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The Legend of Zelda: A series retrospective Part 2

Part Two: From Majora's Mask to Wii's blockbuster

With just a few days left until Legend of Zelda: Skyward sword slashes its way into the shops, we're getting all nostalgic and running through the series' simply golden history.

In Part Two we run through the more recent of Link's adventures, from the criminally overlooked Majora's Mask, to Phantom Hourglass and Twilight Princess.

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Don't forget to read CVG's Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword review.

CONTENTS - PART TWO

CONTENTS - PART ONE

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: MAJORA'S MASK

How do you follow the greatest game of all time? By messing with time itself...

Nintendo writer Mitsuhiro Takano describes Majora's Mask like this: "The characters look familiar but something is different somehow."

That's putting it mildly. Because this sixth addition to the Zelda family is The Weird One. The game's early title of 'Zelda Gaiden', meaning 'side-quest', was spot-on. Because from the very first screenshots, it was clear that everything in Majora's Mask was off to one side, all strangely left-of-centre and surreally tilted, as though we were looking at the Ocarina Of Time universe through a wobbly funhouse mirror. It was also, of course, absolutely brilliant.

The Mask of Majora itself, though? Despite kicking off the plot by turning a Skull Kid into a megalomaniacal little monster, it was a red herring. Talk to anyone who's played the game and they'll rock back and forth and weep as they remember the game's true villain: the moon.

Wherever you were on the game world's surface, you could look up and then shrink back as megatons of grey rock, angry eyes and even angrier teeth stared back. The moon was truly terrifying: an unusually evil moment of Nintendo design brilliance. And it was on a collision course for Clock Town, the capital city of the game's parallel world of Termina. It would take three game days (just a few real-life hours) to crash down, taking Link and everyone else with it.

But here's the trick: with a few toots on the Ocarina, Link could repeatedly turn back time to day one. That bought you time to solve dungeons, smash bosses and, ultimately, save the world. But it also meant Nintendo had cleverly given us Groundhog Day: The Game, building a gratifying set of puzzles around studying the habits of Termina's citizens - who innocently went about their same three days of business, over and over again.

And who, over and over again, were horribly doomed. Majora's Mask was sad. Every day began with a thunderous full-screen Caption Of Doom telling you how many hours remain. Every day saw worried characters rue the past, and fear the future. On day three, everyone flees, and you were left wandering through an eerily empty ghost town, under a moon now so close its terrifying face filled the sky.

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Director Eiji Aonuma - in his first time helming a Zelda game - was the master of melancholy. There was a heartbreaking moment where you freed a young girl's father from a zombie curse - but, even as they were tearfully reunited in a rare moment of joy, you knew that none of it mattered because these poor souls were going to die in a flaming moon inferno. To this day Majora's Mask remains the most tummy-punchingly emotional Zelda game.

But, like we say, weird too. It was put together in record time by core Ocarina Of Time coders: we'd barely learned about it in mid-1999 before the gold cartridge was in our hands. They pulled it off by reusing its predecessor's characters, scenery and items - but tweaked with new names, new roles and new stories. As such, it was downright odd, meeting all these old friends who not only didn't remember you, but didn't really remember themselves.

The 24 wearable masks cemented the off-centredness. Link literally became a bouncing Deku Shrub, a rolling Goron, a swimming Zora. And other masks - fairies and bombs and crying faces and bunny ears - triggered insane but meaty sidequests and subplots where aliens abducted cows and marching chicks spontaneously transformed into full-grown cuccos.

But, odd as it was, it was Zelda through and through. The focus was less on dungeons and more on miniquests, so Majora's Mask will always be remembered more for its strange atmosphere than its actual gameplay. But what dungeons there were proved to be mind-bending caverns of pure gaming wonder, intricately interlocking jigsaw puzzles that reminded you why you got into videogames in the first place. Nintendo even threw in a hernia-inducingly complex water temple for old time's sake.

So it's a wonder that gamers were ever worried Majora's Mask would turn out to be a thin, rushed imitation of Ocarina Of Time. It's the moon they should have been worried about. Oh god. That moon...

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