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Stu: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - N64

It says a lot that this is one of the only games I ever remember queuing for, standing for an hour or so outside Virgin Megastore on a chilly winter’s morning. It was worth it. We tend to forget about the game’s groundbreaking achievements: the coherent world where the sun rose and set, the sprawling, imaginative dungeons, the ease with which it translated the classic Zelda gameplay into full 3D environments, not to mention the beautiful, stylised, glowing visuals. What we can never forget is its staggering charm. You can’t help but love the characters, the bizarre sidequests and that surging score, and if you failed to be awed by the first sight of Zora’s Domain, your first encounter with a fairy or the misty waters of Lake Hyrule, then there was something wrong with you, not Nintendo.

Like all great Nintendo games, Ocarina of Time is playful. You’re constantly tempted to try things and see what happens, and certain aspects of the game, like the seeds that you plant as a boy so you can climb the beanstalks as a young warrior, are brilliantly, intricately worked out. Better still, it’s a genuine epic. The early portion of the game is full of innocence and boyish charm, typified by King Darunia’s silly dance in the Goron city or the battle to rescue the haughty Princess Ruto from Lord Jabu Jabu’s belly. Maybe that’s why the sudden switch to a broken, zombie-infested Hyrule seven years later comes as such a profound shock, making you wish you’d never gathered the spirit stones or discovered that damn Master Sword. From this point in, the game takes on a whole new sense of purpose, mixing simple pleasures with darker truths like only the best tales can. And in Ganondorf, it has one of gaming’s great all-time villains; a pure pantomime baddie with an organ driven anthem to die for.

Best of all, Ocarina of Time never forgets that you’re here to have fun. You can get stuck into the dungeons, which are full of some of the most ingenious puzzles and brilliant ideas ever seen in a video game level, but if you’d rather wander around collecting gold skulltula tokens or trading masks between different characters, that was fine too. You were never left bashing your head against a brick wall.

In fact, the only negative thing you can say about Ocarina of Time is that it raised the bar so high that subsequent Zeldas will always struggle to match it. Majora’s Mask will always be remembered for its weird time cycle structure and unique, melancholic personality, but few prefer it to Ocarina. The Wind Waker, meanwhile, hampered by its divisive – though I’d say fantastic – art style and mildly tiresome sailing bits, could never hope to hold up against its forebear. Fingers crossed that Twilight Princess, this year’s much anticipated Zelda, can.

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