Three Days Remain: The Majora Effect

Since Nintendo’s beloved The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was released, its defining hallmark was the fact that the game ran on a steady three-day timer. Your objective, as the young Link, is to save the world and return a powerful, evil mask to the Happy Mask Salesman. In three whole days. At 6 AM, on each day you experience in-game, you’re presented with a screen that ominously reminds you just how many hours you have to complete whatever you’re doing, save the world, and return the mask. With a whopping four dungeons, a multitude of side quests, and a great trouble thrust upon your shoulders, three days seems like… not long enough.

The first thing seen entering Clock Town. (Image from YouTube.)

The main thing is that as Link, you gain access to the Ocarina of Time after completing the first cycle. After all, this game wouldn’t be a true sequel without some callbacks to the first. After you get the ocarina, you’re free to control the flow of time. The Song of Time allows you to skip forward, slow the passing of time, or return to the beginning of the three-day cycle. You can now use time to your advantage. Anything you collect or progress will be reset upon returning to the beginning of the cycle, though if you’ve beaten a dungeon you don’t have to do it all again, just the boss battle.

So let’s say, in your first play through, you’re in the final hours on the third day, and the timer is counting down the minutes until midnight. You’ve completed a dungeon and helped Anju and Kafei out with their quest, but there’s still more to do. You’re not done calling out to the four giants just yet. So you warp back to day one. Save the game, start over. Your restockable items like bombs and rupees fly out of your pockets as you fall through a spiral of clocks, winding backwards.

Link falling through time after playing the Song of Time.
It’s just like a weird dream I had once! (Image from Zelda Informer Wiki.)

You go up to any NPC you helped out or at least talked to in your previous cycle and they spit back that same first line of dialogue. To them, those three days didn’t happen. You didn’t help them out. For all they know, this is your first time in Termina, and you’re just stopping by for the carnival. You’re not here to save them. They don’t even know they’re in danger. Majora is still out there, in mask form, and for all they know, it’s having a nice picnic in the mountains.

For years, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this situation. To me, Majora’s Mask holds some of the most intricately designed backstories in The Legend of Zelda‘s in-game universe. Clock Town feels like the small, rural town that I imagined I’d grow up in. Everyone knows each other and for the most part, they’re pretty friendly towards one another. Then Link, an outsider, swoops in and saves this tiny town from an imminent doom that they don’t know about.

And after everything, even during the time that Link is scrambling around to try and fix whatever problems everyone’s going through, he’s forgotten about. After the carnival, nobody remembers him, though he’s collected the masks as tokens of the memories he’s shared with the townsfolk. In the long run, it’s not even about saving the world for Link. Termina is just a pit stop on the road to finding his friend. He didn’t have to help the Happy Mask Salesman, he didn’t even have to care about anyone in the town. He could have called it a day and left.

Majora’s Mask forces players to think about things other than them in the game. Sure, you could ignore the side quests and focus on the four dungeons, but no matter what you do, there will always be someone that needs help. They may not always remember, and you may not even gain anything from it, but you will remember. Even now as I play through the game, I do my best to memorize the steps I have to take for every single side quest so that I won’t forget anyone next time. Majora’s Mask is the only game to ever give me characters I care about so much that I’d draft an entire game guide in my memory for their sake.

Majora’s Mask is all about making the player question their own morals. (Image from Google+)

The fact that the game is on a timer makes your decisions have more weight. Regardless of your course of action, it’s impossible to help everyone in one cycle. Someone will be left behind, and someone will be forgotten about. In the end, I’d much rather finish the game and have Link be forgotten by the citizens of Clock Town than fail to help them when I’m able.

Pony Island: Not Your Typical Puzzler

Pony Island is an interesting little puzzle game. You find what seems like an old arcade machine with an AI that is alive in many respects. You’re greeted with a bubbly, happy splash screen. The AI speaks to you. It’s a setup that’s been seen before, in many games. And yet, this time it feels very different.

Ah, yes. Exactly what you’d expect! (Image from Indiegames.com)

The game starts out as a runner. You’re controlling a pony with the goal of just getting to the end. After a couple levels, though, Pony Island ramps up the satanism by a lot. And by that, I mean you become the herald for someone trapped in the game, trying to break free. Pony Island transitions into this section of the game very well. I think that for a game jam game like this, it pulls off getting into the meat of the game really well.

So, you’ve met this person via a chat interface inside this arcade machine’s computer. You’ve talked for a while. Another AI introduces itself, with seemingly more evil intentions than the first. Its main goal is to keep you in the game, to keep you playing. The first person says it’s due to errors in the game’s code, and that they’ll help you get to the faulty bits for you to fix them.

Coding looks exactly like this, I promise. Complete with ponies.
These puzzle sections are what you’re really getting at via the levels. (Image from Kotaku.)

As far as puzzles go, the coding is easy enough to figure out. There are certain tiles that will progress the cursor to the next line, to the previous line, move it between columns, or make it repeat from a certain point. The running sections are what’s difficult– turns out it’s kind of hard to focus on jumping, shooting a laser from a pony’s inorganically moving head, and dodge projectiles. Yes, sometimes all at once. This was my only frustration. It made it difficult to progress, and running through the same beginning section of one particular level was boring after the first fifteen attempts.

Pony Island doesn’t stand out in terms of gameplay. It’s very standard, and the puzzles have an interesting spin. I’d go so far as to say that while it is a video game, its main purpose was to be a medium to tell the story. As you play the game, you begin to realize that the AI with evil intentions is, spoilers, Literally Satan™. It’s designed the game to capture lost souls who may decide to play it, you included. It’s spent time reinventing the game and trying to draw in bigger crowds, even as you play. It breaks the fourth wall, but not in that awkward way that some other games would. For me, at least, it drew me in and kept me in. I didn’t even question the part where I killed Jesus.

Satanism, ho!
Yeah. It happened. (Image from Encyclopedia Dramatica.)

In summary, Pony Island is a really, really solid game, and probably one of my favorite indie titles to come out this year. While the indie scene was being overshadowed with Undertale stealing the spotlight for many Game of the Year awards, Pony Island managed to hold its own enough to garner some attention for a little while.