Legend of Zelda: the Minish Cap - Staff Retroview  

Small-Cap Gains
by Andrew Long

8-15 hours


Rating definitions 

   Portable incarnations in the Legend of Zelda series have been a staple since the days of the original Game Boy. These games have tended to employ similar mechanics, and at its heart Legend of Zelda: the Minish Cap follows in that tradition, while making some rather significant departures from its predecessors. These departures ensure the game will have a fonder place in the minds of gamers than did many of the prior incarnations in the portable series.

   The Link of the hour in The Minish Cap is styled after his counterpart in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and lives in a small cottage south of town. If this sounds familiar to a certain SNES entry in the series, that's because it is; in fact, this title is the closest to Link to the Past of any of the portable Zelda games, in a myriad of ways. It also borrows a little from Chrono Trigger in order to get the ball rolling, as Link is awakened in the morning and charged with escorting the Princess to a festival. Also like Chrono Trigger, the princess very quickly finds herself in a heap of trouble, and Link is the only one who can solve it, conveniently, because he is a child. One might suggest that the adults in this story are a shade below stalwart, but then, the game removes this simple explanation through the introduction of the Picori, a pint-sized race of elfin creatures who make their homes pretty much everywhere, so perhaps there is some justification for their inaction, in the end.

   Link is befriended early on by Ezlo, a Picori wizard whose troublesome assistant Vaati has used the Ezlo's wish-granting hat to diabolical ends. Now, poised to use the hat to find the mysterious Light Force - apparently triangles are no longer cool - Vaati is posing Ezlo no small amount of worry. Sadly for Ezlo, he has been reduced to a floppy green hat, which somewhat impedes his ability to get around. Enter Link and suddenly Ezlo has a way around, while Link has a trusty friend to see him through thick and thin.
And yet no cameo from Catalack? For shame! Leene's... I mean, Zelda's Bell

   Combat in The Minish Cap plays out rather similarly to any other 2D Zelda title; Link can choose from his sword and an assortment of items, using his various and sundry tools to deal out all sorts of damage to the wide array of monsters in Hyrule. As in other Game Boy installments of the series, the sword can actually be substituted for a second item, which can make for interesting combinations at times. That said, it is generally advisable to keep the sword on hand at all times as, thanks to Vaati, beasties have become quite profuse.

   Link's sword can be levelled up by completing dungeons containing elements, but as an added bonus there are also weapon trainers scattered about Hyrule, each of whom professes to be the prime swordsman in the land. In addition to these techniques, there are also occasional Four Swords-style block puzzles, enabled by the sword once it becomes suitably powered up. While this does not play a huge role in the game, it is still prominent enough that it makes for an interesting departure from the usual progress by bomb and hook and claw.

   The Minish Cap also succeeds in ramping up the difficulty level somewhat from the dirt-easy generally favoured by Nintendo in these titles. This is not to say any of the puzzles are particularly challenging, because they aren't, but because very few enemies in the game drop hearts, it is surprisingly easy to die. In this way, then, does The Minish Cap also hearken back to Link to the Past, another game which focused more on heaping monsters on over brain-teasing puzzles.
Or maybe he's just shaking his cane at some underground whippersnappers... who can say? Link protests African diamond mine exploitation - TO THE XTREME

   With all this taken into consideration, it is no surprise that there is a very gentle learning curve in The Minish Cap, and perhaps because of this, the game is mercifully free of the ubiquitous tutorials and help dialogues that so plague Nintendo games. Besides the occasional nudge from Ezlo and screens letting players know how many heart containers they've collected, both of which are handy rather than irritating dialogues, there isn't much to complain about in this or any other facet of the game's interface. Spotlessly (and humourously) translated, there is a definite feel of polish to all aspects of the title.

   Indeed, the greatest evidence of this polish is in The Minish Cap's presentational elements. The game shines both musically and visually, with crisp, lushly coloured sprites and backgrounds, and a score that makes full use of the GBA's limited sound capabilities. While a few classic Zelda themes end up brushed off here, there is a great deal of new music, and much of it is quite good. The classic Zelda theme is also remixed in a number of pieces, and somehow, even after 20 years and more, it manages to feel fresh in these new arrangements. Though Nintendo professes disinterest in the graphical side of things, this is, in truth, a sham; the bulk of its games, while not necessarily pushing any technological limits, manage to achieve a feel so inherently right that there really is no need to push the envelope because improved technological elements would offer only diminishing returns. It is perhaps lamentable that more developers do not take this approach, but as sales results have shown, it does not always translate into dollars, sadly.

   There is much to be said in favour of The Minish Cap as an original title, because while the Zelda series as a whole is as old as the hills, somehow this title manages to feel inherently fresh and new. Possibly it is the delight in seeing the world writ large when toddling about in the Lilliputian world of the Picori, maybe it's the plethora of original items to be found in the game, perhaps it is the entertaining, if slightly obsession-forming, collection and combination of Kinstone Pieces, and maybe it's simply a combination of all these elements put together. Whatever the case, while old characters and ideas alike make appearances - including a rather irksome cameo by Tingle, who seems destined to ride the coattails of Mr. Miyamoto's baffling affection for him into a place in every future entry of this series - they are cast in an interesting enough way that the game manages to feel like it's breaking new ground.
"I said it once, and I won't say it again! GET OFF MY DAMNED LAWN, YA WHIPPERSNAPPER!"

   Although it makes a valiant effort to include some semblance of a story, The Minish Cap is at its heart an action RPG, and as tends to be the case in these generally faster titles, plot is given shorter shrift than might be the case in a traditional RPG. This is not to say that the story is unenjoyable or awful, because it's not; it's just not anything that received a large amount of attention, and somehow, a game that can easily be completed in eight hours isn't really conducive to a labyrinthine storyline, a fact that may also be to some extent caused by the platform upon which the title is offered.

   So with everything going right for it, there is a lot to recommend about the Minish Cap. While its replay value is not vast, the title is more than worth the price, and for whiling away a lengthy trip or relaxing on a dock, there are few titles that will match this one for pure fun. In the end, is there really anything more important than that in selecting a game?

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