Does the Nintendo Switch version of Ocarina of Time live up to the hype?
I originally wrote this article for Gamenana.com — an online used games marketplace — in November 2021. I was hired to promote their business on their blog, and was independently responsible for choosing and researching the topics for each article. Since Gamenana’s website is currently unavailable due to technical issues, I’m republishing it here for use as a sample in my portfolio.
In October, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time came to the Nintendo Switch as part of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack, to celebrate the game’s 35th anniversary. Subscribers to this higher tier of online subscription can download and play Ocarina of Time and several other classic N64 games for no additional cost. As the first fully 3D Legend of Zelda game, Ocarina of Time holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts; no doubt many people reading this have fond memories of jumping across time to save Hyrule. But how does the Nintendo Switch port compare to previous versions?
Speedrunner ZFG reports that the Switch version’s graphics scale up well, and that it also boasts fast loading times. However, it seems to have a problem with high input lag that makes aiming and movement awkward to control. This is a common problem with emulation-based ports, but according to ZFG this problem is worse than both other ports in the Expansion Pack and previous emulations of Ocarina of Time. There also appear to be some odd problems with control mapping, as Pro Controller users are unable to map C-right to a single button (instead having to use a stick press or a combo of ZR and A). ZFG also reports problems with Gamecube controller mapping that required extensive manual button remapping to make it work properly. There are wireless versions of the N64 controller available for the Switch that may allow a player to get around these issues, but that would require them to fork out an extra $49.99. There also seem to be some odd rendering issues that mean fog effects sometimes don’t appear where they should, water textures look murky when they should look clear and reflective, and (bizarrely) Link’s gauntlets turn blue in the Fire Temple! Also, since this is a straight emulation of the original N64 version, there are no extra features. A subscription to the Expansion Pack tier costs $50 per year and can’t be split into monthly payments, making this quite an expensive buy-in (to say nothing of the cost of the Switch itself if you don’t already own one).
All in all it seems like the Switch port may not be worth your time, unless you already have an Expansion Pack subscription and are willing to put up with a number of performance issues. However, Ocarina of Time has been ported to many different consoles over the past 35 years, so there are plenty of alternatives for players to choose from when buying preowned.
Although it’s over 10 years old now, Ocarina of Time 3D remains a strong choice. This was the first version of the game that could be played on a handheld console (the 3DS), so if you want to play on the go you may be relieved to hear that the Switch port isn’t your only option. In addition to graphical upgrades this version includes many quality-of-life improvements, including the ability to use the D-pad to equip or unequip items that the player needs to switch out frequently, such as the Iron Boots and the Ocarina. This frees up space on the main item slots (which have also increased in number since previous versions) and cuts down on tedious menu management, so players can spend less time organising their equipment and more time getting into the action. The double screen layout of the 3DS also allows for a cleaner look, as the entire HUD has been moved to the top screen, leaving the player’s view uncluttered on the bottom screen. Other features include smooth (but optional) gyroscope controls for aiming, a Boss Challenge mode, and optional instructional videos to guide players through difficult sections. The developers also changed the layout of the notoriously frustrating Water Temple to make it easier, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you thought of the original! If you’d prefer something more challenging, Ocarina of Time 3D also includes Master Quest, a reshuffled edition of the game that changes many of the puzzles and monster encounters to provide a fresh new difficulty mode for seasoned players. Some players might find the 3DS’s stereoscopic 3D feature disorienting or gimmicky, but fortunately this feature is completely optional and can be turned off. All in all, if you’re looking for a handheld version of Ocarina of Time that holds up to modern standards, this is the one to go for.
A less well-known version of Ocarina of Time came with The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition, a limited edition 4-in-1 disc for the GameCube that also contains ports of Majora’s Mask, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and the original NES Legend of Zelda. This version is a faithful port of the original game but doesn’t provide any new features, simply scaling up the resolution. If you’re able to get a hold of the Collector’s Edition then it’s a great way to discover or rediscover a number of favourites in the series at once; but that’s a big if, as copies are quite rare.
Of course, if you played Ocarina of Time when it was first released and are looking for maximum nostalgia, the N64 version is still alive and well. Players who got used to the smooth graphics of newer consoles may find the original’s blocky graphics and slower frame rate difficult to adjust to, but for others these quirks are simply part of the charm. Some players may not be aware that there are actually two versions of Ocarina of Time for the N64; the grey cartridge that most players will be familiar with was the second version to be released, while the original version came on a gold cartridge. Most players won’t notice much of a difference aside from a few aesthetic changes, but if you’re interested in getting into speedrunning you’ll definitely want an original “gold cart”; there are many useful glitches and exploits in the first version of the game that were patched out in the later release.
Naturally, as with many preowned purchases, your decision is likely to depend on the consoles you already own. However, if you’re looking to buy a retro console to go with your chosen port, our Marketplace has a section for consoles as well as the games themselves. Whichever version you choose, we hope you have a great time playing this classic masterpiece.