game lurking beneath all that tedium! The dungeons and puzzles are fiendishly intelligent in their solutions, often requiring more brain than brawn. The dungeons are protected by powerful guardians, whose weaknesses are as challenging to discover as they are to exploit.
Players must discover 24 masks, each which imbues Link with different powers. A mighty Goron, an aquatic Zora, and a plucky Deku are among the forms Link can adopt. Some masks aid players in finding additional items, while others are necessary for the game's completion. Assignment of masks and other items to controller buttons is represented by on-screen labels for easy reference.
Interacting with Termina is nearly as important as witnessing it. Majora's Mask requires the RAM Expansion Pak, which usually results in better graphics, but not so much this time. There are no prerendered backgrounds, but there are some odd moments in which details of the horizon suddenly appear as Link approaches them. But overall, Majora's Mask is a graphical improvement over the first Zelda for Nintendo 64. Some of the character animations are startlingly fluid. The dungeons have more impressive lighting effects, and are guarded by bosses that certainly seem larger (though perhaps that's a result of their sheer intimidation factor).
None of Termina's inhabitants have vocal speech, though they do make childish squeals and grunts in response to Link's inquiries. When Link first ventures into the world, he'll be greeted by the familiar Zelda theme, recurring in all the series' games save for the last one. The music is hauntingly beautiful, with threatening undertones reminding players of the plummeting satellite.
Majora's Mask takes the dungeon-delving that made Zelda a classic, and adds many obstacles. It's easy to overlook the game's troublesome parts and find the fun at the core. It's a request Zelda games have never had to make, but that doesn't make it any less a Zelda game. Don't miss this one.
This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 13-Nov-00