"Significant Shrinkage"

The latest Capcom developed Legend of Zelda gives casual fans exactly what they wanted: yet another incarnation of Link out to save the day by blazing through dungeons with his sword and an armory of items. But some of the more tyrannical nerds are in for a surprise. There's no Triforce, Ganon, or even the Master Sword. Instead in a shocking twist of fate, Capcom applied a few coats of polish and added a few fresh ideas to create a surprisingly entertaining adventure despite having both a talking duck-hat as a major story character and a title as lame as The Minish Cap.

Just when Princess Zelda had been given more liberated roles in Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, she becomes the useless damsel in distress type of gal once again. A power-hungry lad by the name of Vaati came and turned the princess to stone, and she'll have to stay that way unless the King of Hyrule grants him the legendary Golden Power. Thinking that this power is nothing but a myth, the king cooks up a plan to break his daughter's curse and rid Hyrule of Vaati. This can only be done with the power of the legendary Picori Blade.

There's only one problem: that jerk Vaati snapped the sword in half and the only people that know how to fix it is the minish, a race of thumb-sized people. Then another problem arises because only children can see the minish. Now here's where Link comes in. Being both a child and a competent swordsman thanks to his grandfather the blacksmith, Link is the perfect candidate for the job, so he sets off for Minish Woods with the broken blade.

Along the way Link teams up with a green talking duck-hat sort of thing named Ezlo. This strangely lovable character knows the in-and-outs of Hyrule, so he settles upon Link's head to always be ready to pop up without notice and give you advice, tell you where to go next, or just complain about what a stupid child you are. Soon after Link meets with the minish and learns he must seek out four elements to restore his sword. And thus begins his adventure.

But before trekking into the more dangerous areas of Hyrule, you'd better learn to handle your blade well. At first the game's combat system may seem like a simple button mashing fest like the previous 2D installments, but eventually you'll learn cool abilities that make things interesting. Some of these attacks include rolling toward a foe and thrusting your sword forward, leaping into the air and slamming your blade into the ground, or an impressive spin attack where Link shoots around the room hacking away at anything he touches. These moves definitely improve the combat and make it more enjoyable.

Combat is also a blast thanks to the enemies you'll face. In the past portable Zelda games, you'd fight three to four minor enemies at the most. The Minish Cap, however, pits you against a lot more. Rather than facing a dinky combination of four bats, this title will have you against a beefy moblin armed with a huge spear, a weasely looking creature equipped with a dagger ready to grab your rupees, and an octarock or two all at once. At one point you even take on eight of those dagger-toting weasels for one wild fight. Another time you'll struggle against three Iron Knuckles all encased in full plate mail and ready to protect themselves with massive shields and broadswords. The cool encounters help break up any monotony you may experience during your exploration of Hyrule.

If Link wants to save the princess, he's going to need more than his sword to cut away at baddies. Throughout the game, you'll discover a quite a lot of interesting tools ranging from a simple lantern to light your way to Roc's Cape for gliding across giant chasms. Capcom was even able to create newer items to keep things fresh rather than only rehashing the tradition tools of the trade (the bow, flippers, boomerang, ect). Among Link's arsenal, you'll find cool gadgets like the Gust Jar, a device that allows our hero to suck up objects (including enemies) and spit them out. Later on you'll acquire the Mole Mitts. Put on these babies and watch Link tear into dirt and rock walls making new tunnels and passageways for our hero. Another new item is the Cane of Pacci. It looks like nothing more than a fancy walking stick, but the cane allows you to flip over platforms, enemies, and even the basic principles of gravity. By using the cane on holes, you can actually step into them and end up falling up into the air for an impressive high-jump.

Link's tools will come in handy the most in Hyrule's treacherous temples. With the exception of the dull Windfall Temple, The Minish Cap's dungeons are awesome arenas of fierce combat, exploration and a few item-oriented puzzles too. They all follow the same basic formula of past installments with finding the map, compass, and wide array of keys, but this title's dungeons have been polished up a bit with a few neat design twists. Venturing into the bowels of the first temple will bring Link to a gigantic barrel blocking his path. There's no way Link can move a barrel ten times his size, so what's a pint-sized hero to do? Apparently sneaking through a hole in the barrel, running with all his might, and forcing the barrel to rotate and bring the hole to the opposite side. The second dungeon finds our hero ready to explore a vast mine of Hyrule, but Link doesn't have to time to walk through the long, dark shafts. Instead you'll jump inside a mine cart screaming as you're hurled forward. Other dungeons require you to make use of your talking duck-hat in a peculiar way. By leaping into a small vortex, Link can transform Ezlo into a makeshift glider, which is just perfect for those oh-so-distant ledges.

But wait, there's more! Both inside and out of dungeons, Link can execute two important abilities. With the help of Ezlo, Link can utilize tree stumps, pots, and other objects to shrink down to the size of a minish. Shrinking allows Link to explore much more of Hyrule and make his way to what would otherwise be inaccessible areas. And after Link's retrieved an element or two, he can power up the Picori Blade to give himself the ability to momentarily create up to four Links on the screen at once. Then you'll be able to activate multiple switches or use your combined might to push massive slabs of granite. It's kind of like Four Sword Adventures only it's not the main focus of the game.

Thankfully the world outside of the dungeons isn't a total pain to explore. Anyone that's played Capcom's Oracles of Ages / Seasons can still remember the agony of fumbling your way to the next dungeon thanks to the constant necessity of switching between two boring worlds to progress about two inches at a time. The Minish Cap keeps things simple with a compact map oozing with distinct atmosphere and music. You'll begin your adventure on the simple fields of Hyrule with its adventurous main theme. Later on Link finds himself trudging through the mud of Castor Wilds with a tribal feeling music. When Link is close to the end of his adventure, he'll be forced to enter the Royal Family's spooky graveyard. While clenching his lantern, Link must a way through the twisted trees and roots among the hungry howls of distant wolfos.

While these scenarios may truly look cool thanks to the game's amazing degree of detail and fluid animation, the music could have been better. The problem is that some of the GBA instruments used sound too old and archaic and thus don't mesh well with the newer, better sounding ones. This problem ranges from a couple of bad notes here and there to full out buzzing in the well-known Legend of Zelda main theme. Unfortunately this is also an all-too common occurrence in GBA games.

Once you've saved the day and are ready to give your blade its much deserved rest, The Minish Cap's biggest problem becomes so clear: it's too damn short. Despite it feeling more polished than Link's Awakening or A Link to the Past, six dungeons (one of which is disappointing) just isn't enough. The game's share of side quests is also pretty small with Kinstone Matching, a mini game involving mixing different blocks found throughout the game, and finding spare heart containers being the only real attractions. All in all, this title ends up being a fun, simple adventure buried within the crowded Zelda timeline.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/31/06

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