None of Nintendo’s much-loved games franchises has a greater mystique than the Zelda series, so it’s always a major event for gamers-in-the-know when one of its classic instalments re-emerges with a makeover – even if it’s on the often-ignored 3DS handheld. And in one respect, Majora’s Mask 3D will have the cognoscenti shaking their heads in reminiscence of a time when Nintendo was on a creative roll: it was originally released in 2000, a mere two years after its predecessor Ocarina Of Time (and chronicles events that take place directly after Ocarina Of Time), while it looks as though we’ll have to wait four years for the follow-up to 2011’s Skyward Sword, the last major Zelda iteration.

But in the meantime, Majora’s Mask 3D on the 3DS does a stunning job of slaking our eternal thirst for Zelda games. It hasn’t been merely warmed over but is instead a proper remastering job, with several unpopular aspects of the original game rethought in a comprehensive fashion: for example, it has now been given save points which mean that you no longer run the risk of losing hours of questing if you die (a by-product of its unique structure), and the previously trivial Bombers’ Notebook has been elevated to the status of a full-blown in-game encyclopaedia (handily, given resident Nintendo genius Shigeru Miyamoto’s refusal to hold the player’s hand through what is a very complex game). In addition, it offers the ideal excuse to invest in one of Nintendo’s New 3DS or 3DS XL consoles, since with their extra joysticks, you can now control the camera and, with their usable, high-viewing angle 3D screens, it presents a mind-blowingly lush visual spectacle.

It may be 15-years-old, but you will be hard-pressed to find a more unusually structured or genuinely surreal game on any platform this year. Majora’s Mask 3D, ambitiously, is based on the principle behind films like Groundhog Day or Edge Of Tomorrow: its action takes place over just three days. That’s because the mischievous Skull Kid has stolen Majora’s Mask and, unless you can get it back from him inside that time, he will cause the terrifyingly evil-looking moon to fall from the sky. Luckily, Link still has his ocarina, which he can use to manipulate time – rewinding to the start of the three-day cycle, slowing down time and fast-forwarding to specific times (which is new for this version; previously you could only speed up time, so it eliminates the occasional necessity to wait around thT afflicted the Nintendo64 original). This peculiar device sometimes leads you to abandon quests if you’ve taken too long over them, but has the happy effect of forcing you to revisit areas of the game-world many times, so you develop an intimate knowledge of them. Which, in turn, breeds levels of immersion that can easily tip over into obsession.

Then there are the eponymous masks in the game. The preamble sees the Skull Kid affixing a Deku Mask to Link, and he can’t even return to his normal self until he has completed various missions. Nevertheless, being turned into a Deku is pretty cool: it lets Link shoot out of Deku flowers and glide with the aid of two propeller-like daisies, blow bubbles that act much like arrows, and hop over the surface of water. During the course of the game, Link acquires a bewildering collection of masks which, among other things, transform him into a giant, lumbering Goron and a sub-aquatic Zora. Mask-swapping becomes a means of solving puzzles and getting to otherwise inaccessible areas.

Gameplay-wise, Majora’s Mask 3D offers all the delights that can be found in any Zelda game, combining all manner of inventive puzzle-solving and platforming with the use of classic weapons and objects from the series, including the bow and the hookshot. The original was criticised for making its boss-battles too easy, but those have been tweaked appropriately in this version. The 3DS’s motion-sensing brings precise first-person aiming, which also represents an improvement over the original. In order to complete the game, you must work your way through four huge and memorable dungeons, plus countless intermediate areas between them – frequently returning to Clock Town, the vibrant hub at the centre of the game.

In terms of general vibe, Majora’s Mask 3D will shock those who feel that Zeldas of yore may occasionally have descended into tweeness. It’s surprisingly dark in places and often downright trippy – indeed, certain sequences, such as the animation that occurs when Link puts on the Deku Mask, can only be described as psychedelic. Because the game is set outside of Hyrule, Miyamoto has gone to town with some deeply weird-looking inhabitants and monsters. It’s a good sign that Majora’s Mask has resurfaced now because, hopefully, it will influence the ambience of the forthcoming new Wii U instalment (which, Nintendo assures us, will arrive this year).

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is the ultimate version of what, for many, is the best Zelda game ever so, almost by definition, it deserves to be hailed as one of the best games ever – never mind that it’s a remake designed for a lowly handheld console. Conceptually, it’s a tour de force: the unprecedented Groundhog Day structure allowed Miyamoto to step out of his comfort zone and experiment wildly, without collapsing the foundations of what makes the Zelda games so appealing. Owning a copy will mark you down as a true, purist connoisseur of gaming – just don’t blame us if you get so absorbed by it that your social life begins to take a back seat.

See how Majora’s Mask did on our list of the 100 greatest games.

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