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Review: Zelda's newest adaptation retains all the magic of the original

Video games generally don't age well. That's the nature of a medium that's driven by technology. But there are always exceptions, and Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (ESRB: Everyone 10+) is one of them.

One of the most beloved games ever to emerge from the Japanese developer's hallowed halls, this 13-year-old Nintendo64 classic has been newly remade for Nintendo 3DS - and given a striking illusion of stereoscopic depth in the process.

But the most impressive thing about it isn't its new 3-D effects. Instead, it's how little Nintendo's gamesmiths had to change to bring it up to date.

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The story unfolds just as it did in the original, with Link, the franchise's green-clad hero, attempting to save the Kingdom of Hyrule from sour-faced Ganondorf, a would-be world conqueror. It begins with our young protagonist receiving an ominous prophecy from a dying tree, which causes him to leave the relative safety of his native Kokiri Forest. He soon meets the beautiful and beguiling princess Zelda, who sends him on a mission that will see players visit memorable temples, dangerous fortresses, and even the belly of a whale.

It plays the same, too. Some of its most memorable innovations - including a free-to-explore world filled with cleverly concealed secrets; the visible passage of time, represented first by the sun and moon crossing the sky and later by Link's growth from boy to adult; and the titular wind instrument and its magical musical powers that facilitate long distance communication and instant travel - remain as fresh and engaging now as they did a dozen years ago.

  • Platform: Nintendo 3DS
  • Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
  • The good: It's a faithful recreation of the timeless Nintendo64 classic. Innovations like the realistic passage of time remain as engaging now as they were 13 years ago. Most changes, such as the new touch-screen inventory, serve only to modernize the interface.
  • The bad: It's nearly impossible to use the gyroscope-powered camera in 3-D mode without altering screen orientation and losing the stereoscopic sweet spot.
  • The verdict: Just as enchanting as it was in 1998, the 3DS version of this beloved classic is far and away the best game yet released for Nintendo's fledgling handheld system.

But there are changes. The most noticeable come in the form of adaptations made to accommodate Nintendo's new hardware, which had scarcely been conceived when the game was originally developed. The lower touch screen can be used to quickly access items and equipment, and players can pan the camera by physically tilting and turning the 3DS.

Nintendo enhanced the guidance system, too. The original game forced us to spend an excess of time exploring on foot and horseback to figure out what to do next. Now we can visit carved boulders called "shiekah stones" that show quick snippets of the future. These clues aren't as straightforward as navigational aids found in many modern games, such glowing paths that light the way to objectives, but they do offer players useful hints should they happen to get stuck.

The key, though, is that none of these modifications alter the core experience. Instead, they simply update basic mechanics to bring them in line with today's gamers' expectations. Ocarina of Time's essence - or magic, if you'll permit me to be a bit soppy - remains almost completely unchanged.

Hyrule is one of the richest, most enchanting interactive worlds ever created. And it has held up so well that a fresh generation of gamers - some of whom may not even have been born when the original launched (am I really that old?) - can play it with the same sense of wonder their parents experienced back in the 1990s. It's one of only a handful of games that can truly be dubbed a classic.

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About the Author
Game and Gadget Reporter

Chad Sapieha has been writing about video games and consumer gadgets for the Globe and Mail since 2003. His work has been published in magazines, newspapers, and Web sites across North America, and he has appeared as an expert on television and radio newscasts. More

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