Bringing home the mutt
July 03, 2009
When it first appeared nine years ago, Majora's Mask already had several strikes against it. The game was a follow-up, of sorts, to Ocarina of Time, an instant classic now routinely hailed as the greatest video game of all time. It relied on a repetitive time-limit mechanic many players detested; it told an uncharacteristically bleak story set in a decidedly non-uplifting place called, appropriately, Termina; and Nintendo released it only 17 months after Ocarina, an unusually short interval between major console Zelda games.
And there's Tingle. Yes, Majora's Mask marked the debut of everybody's favorite eccentric, paunchy, middle-aged man in the tight red shorts. I have a contrarian but earnest fondness for the much-despised Tingle that I'll elaborate on some time, but this isn't the post.
In the years since its release, Majora's Mask has generally been seen as the mutt of Zelda litter, a disappointing sequel to Ocarina with less-inspired dungeons, weighed down by burdensome mask collecting and frivolous sidequests. Reviewers liked it overall, but lots of us who bought it and played it in 2000 found it oddly disappointing and incongruous.
Now the sands are shifting. Many of us, at roughly the same time, have begun to reconsider Majora's Mask. Edge Online posted a feature on the game a few days ago; Toronto Thumbs has an especially thoughtful piece entitled "At the Edge of the World" in response to another interesting assessment at 4 color rebellion. Finally, the incomparable Margaret Robertson recently wrote lovingly about Majora's Mask in an essay for Offworld. What's going on?
I think it has to do with a sense that Nintendo took some interesting risks with Majora's Mask that we're able to better appreciate in retrospect. As we learn more about the next Zelda game in the works - Miyamoto: “I don’t think it’s going to be that radically different.” (Nintendo Power, Aug. 09) - it's possible to see Majora's Mask as the game that pushed the series thematically to a place with enticing possibilities for further exploration.
I also have a feeling we may be drawn to Majora's Mask for the same reasons certain Shakespeare plays ebb and flow in popularity. We live in a social, cultural, and political climate that renders certain works of art more relevant than others. A few years ago, theaters all over America were staging productions of Macbeth and Richard III. Today, we all seem focused on The Tempest. No one sits in an office somewhere coordinating all this. It just happens. I think we've grown interested in Majora's Mask for similar reasons.
A further bit of proof is the Vintage Game Club's choice of Majora's Mask for its next collective playthrough. When we decided to devote our 7th game to a Zelda title, I would never have predicted Majora's Mask would carry the day. But it did and convincingly. It would be foolish to think this outcome proves anything conclusive, but the conversation preceding the vote suggested plenty of us are willing to tolerate the game's flaws in order to revisit the game's other, more vital offerings.
Is this game the mutt of the litter or an underappreciated gem? The best way to find out is to examine it purposefully and discuss it with friends If you'd like to play The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask along with the VGC, you're welcome to join us. We'll begin on July 10 and continue for approximately a month. You can find out more here.