I finally purchased an Everdrive for my Nintendo 64, and not a moment too soon. There are suddenly new games to play!
Hacks and mods of 8-bit and 16-bit games have been with us since the dawn of the Internet itself, but when it comes to the 3D generations, things become a lot more scarce. For many years, a typical mod of an N64 game was just a mindless texture swap or a remodel of one character. Otherwise, everything remained the same down to the title screen. The extra complexity, the polygons and coding were all just too much to deal with.
But now that's starting to change. Modification tools are being published to GitHub that allow for easy manipulation of early 3D games like Super Mario 64 without heavy programming knowledge. We live in exciting times, because the Great White Whale -- fan sequels to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time -- is finally becoming an obtainable thing. Three were released this month.
No, that's not typical. Each one had years of work behind it and they just concidentally happened to get finished at the same time, but as modding the N64 becomes easier, I expect this to become more of a commonplace event. There are downsides to playing fan games -- for one thing, you have no assurance the game you've playing is actually beatable, and if you get stuck, you just better hope the mod was popular enough for a YouTube playthrough to exist. But the lack of quality assurance is offset by the sheer JOY of running through brand-new environments from your favorite ancient games. It truly feels like going back in time. And speaking of "time"...
The biggest of the three releases was Kaze Emanuar's The Legend of Zelda: The Missing Link, a "mid-quel" that takes place between Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. Emanuar has gained notoriety, at least within the halls of Nintendo, for his mastery of N64 hackery and his numerous unofficial sequels to Super Mario 64. He had never truly tackled Zelda before until he announced the Missing Link project in early 2019.
That's when he heard from some other prominent N64 modders...they wanted in. Emanuar teamed up with CDi-Fails and /Zel/ on The Missing Link and each worked to their strengths: Emanuar handled programming, CDi-Fails sculpted the environments, /Zel/ handled some of the cinema scenes. Others contributed here and there and the finished product was uploaded to the Internet in July of 2020. How is it? Put simply, it's the best Nintendo product to not exist since their mind-reading virtual reality machine wasn't announced back in 2005.
It's not perfect, nor could it be mistaken for a Miyamoto creation. But the thing about unofficial sequels made from mods is that the standards are much lower. They tend to be the product of one person, building a video game requires a variety of talents, and no one is good at everything. This is one of the rare fan games where multiple minds did what they were good at and the results are impressive. The soundtrack, built from the contributions of five people, is absolutely divine.
Every area is original, even in parts where it wasn't necessary like Kokiri Forest. The situation is that some nasty demon is running around capturing fairies. Link has no idea where Navi went; was she captured too? And what does this monster want to do with them? It won't take you long to find out.
And we mean it won't take long. The Missing Link is very short...think of it as the Ocarina of Time DLC chapter we never got. Most players will finish it in three hours, but it's possible to breeze through it in 60 minutes. However, your short stay will be a memorable one. This game manages to introduce an original dungeon item with a never-before-seen power, AND a massive, original gruesome boss monster...neither of which have happened in a Zelda 64 mod before. This one is worth the price of an Everdrive alone.
SECRET TIP: You can move the second bookcase in the library. Nobody in the game tells you that, there are no visual hints about it, and it's necessary to advance. You're welcome, everybody.
One week before The Missing Link was released, Banjo-Kazooie: The Jiggies Of Time came out. This mod simply transfers the Ocarina of Time areas to the Banjo-Kazooie engine, retextures everything with B-K graphics, replaces the Zelda enemies with B-K ones and sets you loose. Your first impression might be that this is lazy. Far from it, actually...five years of work went into Jiggies of Time, and you can tell.
Of the three hacks released this month, Jiggies of Time has the sharpest writing. Banjo and Kazooie are 100% in character and the things they say are just as funny as the actual official dialogue. The areas, though recycled, are crammed with easter eggs and amusing visual touches to discover. If there are any grammatical mistakes in the script, I have yet to find them. There is no weak storyline, because there isn't a storyline period -- Bear and Bird are simply walking through the Ocarina environments, snarking about the stuff they find and moving on. There is something about Gruntilda taking over Hyrule and making them walk through all these note doors, but it's about as urgent as Tooty in the transformation machine. You'll deal with it eventually.
If there's a downside to all this, it's the same flaw that existed in Banjo-Kazooie...some of the collectibles reset when you switch your console off, and they're the ones that are the most annoying to scoop back up again. On an emulator that's not an issue -- you can just use save states. On the Everdrive, you're relying on the in-game save, and each world becomes a commitment....they must be finished in one sitting because you won't like hunting down every note and Jinjo more than once. This means you're in for a world of woe if you're the type of gamer that sucks bad enough to die from falling off one cliff too many (like yours truly).
SECRET TIP 1: Be sure to explore each location thoroughly. While there are some areas you can no longer enter, there are other areas you couldn't enter in OOT that you can now.
SECRET TIP 2: If you leave the game idle long enough, Banjo will actually hit a Game Over ON THE DEMO SCREEN, causing you to regain control and access an area you'd normally have to work to get to. I have no idea if this will be patched out, but it's a glitch that I appreciated.
After I finished the tiny morsel that was The Missing Link, I was starved for more. Fortunately, The Legend Of Zelda: Master Of Time was released one week later. It's a much, MUCH bigger game than Missing Link, with multiple dungeons and a thousand puzzles and secrets within every loading zone. Also, you have a friggin' fairy in this one.
Unfortunately we're dealing with more of a mixed bag this time. Master Of Time is the weakest of this month's mods in terms of script. Dialogue is lifeless. Typos and bad English abound. The plot is threadbare and generic. The textures are too busy and complex, making it obvious where they repeat, and making for ugly visuals. The soundtrack is pretty good, but that doesn't count, since it's mostly stolen from other games (I don't just mean Zelda, I mean there's stuff from Doom and Turok in here). Finding the secrets and solving the puzzles is motivation enough to keep playing, but it shouldn't have to be just that. It's a fan project through and through, and you're aware of it every second.
You start out at Sagnol village (if the game won't capitalize it, why should I). You have the Master Sword right away, but no other items, including the shield, which you're told has been stolen. They sell shields at the village item shop, but the surly merchant who hates you won't let it go for less than 80 rupees. So you start searching the houses for treasure chests. You find some, but here's the weird thing...the game attempts to make taking them a moral choice. Next to one chest, for example, there's a sleeping man who says "Thank goodness, I finally earned enough to buy my cousin the medicine he needs." I'm not sure if it's a dark joke or intended to "make you think," but odds are very good you'll have already opened the chest before you talked to him. Sorry, dude.
The owl is back, and he tells you to explore the "Scrub Cliff" next, but boulders block your path almost immediately in that direction so you can't get very far without bombs. You lack a bomb bag OR the ability to lift Bomb Flowers, so...back to the village you go. You enter an observatory, where the astronomer finally gives you a good hint: "I bet you could get onto the rooftops with a chicken." Also, when you inspect a bed in that room, your fairy tells you this:
All right. You have a Cucco. You've got it above your head and it's throwing a fit, feathers flying in a trail behind you. You know what you need to do next: climb an ascending number of roofs to get high enough to find whatever it is the game creator wants you to find. You float onto a balcony, which connects to a roof from behind. You're high, but not high enough, and you must scour the badly textured buildings in front of you to choose the correct intended path. Since the Cucco only takes you on a downward slope, at some point you're going to have to lift both it and you up a ledge, one at a time. The chicken goes first, and then you have about five seconds to get up there yourself and hit the Grab button before it wanders off. If it walks off the roof, you have to do all this over again.
At last you see it: an opening to a minidungeon high on the hills. And you only need to float to one other building to get there. The ledge you float to is JUST high enough to throw the Cucco up but not high enough for Link's auto-grab to kick in. For that, you have to use the awning behind you, and you don't have very much time, so you must fight the camera angle to somehow get up a ledge you can't see and rush to the Cucco before it walks off the roof. I failed at this task five times in a row, and slapped the N64 power button off in anger. Then I realized I hadn't saved yet, so all my progress in earning cash for a shield was gone. I would be robbing that old man of his medicine money twice.
Later that evening I came back with a cool head, flew across the roofs on my first try, defiled the town crypt, slashed up a Gibdo, and earned the Sagnol Bracelet, which would finally let me pick up Bomb Flowers and escape this place. ...Except I soon discovered I can never escape this place, because no matter how far you venture out, you always reload your file standing in the same hotel you started out in! NOOOO! Sure hope some warp songs are in my future...
I have no idea why the Sagnol Bracelet is greyed out...it's functional. I also have no idea why the Hover Boots are there. I can't select them or wear them. Screwy, ain't it?
By the way, to convert an Everdrive 64 save to an emulator save, and vice-versa, you need this PC tool written by someone named Saturnus...which I am self-hosting because the only other way to get it is to brave an obscure and sketchy file-sharing upload site. It's easy to use: load your save file, touch none of the settings, hit OK and it will convert one type of save to the other. Very handy if you're doing reviews like this.
Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on Master of Time -- it's not the game's fault it had to come out right after The Missing Link. If a fully original Ocarina of Time hack was released in 2018, no one would care about bad textures or recycled music; they'd just be amazed it was there. The bar has been raised now, though. It'll be interesting to see where things go from here.
We kinda have a hint, but...bleh. Two elaborate Zelda mods are still in development, and they both happen to be edgelord heavy-metal reinterpretations that look and feel more like a painting on a 70s minivan than Zelda. I'll wait for Kaze's sequel, thanks.
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