Review by Phediuk
A worthy, if slightly underwhelming, addition to anyone's GBA library.
I'll get straight to the point: the Zelda series needs a makeover. Badly. While the latest installment in the 18-years-running series remains an delightfully enjoyable experience for newcomers, longtime fans are likely to notice that everything's feeling tired, a bit rehashed, and above all, stale. If you've played any of the other Zelda games, you've played the Minish Cap. Whether this is good or bad lies within your judgment.
The game begins with Link (the grandson of the greatest blacksmith in the kingdom) waking up; it seems that there's an annual festival in Hyrule Town each year, and since Princess Zelda is a good friend of his, he decides to go with her. It's soon revealed that the purpose behind the festivities revolve around an ancient sword called the Picori Blade, which has been driven into the middle of an evil treasure chest. The winner of the festival's annual swordfighting tournament, by tradition, gets to touch the blade. This year, however, the winner is a mysterious man in black named Vaati (yes, THAT Vaati.)
In a plot twist that anyone with half a brain can see coming a hundred lightyears away, Vaati makes it unconditionally known that he's a diabolical sorcerer with the intent to-gasp!-RULE THE ENTIRE WORLD. Just to show how badass he is, he then proceeds to turn Princess Zelda to stone...and then mysteriously vanishes.
Doesn't this all sound a bit familiar? Actually, scratch that...doesn't this all sound REALLY FREAKIN' familiar? As it turns out, Vaati is just another filler evil character in a long line of generic Zelda villains. You're never meant to sympathize with him, he doesn't have any motivation for his deeds other than greed, and he doesn't have any character traits besides being the bad guy. Likewise, Princess Zelda fulfills her usual role as damsel-in-distress.
So, who's left to save the day? The man with the green cap, of course. But wait-Link doesn't actually start the game with his usual headgear. This is about the biggest tweak to the Zelda mythos that the game ever makes, and it also gives an opportunity for the inclusion of an obligatory mentor character: enter Ezlo, the talking hat, whom you meet early on in your quest. Not to be confused with the Minish Cap itself, of course, which turns out to be a quite a misleading title for the game (in fact, the Minish Cap is only mentioned about three times and has almost no significance to the plot whatsoever.)
Ezlo, being the character who guides Link along his quest (which has become a compulsory feature for the series), has quite a bit to say...in fact, it's bordering on too much. In Ocarina of Time, Navi's hints are optional; in The Minish Cap, they're mandatory. Perhaps I'm nitpicking a bit, but it's rather annoying that the game is interrupted by a quip from Ezlo every time you encounter a new puzzle element or item. Often, he'll give you a pointer that you didn't really need anyway.
Ezlo also provides the game with its central gameplay element: Link's ability to shrink down to the size of one of the titular Minish people, whom only children can see and are no larger than fleas. Simply find a stump, vase, or any other designated "portal", stand on it, and press the R button to become tres petit. This mechanic, while well-implemented, feels like it was borne out of a lack of new ideas on Nintendo's part, and comes across as a little gimmicky.
The rest of Link's arsenal seems to echo the previous sentence. The Cane of Pacci doesn't do much besides flip a paltry number of items onto their backside. Sound lame? It is. The Flame Lantern seems to be brand-new at first...but then you remember that there's a tool with a very similar name and effect in A Link to the Past. The Picori Blade looks and acts exactly like the Master Sword. The Mole Mitts let you dig through a special type of dirt and have no other use, meaning that it acts more or less like a key and doesn't introduce any new or interesting gameplay mechanics. The Ocarina of Wind is the resident musical instrument in the game, meaning that its only use is to warp around the overworld ala ALttP. The sole new item that introduces an interesting new gameplay element is the Gust Jar, which lets you suck air in and blow air out. Unfortunately, it's sorely underutilized. The rest of the items are rehashed from the earlier games.
The ease of the game's puzzles doesn't help much, either. Almost every single one seems to have been ripped straight from a previous Zelda. Does this make the game unenjoyable? Not at all. Is it disappointing? Sadly, yes. Blowing up walls with bombs, shooting a statue's eye with an arrow, dashing into a bookshelf to make a book fall down...these were clever the first times that Nintendo used them. Now, they feel contrived and lazy.
On top of all this, the game is far too short. Shorter than either of the GBC Oracle games, in fact. Like Wind Waker, there's only five dungeons, and none of them are particularly long. So, not only does the game feel uninspired, it feels-dare I say it?-incomplete. The Minish Cap takes the ever-cliche "four elements, four dungeons" concept, which, surprisingly, is the first time that the series has ever done so.
Boss encounters are also fairly straightforward and typical of the series; just use the item you obtained in the boss's dungeon and they should go down in no time (this, of course, brings up the question of why someone would put the boss's Achilles' heel in the same area as it.)
To be fair, the game's short length is offset a bit by the sheer number of sidequests it offers. The Kinstone system is the most omnipresent of these optional tasks: you can find Kinstone shards throughout the world and fit them with other people's Kinstone shards to make a chest appear, a door open, or a wide variety of other effects happen. There's also several optional items in the game, but these are, once again, taken from other Zelda installments.
The controls in The Minish Cap leave little to complain about. The A and B buttons are once again used to equip items, while the R button lets you pick up objects and use your new rolling technique (well, okay, it's technically not new, 'cause the 3D Zeldas all have it.) My only issue is that Link moves a bit slower than I'd like him to.
As for the game's graphical presentation, well, it's awesome. Few GBA games can match The Minish Cap's fluid animation, total lack of slowdown, or huge, detailed sprites and backgrounds. The whole game runs on a modified Four Swords engine, so everything has a cartoony appearance in the same vein as Wind Waker.
The game's sound effects are great as well. Everything sounds as it should, and there's even a fair number of voice clips in the game. The game's music is fairly standard and didn't leave much of an impression on me either way.
In summary, there isn't really anything bad about The Minish Cap, but it really fails to stand out from the other Zelda games. If you're a fan of the series, you're going to buy it anyway. If you're a newbie, you'll have a blast with it. Whatever the case, I (almost) whole-heartedly recommend The Minish Cap to anyone with a GBA.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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