Review by sneggid
"Link may be small in stature, but big in fun!"
The handheld Zelda's have always been over shadowed by their console brethren. They don't get the same development, sales, hell half of them don't even have Nintendo at the helm. It's a shame that a lot of them lay forgotten. Thankfully, Minish Cap has not faded into obscurity as much as some of them (sorry Oracle games, but a lot of people have forgotten your existence), and with the recent ambassador program for the 3DS the game has received a revival of sorts That's not where I'm coming from with this review; it was simply the next Zelda on my re-playthrough list.
And damn it's a fantastic game! The third/fourth (depending on your view of Four Swords as a standalone title) Legend of Zelda title to be developed by Capcom, the Minish Cap is canonically the first title in the Four Swords sub-series. The game's style follows on from the Four Swords side game packaged with A Link to the Past, yet the game is a vastly more complete package. The style is somewhat a mirror of Four Swords Adventures on Gamecube: while that was very Link to the Past, with elements of Wind Waker, this has many elements of Wind Waker with a hint of Link to the Past. Many characters are transposed from Wind Waker, and enemies, sprites and even a boss is basically stolen. The game does craft its own style regardless, especially in the minish sections.
The story is one of the earliest tales in Zelda canon, which paints its backstory behind the legend of the Picori (very small people) and the Hero of Men. The Picori can only be seen by children, and only appear through a portal once every 100 years. Of course the actual story takes place on the 100th year, and an evil sorcerer attempt to conquer Hyrule by stealing the power of the Triforce. It's a lovely breath of fresh air, not having Ganondorf headline the show, and luckily Vaati is an interesting villain to take the reins. That's not to say I dislike the use of Ganondorf, his presence will be much appreciated to return in the next Zelda following his pseudo absence in Skyward Sword. He's not the best replacement villain of the series- personally Ghirahim tops him, and probably Majora- but he is regardless an interesting villain, and far better than some of the villains the series has had. But Vaati has character and a backstory, and he's compelling enough to carry the game.
The Minish Cap is a very Zelda Zelda. The game doesn't do anything hugely new with the series, but what it does it does well. It has a cheery atmosphere from the get go, treading carefully over dark points in the story. The dungeons are all very traditional, but executed incredibly well. The gameplay is standard, as is the formula, but it's...so incredibly polished. Compared to all the Zelda's released before and after, the game is far better paced, and doesn't have any huge weak points. Unlike both Twilight Princess and Wind Waker, the game doesn't have any lagging moments. Each dungeon flows to the next well, with a quest or two in between each. The quests don't lag, and individual dungeons don't show up/down the rest. It also gels much better as a cohesive whole than Four Swords Adventures, and has a far better difficulty curve than all three of the previously mentioned Zelda's (in the fact that the curve actually gets difficult).
I'm not suggesting it is far and away superior to all of those Zelda's, but it does have its advantages. The hook of the Minish Cap is the ability to become Minish sized. That's very very small. The concept isn't mind blowing or hugely original, but it does add to the experience, and makes for some fantastic puzzles and situations. Some dungeons are only for Minish Link, which gives some surreal highlights. The first boss is a Chu, the series' jelly like sword wipe. But when you're a miniscule creature, what was once a simple slice of your sword becomes a behemoth of challenge to overcome. Its moments such as that that stick in your head.
The gameplay still has its block puzzles, torch puzzles, and its own original batch of brain twisters. The best ones aren't just the one's which incorporate both Minish and regular Link. The game also features a variation on the Four Sword multiple Link multiplayer element. Instead of multiple Links being controlled by different people, here Link acquires the Four Sword, allowing one person to briefly control multiple Links. It opens up some great little moments, and as you gain more multiples of Link as you progress it becomes a fantastic measure of how you're doing in the game.
One thing that is lacking in comparison to a lot of Zelda's is the music. Yeah, its good and does the Zelda job, but...it's not particularly special. None of the tracks will blow you away, or be hugely memorable. Against the majority of the series, the game has nothing really it brings to the table in terms of music.
The same cannot be said of the items. While keeping some traditional Zelda items, the game does an awesome job at adding to the Zelda collection in terms of items. Some of them make a reappearance in Skyward Sword, others are solo to this, but the items are the standouts of this game. The Roc's Cape, while technically from the third act of Oracle of Seasons, the item is awesome, it's in my top 3, and simply just really cool. A bunch of other items are original and used to great effect. Hell, I make it 3 of the items in the 5 main dungeons are original creations, with the other two only appearing in one or two older Zelda's.
Although that said, brings me onto a minor criticism. As I said, 5 main dungeons. With the final dungeon as well, there's only six in this game. They're not hugely epically sized dungeons either, and as you may have guessed, the game becomes a little on the short side. It is easily one of the shortest Zelda's. Maybe not the shortest, but it's up on the list for that. The only Zelda with less dungeons is Majora, and that makes up for that with sheer grandness of its dungeons, overworld and sidequests.
Which does bring me to my final final point. The sidequests of Minish Cap are...awesome. The game adds kinstone fusions, which are basically stones that Link tries to find matching pairs with about 100 people in the game. Only about a dozen or so are actually necessary to complete the game. But you'll probably end up doing at least half of them for their sheer fun, the sense of anticipation, the hope of reward. Each kinstone fusion unlocks something on the map. Whether that's a treasure chest, a heart piece, a golden enemy, or a giant beanstalk to the clouds in the sky, and you never really know what you'll get. It becomes a serious addiction. I delayed writing this review for days simply to complete as many fusions as possible. It's really that addicting. And the rewards are seriously worth it. This Zelda contains the most optional upgraded weapons in the series. Better shield, boomerang, bow and more are available just from exploring Hyrule and doing these simple yet fun sidequests. It's one of the best showings of the series.
The bottom line is, this game is awesome. My personal favourite of all the handheld Zelda's, and is only beaten by Link to the Past for best 2D game. It easily dwarfs the DS Zelda's, and a huge portion of the series. I'd place it about 6th out of 16, which is incredibly impressive for a Zelda not even made by Nintendo. Sure, its short, and for the most part it plays it safe for the series. Regardless, its an incredibly polished title, and a blast to play.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/04/12
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (EU, 11/12/04)
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