The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap Cover
Platforms Game Boy Advance
Genre Honey, I shrunk the adventure
Score 9  Clock score of 9
Buy from Amazon

Over the course of The Legend of Zelda series, I haven't missed a lot of games.  I've played everything from Zelda II to Majora's Mask to Oracle of Ages, but there was one that I had skipped: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap.  Why that one? How could I have missed it?  I can only determine that my interest was low due to it being developed outside Nintendo again (Minish Cap, the two Oracle games, and Four Swords were created by Flagship, a former Capcom studio) and that it missed the 2004 holiday window by a few weeks.  Plus, for whatever reason it seemed like a kids game.  I always saw the feature of Link turning into a pixie as... lame.

How wrong I was.

Five years later and I finally determine that it's high time to play The Minish Cap, so I add it to my Amazon wishlist and receive it for my birthday in May.  I plowed through this game like my family's lives depended on it (meaning I ignored them in the process, whoops, won't happen again), but wanted to let the game sink in for a while before I organized all my thoughts and finished the review.

It's probably worth comparing my review of this game to the two previous portable Zeldas: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.  I always felt like those games were missing something, but I couldn't lay my finger on it until I played The Minish Cap.  Here's my full review of the one I almost let get away: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap.

What I loved: If there was ever a game that was the gameplay sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Minish Cap is it.  I quickly realized after starting the game what I felt was missing from Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks: that classic tile based Zelda experience we all know and grew up with.  I understand that the two DS Zelda games were always doing their own thing, but I honestly love the old-school Zeldas a lot more as evidenced by Minish Cap.

The game has all the tropes of the old 2D Zelda games like bombing cracked walls and collecting new weapons to reach new areas, but throws in a lot of great new tricks that kept me playing for hours on end.  The whole minifying Link feature was executed a lot better than I ever expected and forced you to look at every area in multiple ways.  Every time I entered a building I would be on the lookout for pots that would minify Link or mouse holes I could use to enter or escape the house as mini Link.  It was a really brilliant way to make a relatively small Hyrule world appear much larger.  I guess calling it small would be inappropriate because a lot of extra thought and design went into making the world compatible for essentially two types of exploration.

Legend of Zelda Minish cap Giant Chuchu Slime BossZelda is well known for featuring a new weapon every dungeon, but Minish Cap ups the ante by essentially introducing in between every dungeon too.  In addition to that, the new weapons and items are much more inspired than their Nintendo DS counterparts.  Fellow writer Paul provided me a great comparison: whereas the Whirlwind in Spirit Tracks just blows stuff around, the Gust Jar in Minish Cap sucks in and blows out, making it much more versatile and useful in different situations.  Some of the other new items include a wand that flips objects and Roc's Cape, a take-off from Roc's Feather in Link's Awakening that allows Link to jump and float around.  The other standard Zelda items are still there, and it was nice not having such an extreme focus on the boomerang like Nintendo has focused on recently (actually I almost never used the boomerang in Minish Cap).

I'm pretty sure most of the music was ripped straight out of A Link to the Past, but that's definitely a good thing as Minish Cap's soundtrack is top notch.  I wish I had a better ear for these things.

Graphically the game looked very good, the level of detail surprised me for the Game Boy Advance, but you have to remember Minish Cap is just 2D sprites as opposed to 3D models for Spirit Tracks.  I actually like this older look better, but the high level of detail was necessary to show the tiny little objects minified Link and interact with.

Legend of Zelda Minish cap Mini Link Library BooksWhat I liked: For only having five dungeons, Minish Cap felt like a complete Zelda game.  There was a lot of running around required just to access most dungeons, and often times you would receive a new weapon during that time too.  I do wish there had been a few more areas to explore though, and a couple extra dungeons and boss battles would have been nice.  Looking back, A Link to the Past had over 10 dungeons, and now we're at less than half that on the GBA. Heck, even Link's Awakening on the original Game Boy had the full suite of eight dungeons.

The difficulty was decent, but like usual, pretty easy for a Legend of Zelda veteran.  I only died once and that was against the final boss, who I beat on my second attempt.  Some of the bosses were challenging, one in particular brought me to a quarter of a heart before I got the last 10 hits in and took him out, but like I said earlier, there were only about five bosses plus the final encounter.  When you have over ten weapons and items, it seems there was a lot of opportunity lost here.

What I didn't like: The game's gimmick (in a good way) is the ability for Link to become pixie sized and run through mouse holes and across book shelves.  This works really well, but when small, all you can do is walk around and swing your sword, though this doesn't even do anything.  This means all the puzzles at the minified level are exploration based, nothing requires the use of items when small.  A bit disappointing as it would have been cool to try and use the Gust Jar when tiny to tinkle some bells or something, I don't know what I would have done, but I'm sure Nintendo could have thought up something great.  There are points where the game will "zoom in" when you're Picori sized and treat it like you're in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids with gigantic leaves and books, so props to that.

Legend of Zelda Minish cap Kinstone Fusion FaroreThe game uses a basic trading system called Kinstones to obtain additional heart pieces, seashells (more on those in a bit), and extra rupees.  While I thought it was a cool system at first, the flaws started showing as I went on.  Basically, you collect half of a large coin, and if you can find someone who has the other half, the pieces will join up and a secret will be revealed on the map or a new path will open up.  The problem is, you can pair Kinstones with the same person multiple times, but sometimes the second or third opportunity won't be available until later in the game.  This essentially means you're constantly approaching anyone and everyone to join Kinstones with, which becomes pretty annoying as the game goes on.

In my ideal system, each person would have had one Kinstone to match and that's it.  Then you could keep track of who you have joined with and be able to complete the game in a more manageable way.  While the Kinstone system is mostly just a bonus, if you want to collect additional hearts or bottles, you have to participate.

Finally, there is an additional currency in the game called seashells.  For most of the game, you're just collecting them and you have no idea why.  Soon enough, you'll max out on your stock and you still won't know why you're carrying them, until you finally reach the shop in Hyrule Town where you can trade them for... figurines.  Yeah, pointless little collectibles that you can't even view any time, you have to return to the shop to see them.  I spent about 10 shells on the lottery for figurines, and then just stopped because I realized what an utter waste of time it would be to continue on.  At least in Link's Awakening the shells lead to weapon upgrade, but in Minish Cap, they're just there for people without lives, I guess.

Utter disappointment reigns when you finally match someone's Kinstone only to trek half-way across the world and uncover 100 seashells.


Gameplay: 9

Legend of Zelda Minish cap Link LanternThe Minish Cap features classic Legend of Zelda gameplay that make me wish Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks were also done in this style.  While the world is relatively small, there is a lot to explore and discover as both regular sized and minified Link.  The items and weapons you find along the way are generally useful in more than specific scenarios too, and are ingenious to boot.  Boss battles are challenging, but I was disappointed by the difficulty overall.

I didn't mention this earlier, but there are some really cool Four Swords-inspired moments too, but too few and far between, in my opinion.

Fun Factor: 10

The Kinstone system started to bother me a bit, but there is a lot to love about this game.  I could not put Minish Cap down and knocked out one dungeon a night for four nights straight.  If you like classic Zelda, do yourself a favor and play this game.  If you've never played an old school Zelda, this is as good as place to start.

Graphics and Sound: 9

The game looks great: environments are varied, enemies are classic Zelda fare, and the music is recognizable from start to finish.  Link's constant grunting and yelling is also a rather annoying, and the game doesn't look that much different than the Link to the Past port that was released two years earlier.

Story: 5

I hope you like rescuing Princess Zelda.

Overall: 9

When we discussed the best Zelda game of the decade earlier this year, if I had played Minish Cap at the time it would have definitely given Majora's Mask a run for the title in my mind.  It's that good, and probably goes down as one of my favorite handheld games of all time.  I just regret I haven't played it until now.

Legend of Zelda Minish cap Link Ezio Gust jar