Home > Chronological Challenge > Chronological Game Reviews – Majora’s Mask / Perfect Dark

Chronological Game Reviews – Majora’s Mask / Perfect Dark

In today’s Chronological Challenge post, I take a look back at two N64 games from that system’s final days. As the Gamecube emerged on the horizon, Nintendo seemed determined to push the best they could out of their cartridges. And these are two of the big hitters of 2000. But how do they hold up? Let me offer up my thoughts.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Nintendo | Released: April 27, 2000 (Japan)
Original System: Nintendo 64
Played on: Wii Virtual Console

Goal: Find all masks and Heart Pieces and then save Termina

Actual Outcome: Defeated Majora as Fierce Deity Link, so you tell me

If I were to suggest a major flaw in the Legend of Zelda franchise, it’d be that it relies a little too much on the same conventions and structure in every single game. There’s always a fight against Ganon, either three or seven McGuffins you must collect in dungeons, or both, and each dungeon always contains a new tool you must use to progress. It’s a good formula that works, but sometimes it’s nice to see the Zelda series play with that structure a little. And that’s where Majora’s Mask comes in.

While Majora’s Mask does feature familiar elements such as the dungeons with specific items and McGuffins, and reuses assets from Ocarina of Time heavily, it breaks this structure apart by adding a three-day time limit, a series of transformation masks that change your abilities, and a much darker, more refined storyline that takes Ganon completely out of the equation for once.

And it works hugely well. Majora’s Mask has a sense of dread and foreboding running throughout everything you do, while the time limit keeps pressing you to move forward. It’s a cool shift that adds weight to you playing the hero, and makes every action feel more meaningful.

Now, it could be argued that the pressure of a 3-day time limit for everything you do isn’t fun, or the time resetting mechanic makes every decision ultimately meaningless, but I disagree. The time limit is never set up in a way that feels restrictive, with the ability to slow time proving very helpful. While certainly the resetting of time means that all your effort to help Anju and Kafei are undone, the completion of your ultimate goal goes even further to help them, and the same is true for decisions throughout the game.

Because the game often forces interaction with NPCs who occupy a world threatened by a gigantic evil moon crashing down on them, we as the player gain an insight into what’s at stake. The world is populated with people, not generic human models that say “DODONGO DISLIKE SMOKE”. Talking to a postman suffering anxiety over his deliveries and then looking up to a grimacing celestial body hanging over everything causes the stakes to feel so much higher, and it’s incredibly effective.

The main gameplay mechanic that’s changed from Ocarina here is the set of transformation masks, allowing Link to change into the forms of the Hyrule races of the Deku, the Zora and the Gorons. Each form has its own abilities – the Deku can create flower helicopters to cross large distances, the Goron can resist fire and roll into a ball, and the Zora can swim underwater. Each of these abilities beef the standard gameplay up into something more interesting than its predecessor, and is possibly what inspired things like Wolf Link in Twilight Princess.

I’d list some flaws for Majora’s Mask, but many of them are the same as Ocarina due to many shared assets, and even then many of those flaws have been addressed. Most significantly, the endless back-and-forth across Hyrule Field has gone with the introduction of owl statues that work as warps from the moment you activate them, and a single song that allows you to hop to any of them at any time. I mean, there are certainly issues with having to wait around for certain events in some of the sidequests, but this is a rare occurrence in the wider context of the game.

At the start of this, I stated that it’s always nice to see Zelda shake up its own formula, and Majora’s Mask does this so expertly that I end up with the conclusion that this is my favourite Zelda of all time. Very few games in the series have created as consistent an atmosphere as this one, or shocked me as much as this one. Zelda really should take more risks, it seems.

Perfect Dark
Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Rare | Released: May 22, 2000 (US)
Original System: Nintendo 64
Played on: N64

Goal: Beat the game on Special Agent difficulty

Actual Outcome: Gave up on G5 Building out of frustration

For me, Perfect Dark is a weird game to talk about. Aside from one of the Quakes, this was the first FPS I ever got really into. I originally played it after the Official Nintendo Magazine sang its praises, arguing that this sci-fi FPS was a solid successor to Rare’s hugely successful Goldeneye, taking the solid gameplay template and replacing the Bond themes with a conspiracy-laden sci-fi plot. Conspiracies? Sci-fi? I’m in, I thought.

And I loved the game. I played Perfect Dark a lot when it came out. It was a game that captured my attention with its cyberpunk-meets-Bond-meets-X-Files aesthetic, and it featured a sufficiently sarcastic protagonist in Joanna Dark.

After I gave away my N64 and Game Boy and all the games for them for some reason, I grew to regret this decision. While I’d kept my PS1 games to play on my brand new PS2, my ability to revisit childhood games didn’t come until the arrival of the Virtual Console on the Wii many years later. Problem is, despite the presence of N64 games, Perfect Dark wasn’t one of them. Rare had gotten sold to Microsoft, and rights to the franchise had been transferred over to the Xbox exclusively as a result.

And so I pined for the loss of this game, as I didn’t want to buy a 360 and with no hope of the game showing up on a Nintendo system, I just assumed I’d never play it again. Until my girlfriend of the time tracked down an old N64 and copy of Perfect Dark as a Christmas present off the back of my lamenting. I eagerly booted it up, ready to experience the joy of playing Perfect Dark again after years of missing it.

So, you know when people talk about nostalgia goggles? Perfect Dark, for me, is the perfect illustration of this. While the majority of games I loved from that era still hold up today in some way, Perfect Dark is sadly not one of them.

Let’s start with the obvious problem. As it’s a console FPS released before the twin-stick control system had become standard, and running on a console with one of the weirdest controllers in history, the controls can sometimes be a bit wonky. Specific aiming requires you to stop and hold a button, using the control stick to aim, and exposing you to enemy fire at the same time. There’s an auto-aim to help mitigate this problem, but there are times when it doesn’t work as intended, such as the final boss fight, where precision is key but the controls don’t really allow for it.

This ultimately affects a big chunk of the game’s enjoyment. Some mission objectives become needlessly difficult as you wrestle with the controls, and the game’s lack of in-mission checkpoints can prove annoying when you screw up an objective, often through fiddly control issues, and have to restart a huge chunk of the game to try again. Ultimately, Perfect Dark can very quickly become an exercise in testing your patience rather than a truly enjoyable game, which is a shame because I can still see why I loved this game so much 16 years ago.

That conspiracy-laden sci-fi plot? It’s a bit rubbish in places, but there’s something to it. You’re a secret agent in a mysterious private organisation wrapped up in a tale of corporate espionage, alien invasion, and government cover-ups. The world is well-defined, suggesting a dystopian future where Big Data is king. The nefarious behind-the-scenes plotters are truly menacing. And you get a sidekick named Elvis who’s a stereotypical Grey who wields a raygun and talks vaguely like a Muppet, which is clearly the best thing about the game.

Overall, Perfect Dark doesn’t live up to its name. It’s a game that suffers from an awkward control scheme that tends to derail all the good it tries to achieve. It’s possible that the Xbox 360 release, which also turns up in the recent Rare Replay collection on Xbox One, corrects this major issue with a standard FPS control scheme, in which case it’s the definitive version, but I can’t verify this. But it’s a game with a certain amount of charm, so I can’t be too harsh on it.

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