The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

January 17, 2005

[floatleft][/floatleft]In a way, I’m pretty happy to be done with [i]The Minish Cap[/i] because now I can go to sleep before 2:30 a.m. The past two nights have seen me utterly caught up in the game as “a few minutes more” became hours and hours of [i]Zelda[/i] questing. I love [i]Zelda[/i] games, and this one has easily maintained the tradition of being hard to put down.

Like the two [i]Oracle[/i] games on the GBC and the GBA [i]Four Swords[/i] mode in [i]Link to the Past[/i], this game was actually made for Nintendo by Capcom and is actually a direct prequel to the [i]Four Swords[/i] games. It tells the story of the sorcerer Vaati and Link’s first quest to defeat him. In order to do this, he must enlist the aid of the Picori, cute little forest fairies who look like little squirrels. The problem is that nobody has seen the Picori for a hundred years, and most people seem to think they are a legend. Once again, Link has to go out and save the kingdom single-handledly, while the rest of the world stands around befuddled and completely clueless to the fact that there is a huge battle ensuing between good and evil going. Go about your business, Townsfolk! There’s no need for you to offer the sole hope of humanity’s salvation a discount at your little shop! Oh well, at least we can take joy in the traditional outlet of pilfering people’s possessions from their homes, unhindered by law or conscience. And lucky for our friend, he meets a talking magic hat named Ezlo early in the game.

[floatright][/floatright]Every [i]Zelda[/i] game has to have a twist on how you interact with your environment, and here the twist is a system that lets you shrink to a tiny size and get into areas that the larger Link cannot, which is vital in his search for the Picori. Whenever you spot a portal, which is usually a hollow log or overturned vase, you can stand on top of it and Ezlo will shrink you down to a tiny size. Although you can’t use your items or interact with the larger world much, you can now take advantage of tiny portals and access ways that normal Link is too big for. Some of these even lead you to micro-Link-only areas, where you regain normal control of our hero, but now surrounded by giant barrels, shoes, and other everyday elements. This inversion of normal proportions is used to great effect in a few boss fights, where Link faces off against humongous versions of some of his traditional foes (OK, I realize that the monsters are the right size and it’s actually Link that is really small, but you get the idea). While the effect is not overall as dramatic as having a complete duplicate dark or future version of the whole world, it is used to very good effect throughout the game.

As usual, Link must collect various items to help him in his battle against Vaati and Hyrule’s general (and very large) monster population. Like the previous Game Boy [i]Zelda[/i] games, the game manages to come up with some pretty creative new ideas while keeping the old favorites. Aside from his sword, shield, and boomerang, Link sees the return of things like the arrows, bombs, and Pegasus boots. He’s also got the traditional Ocarina to take him from place to place on the map. The new inclusions are a Gust Jar that acts as a sort of magic vacuum, and Mole Mitts that allow Link to dig through certain types of rock. There’s even a magical “staff of flipping things over.” The new items are different enough that the game doesn’t feel like it’s just recycled material.

The graphics for this game are bright and well-done. The game manages to equal a [i]Link to the Past[/i] in look and feel without borrowing sprites from the older game-although Link himself is basically the same one we saw in the GBA [i]Four Swords[/i]. The sprite effects are nice and fairly well-done. I’d say that there’s nothing we haven’t seen before here, but it more than meets the challenge. The art direction definitely takes the game into a brighter world than we’ve seen in a 2D [i]Zelda[/i] game.

Like all [i]Zelda[/i] games, the game is mostly kept linear by limiting your exploration area until you find the right item to overcome a certain type of obstacle. The same pseudo-freeform system is still in place, and it holds up very well. The game is also packed with exploration and side quests, with plenty of hidden areas, or areas that can only be accessed by backtracking with a new item. The game adds a new side-quest element in the form of “kinstones.” These items look like an oddly cut half of a medallion, and you find them constantly throughout the game. If you find a matching half with another character and pair the halves up in a process known as “kinfusion,” secret areas will open up, chests will appear, and new characters may even pop up. Unlike the chains of trading missions that are so constant throughout the game, most kinfusions are not dependant on each other, so if you miss one fusion, you can always come back to it later. I prefer this as I’m not really a fan of searching the whole game for the one guy I forgot to talk to who wants a bunny mask. The kinfusions range from required tasks to continue in the game to mundane optional quests that help you get a few rupees or mysterious seashells.

The mysterious seashells are used to buy figurines of everything in the game from the figurine shop. “Buy” is not really the best word in this case, I suppose. What you are doing is buying a chance to get a figurine that you don’t have already, although you can spend more shells to increase your odds. I would have played with this more if each purchase didn’t take so long. They should have cut down the screens of text involved in the exchange. Still, it’s a neat addition to keep the game interesting for you 100% completionists out there.

[floatleft][/floatleft]Now, I do have a few problems with the game, but obviously they don’t come close to the positives or I would have done something yesterday and the day before-gone outside, even. My first complaint is the use of buttons. Even though the GBA has four buttons, the L button is used only for kinfusion. This makes it a dead key in all but total non-combat situations, and it makes no sense from a gameplay point of view. The R button is used for rolling, lifting/grabbing, and talking to people, but the A button can also be used for all of those except rolling. The result is that you primarily use the face buttons. Like all previous Game Boy [i]Zelda[/i] incarnations, you can assign any item to either button, but you can only use two items at a time, including sword and shield.

After the excellently playable way a Link to the Past was handled, you would think they would have copied that same design. At the very least, they could move roll to the L button and allow you to assign another item to R. I was annoyed that I had to constantly pause and switch items in the old Game Boy games, but they had the excuse of only having two face buttons. This control issue shouldn’t exist on the GBA. The game is also short like its older Game Boy cousins. I was really hoping for something more drawn out after playing [i]Link to the Past[/i] about a year ago. Perhaps I’m lucky that it didn’t, since during the three days that I played through it, I have pretty much done nothing else outside of work except eat and check my e-mail. I’d say the game should last about 10+ hours-a little longer if you want to get all the side items.

I love the 2D [i]Zelda[/i] formula, so maybe I’m a bit biased towards this game, but I just couldn’t stop playing. I don’t see a lot of replay value in the near future, but the completionists in the audience might, and I do tend to pick my old [i]Zelda[/i] games up at a later date to brush up on them. If you are a [i]Zelda[/i] nut, you probably already have this game. If you aren’t, be warned that it’s a little easy and a little short, but there’s a great game in here. If you want a nice adventure game that will totally suck you in, pick this up.

Score: 5/5

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