The Legend of Zelda:
OCARINA OF TIME Monster Reviews!
With images courtesy Melora of History of Hyrule and Sprites via Videogamesprites.net!
Nintendo's jump to 3-d was a BIG deal back in the day. The Playstation had already been on the market for a couple of years, but the crisper, more colorful graphics shown off by Mario 64 blew a lot of us kids away in 1997, and a year later, the first 3-d Zelda title knocked people's socks off. It's a deeply nostalgic game for many, and I know it's well earned enough that I fully understand how annoyed you may be that I experienced it the same way I did the previous game, dinking around in a total stranger's save file for hours.
The first 3-D Octorok is a much stranger and more elaborate design than any before it, and it's also my absolute favorite representation of their species. Designed like an organic gun turret, it's lifted off the ground by its four tentacles, actually walking on them as legs rather than crawling or slithering, its siphon is longer and more cannon-like than it's ever been before, it has a big weird ridgy mushroom cap sort of mantle and on *top* of all that is a relatively tiny hard shell with sad, glowing green eyes peering from its dark aperture. There's also a bit of shell on its underside, between its four tentacles, as if maybe in its juvenile stages the two halves can fit together? All in all a truly strange, original anatomical plan for an octopoid monster.
It is also, I must admit, very very Freudian. The tentacles are phallic. The siphon is phallic. The whole head looks like a glans. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, but it's a thing I have to address or you're going to ask why I didn't. Us monster desigs can't help it if all the naughty bits look that cool when we remix them into killer shellfish, alright?!?
Ocarina actually doesn't add many new monsters to Zelda continuity, but both its new and old creatures are a lot of fun. Bubbles are back, and now they're big angry skulls with bat wing ears. It's a common and some would say rather generic creature template, but I appreciate the bubbles just getting any attention at all really, they must be some of the most overlooked and forgotten entities from the first couple games.
Armos were just humanoid statue warriors in the original game, but here, they look like giant chess pieces with huge jagged mouths and beady red eyes in their oversized, ogre-looking faces. They also EXPLODE when you hit them! Their design has a lot of personality to it.
I neglected Beamos in its previous appearances, because it was just a kind of one-eyed statue that shoots lasers, not so much a "monster" as a "security device." And maybe that's all this is, too, but it's the most creature-like a Beamos has been up to this point. A grotesque, humanlike head with exposed gums and teeth, tiny little legs, and no ears or eyes except for the huge eye sticking out the very top, on a neck-like stalk!
Not all that exciting, really, a little less charming than the previous Moblins, but I feel like I shouldn't skip over the 3-d debut of any series staple. And it's still a big humanoid bulldog guy! They would evolve into much more piglike creatures in subsequent games.
I said I didn't like the Leever becoming explicitly a plant or flower monster, and that's still true, but Ocarina Leever definitely goes back to looking more bizarre than that. It's a green lump topped with a nodule kind of resembling the sphincter of a sea urchin, surrounded by four ciliated starfish-like arms that curl upwards, four frilly, fleshy red petal things that curl downwards, and four downturned breathing pores of some kind. VERY alien. I don't think they ever do say that this version is a plant or animal either way, but whatever it is I approve of it completely. It's different, but it's still straight back to the "Cambrian Fauna" aesthetic I enjoyed about it to begin with.
NO artwork!?! But I'd absolutely love to see Like-Like illustrated as hi-def as that Leever! This game was actually where I came to appreciate the Like-Like in the first place, having somehow forgotten about its existence in the original game. There's a pleasing way in which the big mouth opening on top looks "lobed" in the model, with six points that can open and shut, which has carried over to some later takes on the creature all the way up to today! I'm actually pretty enthused to eventually share with you my thoughts on Tears of the Kingdom Like-Likes!
While not my favorite Tektite, this more detailed and somewhat more serious take is still quite nice. It has a segmented, more trilobite or isopod-like blue body with a shiny red eye in a "jagged" socket that looks almost mouth-like, except there are actually little mandibles and palps underneath it! The four legs are beefier than they've ever been before, which makes sense for a monster that leaps around and attacks with them; each now has a row of hooked thorns down the front, overlapping triangular scales along the inner leg surface and two large tarsal claws. It really communicates exactly why Tektites injure you simply be jumping around. Just standing too close to this bug when it decides to leap would lacerate your body.
Again it really sucks that the main artwork wasn't released for all of this game's enemies. I'm sure it exists, somewhere, in Nintendo's archives or something. The N64 Wallmaster is still just a big hand, but it's also a really decrepit, nasty mummy-like big hand!
BOOOOOO!!! I especially want artwork of this Peahat!!! It's like a giant scaly pineapple with a huge tropical flower on top, which is kind of what it always was, but now it also has these extremely long, sawtoothed blades radiating out of its base to really mess you up as it flies around. It's also huge! I remember them lying in the sand in the desert, I think, and how they start spinning and rising into the air as you approach.
Such a cute and fun little name for a type of ghost, isn't it? Almost certainly named for the poet, these actually debuted in Link to the Past, but didn't make the cut for my review because that game just had so, so MANY enemies. They're a fairly basic "tattered cloak with glowing eyes" ghost design, but with stumpy bodies and huge heads, a mischievous squint and a shadowy little pointed nose that, together with hands, tells us these simply have a pitch black surface, rather than emptiness within the robe!
The floating, electric jellies are back from Link to the Past, but only encountered inside the body of a huge sea creature we'll talk more about later. The smaller Biri are more typical looking jellyfish, but the larger Bari have a really cool design with short, stumpy dangling tentacles and two much larger ribbonlike arms, with tattery edges and forked ends!. They're really beautifully colored, too, and the pale patterns on their surface look strangely more like artificial runes or writing.
BARI & BIRI
These enemies make their debut in this game and feel truly iconic to it, even if they do appear in later games as well. They're spiders whose abdomens look like giant, human skulls, very simple but very effective! Their actual little spider faces stick out the bottom where the skull should have a lower jaw, which is obvious here in the artwork, but in-game it was possible to miss unless you really stopped to take a closer look at them.
And then there's this guy. Wow! Actually, there's a whole household of rich people cursed into horrific human-Skulltula hybrids, and he's by far the most unsettling; he's a Skulltula who *actually* possesses just teeth and a lower jaw where the spider's head should be, while the upper part of his human face, just frightened eyes and a big of hair, gazes crookedly out of the skull's single, fused eye socket. One of the spider legs is a long, gangly human arm and the rest of the legs aren't even the right sizes, really looking like a Skulltula has been growing around and absorbing him like a tumor. RAD. He sends you on a quest to find and kill a hundred golden Skulltulas to break the curse, but in that save game I played, nobody had ever completed it and neither did I. He looks better as a monstrosity and rich people suck anyway. I hope he's still enjoying his eternal spider life, wherever that cartridge wound up.
Oddly, this is the first time the Zelda world has had a "traditional" carnivorous plant creature, the old fashioned mouth on a stalk popularized by Little Shop of Horrors and then by Mario's Piranha Plants. This one's design is lovably nasty, too; the leaves look completely chewed up by bugs, the spindly stem is crooked like it can barely lift the "head," and the head is just this unpleasantly veiny, purple pod with a fat pink tongue. And you'd be forgiven for thinking, at a glance, that it has both white drool and rows of sharp little white teeth, but no, in this illustration that's ALL just dripping slobber, and in the model it's clearer that their mouths are just toothless and gummy. Beautifully wretched!
Another brand new creature that would become a mainstay of the franchise, these are essentially a plant creature convergently evolved with the Octorok, spitting nuts rather than rocks from an otherwise almost identical tubular mouth. The rest is just an armlesss little gremlin made of wood, with grouchy glowing eyes and green leaves for "hair." Funny the plant version isn't half as weird looking as its animal counterpart, but it's cute at least!
They were so fond of the scrubs, they even made an NPC variant. The "Business Scrubs" might attack you at first, being apparently jumpy and defensive I guess, but then they'll sell you items! They're just slightly more humanoid than their wilder counterparts, with taller egg shaped bodies and a pair of arms. Maybe they're just older, and the older the get the more they care about money than violence?
This is just a spiky, aggressive scallop, though its only soft tissue is the pillar of red muscle holding the halves of its shell together. That's not how bivalves work at all, so, maybe that's not what it is? Organisms with this sort of hinged shell have evolved multiple times on Earth across more than one phylum, so this could just as easily be one of Hyrule's strange and cryptic animal phyla, one whose entire anatomy consists of that flesh cylinder and hinged shell. How does it eat without an obvious mouth or filter-feeding siphon? Maybe it just seals shut with a bite of tasty flesh and secretes digestive enzymes, using the whole shell as a stomach chamber.
They're killing me with this lack of art. I bet the conceptual drawings of the torch slug are adorable! A flattened puddle of red goo, like a pool of lava, but with a couple of droopy eyestalks and a big flame on its back. It's so simple, it becomes kind of underwhelming as only a chunky 3-d model :(
I'm using the model from the remastered 3DS game here; the anubis looks just like a little mummified jackal all wrapped up, and it hovers around mirroring whatever direction Link moves in. It can only be destroyed by leading it into fire, and if attacked, retaliates with its own fire breath. Annoying! It kind of bugs me that it's called an Anubis, though, both in the English and original Japanese versions. Hyrulian creatures and objects usually have their own original names, so calling this something straight out of Egyptian mythology kind of breaks the illusion of this being its own self-contained world.
Lizard people are back! And they sure are lizard people! This is a very lizard guy, just straightforward green monitor looking reptile, albeit with more dinosaur-like hind legs so it can walk around like a person, wielding a sword.
These notoriously terrified a lot of players, and it's understandable; they're tall, emaciated corpses with expressionless wooden masks, and they either stand in place or sit curled up in a fetal position, softly moaning until they detect your presence. They come after you slowly at first, but their gaze paralyzes you, and once they're close enough they fling through the air with a wonderfully awful shriek, wrap their limbs around you and start eating!
In the followup game Majora's Mask, there are some masks you can wear that will make the Redead nonviolent, in which case they just dance. Oddly enough, their trophy in Super Smash Brothers would later claim that they're not corpses, but made out of clay, which probably implies their masks are supposed to evoke a Haniwa.
Skull kids are supposedly monsters that form from lost children, and they're called "skull kids," but there's nothing actually skullish about them. The artwork kind of unfortunately makes it look like they have pale human lips in pitch black faces, but what they actually have are short, wide bird beaks on basically big brown nuts for heads, like coconuts, and their skin looks wooden on top of it. Are they related to Deku Scrubs in some way?
I'm basically going through the "NPC race" monsters here, and Goron are a brand new addition of friendly "rock people," though they're not just the anthropomorphic minerals that usually entails. They're tubby, orange humanoids with almost froglike faces, though they do have humanlike hands, feet and facial hair, so they're probably mammals. They have stone or stone-like growths all over their backs, though, and they like to curl up into balls so they can roll down slopes. I really like this weird armadillo-like behavior; Zelda games almost never resort to completely generic fantasy races like gnomes or trolls. Not without adding some unique, quirky physiology to remind us that, oh yeah, these are fantasy creatures in a fantasy world.
The Zoras are a full blown NPC "race" from here on out, but seldom depicted as the scaly gill-men of previous titles. Instead, they're more often like some hybrid of elf, dolphin and shark, which sounds like a downgrade, but it's honestly both weirder and scarier. This design with the blank blue eyes and the head that extends into an entire cranial dolphin tail is genuinely more interesting than the usual "fish person."
Then you have Princess Ruto, and though she has a much more humanlike face, she swaps out the dolphin tail for a widened skull with a set of tiny, fishy eyes on its pointed sides, like her head is half-way morphing into that of a hammerhead or bonnethead shark. That's just weirder! I like to think those are her preferred eyes and she thinks of the human ones as supplementary.
The Zoras worship a benevolent giant sea creature whose design is whale shaped, but with catfish-like lips, goofy bulging eyes and a texture that reminds me more of a gigantic manatee. He's kind of a chimera of all the big, dopey looking aquatic animals, which makes it all the funnier that he wears a beautiful, elaborate golden headdress I assume the Zoras made for him. He actually serves as one of the dungeons of the game, since you have to go inside him to cure him of a terrible affliction, which you may note is my favorite of all video game scenarios.
This giant-size Octorok is a sub-boss encountered inside Jabu-Jabu, with
basically the same anatomy as the regular Octorok, but it's weighed
down and squashed under its enormously overgrown, lumpy shell. It looks
kind of miserable to exist at all, and it doesn't feel like the parasitic lifestyle it's taken on is really natural for the species. Maybe it's like the case of the snub-nosed eels who seemingly wound up in the heart of a live shark by accident, but adapted to live off the blood?!
It used to just be a triceratops, now it's a huge green lizard with just
two legs to drag itself around, and it has an armored plated head just
*kinda* like a ceratopsian. I feel like the sharp little teeth and tusks
are a bit much, though. This is that monster whose gimmick is being
heavily armored, lazy, kinda dumb and gluttonous enough to eat bombs if
you leave one in front of it. This design however looks more threatening
and more powerful than I think it should. I think Dodongo works best as
a lumbering, heavy, armadillo-shelled kind of thing, a sluggish sleepy
sort of beast.
The bosses in this game get sweet as hell introductory titles, and the Infernal Dinosaur is a boss size Dodongo with crystalline skin growths and four limbs. I wonder what determines one as a "king?" Maybe it's a scenario in which there's one big male and all the other ones are females, or this is just how the eldest Dodongos look and they're so territorial that there's usually only one at a time, killing off all the challengers who reach his age.
A dragony lava serpent is technically the most traditional monster trope of any boss in this game, but I like Volvagia's design quite a bit!
The long hair-like flames, toothless mouth, large gecko-like eyes and
the dark, scaly upper surface of the head, like a horned stony mask,
give it a lot more personality than just any fiery reptile.
"Subterranean Lava Dragon"
Any game that takes us inside a giant monster is sure to grace is with a pretty cool parasitic boss, and we already saw the abnormally bloated Octorok inhabiting Jabu-Jabu, but that was just the sub-boss! The final battle in the fish's guts is against a parasitic "anemone" resembling a grotesque, pulsing mass of red tissue, with a cluster of little root-like tentacles at the bottom and a beautifully colorful little mushroom-cap thingy sprouting out the top. This in turn has three veiny, valve-like red tubes connecting it to its host and three weird, lumpy blue tentacles whose tips are each surrounded by a flaring, cuplike sucker I believe is meant to evoke a "satellite dish," as it uses electricity to control symbiotic (or enslaved?) Bari!
The jellies attach by their tentacles to the monster's cyst-like core, their bells acting like a layer of electrified armor, but leave the creature vulnerable when they detach to fight.
Overall, the concept of a giant parasitic cnidarian already rules, and the degree to which its anatomy differs from any normal "anemone" is perfectly in line with specialized real-world parasites. In fact, parasitic cnidaria do exist in real life, and deviate so wildly from their jellyfish, anemone and coral cousins that one variety is just a ball of tentacles, and another takes a form closer to a slime mold than an animal. And while Barinade's resemblance to a mutated heart was probably just so it would look gnarly and complement its environment, that's exactly how it often works out for real parasites as well; they live in the same conditions as the internal organs they feed upon and they share the same nutrient sources, so they naturally end up looking like veiny guts themselves. Many species even take on a pinkish coloration due entirely to the hemoglobin they absorb from the host!
"Parasitic Armored Arachnid"
...But there's ANOTHER parasitic boss in this game, too, and it's even the very first boss fight in the game! Yeah, I never do these reviews in order of appearance. I'm not even sure I'm doing this one in order of my personal favorites either, per se. I'm doing this in whatever order I feel like and you're just gonna have to deal.
"Gohma" was a boss in the original Zelda with the rather simple appearance of a giant, one-eyed crab or tick-like creature, but in Ocarina of Time, it lives and feeds within the enormous, sentient Deku tree as a sap-sucking pest, and its much more elaborate design is just KILLER. Its face is just a giant, weird yellow eyeball with a heavy, wrinkled lid above a pair of curious gill-like purple "fins" and tiny, hooked palps, while the body is a crablike carapace with huge, elaborate "shoulders" whose overlapping armor plates taper into tooth-lined hooks evoking not only multi-tiered crab claws, but in my eyes, the barbs and spines of a gigantic flea or louse. These continue into a single, huge pair of "arms" or "legs" with highly modified segmentation, each having big bulbous, prickly "elbow" piece and a large foot with a single hoof-like digit and two smaller, more flexible pointed toes. There's also a pair of luminous, greenish lumps in its "armpits" that have an almost leafy, plantlike look to them, like big asparagus pods, or something, a pair of extra little snapping crab-arms sticking out of the creature's back, and finally an enormous, fleshy, lumpy central stalk on its underside, terminating in a flaring, scalloped sucker pad that connects it to the tree.
It looks the most like a "Metroid" enemy than almost anything else in the Zelda world, and like Barinade, you can pretty much tell by looking that it's a "parasite," even if it is only a plant parasite, which, is arguably what all of us are if we ever eat vegetables at all without killing the entire plant, but, the definitions of parasitism have always been a little foggy.
Best of all are Gohma's delightful little babies! These are much simpler creatures consisting of only a roundish one-eyed body segment, a couple of almost bird-like single-toed legs with huge chunky chitinous thighs and a cute, comical little "sprout" on top, similar to their mom's luminous armpit vegetables. There's a lot of interesting biology and a no doubt fascinating life cycle implied by these designs, but it's unclear as to whether they're a natural species at all, since they're planted in the Deku Tree by ganon as punishment for its lack of cooperation. The boss is also referred to as *queen* Gohma by a couple of Deku scrubs, who talk as if they really regard her as the new ruler of their "kingdom!" I mean, I know where my loyalty would lie.
Haha, look at the 90's digital effects on that tentacle, really takes me back to the artwork on Trapper Keepers. Morpha is another aquatic boss, and referred to as an "amoeba," but it's really just a little sphere creature that controls ordinary water as its body, as far as I know! Just a little guy!
"Giant Aquatic Amoeba"
These might be the most humanlike Zelda characters I'm ever going to include among favorite monsters. They're technically Gerudo, a desert-dwelling people who are said to be predominantly female, but these two are such ancient magic users that they've become tiny, adorable witches, complete with warty noses and crooked teeth and flying brooms. They also have gigantically huge eyeballs, and their faces end up looking bird-like. Their actual names are Kotake and Koume, and they're important, because they're the ones who raised Ganon!
The two are also able to fuse together into one body, and boy did people love this design back in the day. I was relatively brand new to having internet at exactly the same time this game came out, and I think this might have been one of the first characters I ever stumbled upon naughty fan-art of. A broad consensus was that her huge giant fire and ice element hairdo was the second most badass concept after any character design with one angel wing and one devil wing. Personally I like how the brooms become fire and ice brooms, but also kind of look like giant paintbrushes.
I positively adore this one. It's a spirit of darkness freed from a cursed well, and the battle against it begins as just a pair of giant, severed human-like hands madly beating on a bongo drum so huge, its surface is also your battle arena. That's surreal enough, but when the rest of it is revealed, it resembles a gigantic humanoid torso, dangling upside down, with gruesomely severed wrists not actually attached to its remotely controlled hands, while the head consists solely of a huge red eyeball surrounded by fleshy petals! Even the "pupil" of the eye is otherworldly, a ring of yellow lights with one more in the center. The alien eyeball-flower head is a jarringly unnatural fit for its distinctly hominid and totally jacked body, swollen with veiny muscles. Maybe it was once a person, or maybe it's just the deranged form taken by a old, forgotten god. It's such a memorable design and battle with so little explanation, it feels much more like final game boss material, or at least something that should be more story relevant than the other temple bosses.
"Phantom Shadow Beast"
This is actually another sub-boss, but I've saved it for nearly the end because it's remembered, for good reason, as one of the most fascinating and frightening creature encounters in this or any video game. One is encountered in the bottom of the well where Bongo Bongo was once imprisoned, and the other in the Shadow Temple where Bongo now resides, so they're clearly connected to the being in some way. All you see of a Dead Hand, at first, are the Dead Hands of its namesake; white, bloodstained looking, absurdly long arms sticking straight up out of the soil like a field of horrible sunflowers. Magnificent! Once you're within grabbing range, and they have a LONG grabbing range, the monster's central body will burst from the Earth:
This body is a bloated, saggy looking torso with the same disturbingly red-splotched texture as its many hands. It tapers upwards into an emaciated ribcage area, a pair of more stunted arms that end in simple spikes - like plucked bird wings - and a long neck terminating in a corpse face with obscenely oversized jaws. Whoever designed Dead Hand chose the creepiest option for its every single element, including the white blockiness of the teeth, rather than sharp or needly ones. I also want to lament that there's no official artwork for this one either, but maybe seeing it in high detail would actually ruin the mystique? Its original N64 resolution vaguely implies a bruised and bloodied corpselike texture that's perfectly horrible as-is.
The 3DS remake would make Dead Hand a little more "lifelike," and it's still a horrible looking ghoul, but they dropped the gruesome reddish patches, and even made the tips of its pointy arms hot pink instead of looking caked with blood. Cowards! At least there's still the tantalizing mystery of what its entire mass actually looks like underground. The way the body can move around without it pulling on the many extra hands, I wager those limbs don't connect directly back to the body at all, but that the body and the field of hands all connect back to some other central mass or perhaps to some fleshy fungus-like network, like mycelia!
When we first saw this character, we actually didn't know what to think. "Ganon" had always been marketed to us as a giant evil wizard who looks like a pig monster, which we kind of thought of as Link's "Bowser." Now suddenly he just looked like a guy, and suddenly his name ended in "dorf." DORF? Like.........like the insensitive comedy character advertised around the same time on VHS and DVD?!
Yes, modern Zelda fans will find this unbelievably and perhaps even offensive, but the kids I knew in 1998 thought Ganondorf was a silly name and a less cool concept than the giant pig man. It actually took us a while to come around to his deeper character lore and accept that his Gerudo design is still badass. And if you did still feel attached to him as a piggly wizard, they had you covered anyway
Ganondorf uses the Triforce to become Ganon, officially the name of his monster form, as a last-ditch attack after we defeat his human form, and the first 3-d Pig-Ganon is just wicked! They really went all out with this huge, hulking thing, giving him an almost Godzilla-like head and neck that still ends in a little piggy snout and tusks, but it also has absurdly tremendous, curving horns, fiery red hair and eerie, perfectly circular green lights for eyes. The reptilian tail, shaggy sea-green fur and oversized arms complete a look that's truly stylish, intimidating and inventively monstrous for what is, on paper, still "just" a humanoid boar. It's definitely cooler and scarier than any official Ganon before him, and, no offense, definitely cooler and scarier than Bowser. I don't know why they never shrank this design down a bit and fit it into Smash, like they did Ridley, I don't know.
Ocarina of Time was followed up by Majora's Mask, and I debated whether I should even review them separately or roll them into one page; most of the enemies in Majora's Mask are repeats from Ocarina, and not a lot of its new additions are especially exciting, but some of them are, and I guess the game - especially its title antagonist - will deserve to have their own spotlight to come.