Review by clarkisdark

"A Minishcule effort"

With Capcom's reputation and the word "exclusive" being batted around so freely, you would think relations between the company and Nintendo would be a little shaken. But such implications are only the result of "fanboyism." Nintendo still trusts Capcom with their most revered franchise as Capcom has been behind the development of the Game Boy Zelda lineup for quite a while. The Minish Cap is actually a step down from the quality of previous entries, but that shouldn't indicate ties are faltering, because it's still a good game nonetheless.

This is a huge improvement for the Game Boy Zelda iterations. Minish Cap has an amazing polish to it that makes the Oracle twins look extremely outdated. Everything is painted with very vibrant and detailed color and is actually much cleaner than the Four Swords on Gamecube. The Minish Cap also demonstrates some of the best animation on the GBA. From the swishing of a woman's hair to the floppy waddling of Link himself, the game proves that this hardware can still hold a spot in today's handheld market. Minish Cap also retains the isometric point of view with minimal disbelief. Unlike previous entries, however, there are no 2D caves or dungeons.

Like the graphics, the sound department is top-notch and ranks among the very best on the Game Boy Advance. Perhaps if developers continue to explore the hardware's functionality, we may find that the GBA has a lot of life left in it. The audio compression required for the GBA is somewhat irritating, but the Minish makes it totally bearable and forgivable. The soundtrack reuses a lot of old Zelda themes, but the Minish Cap offers several new songs that hit more than they miss. The roster of sound effects is much larger, and Link now grunts and cries exactly like he does in his 3D outings.

What makes the Legend of Zelda so unique is that every installment has one or two specific tools not found in any other game. The Minish Cap's "gimmick" is, not surprisingly, a minish cap. By standing on certain pads, Link can use this hat to shrink down into minute size in order to explore tiny cracks, climb miniature vines, and talk to nigh invisible people called the Minish. This big/small formula makes for some really fun and interesting puzzles. Unfortunately, the whole concept seems a little too tame. I was expecting the world around Link to turn into a giant playground when in his small form. Link just becomes a little dot on the original map and is quite restricted to where he can go. It's a very, very big letdown.

The main structure of the game is eerily reminiscent to what we've been playing for the last twenty years. And that's okay. The town/dungeon/exploration outline has never failed, so why is there any need to drastically change it? However, the Minish Cap relies too much on past successes, using elements from every other Zelda game to date. If you're a true Zelda fan, you'll recognize many of the characters, enemies, situations, and even puzzles. Minish Cap isn't all retread, however. There are other tools besides the cap that make the game stand out. The flip wand, cape, vacuum jar, and burrowing claws certainly lend to a richer experience. The dungeons also retain the smart and roundabout design of the series and are very fun to conquer. Many of the dungeons in Link's 3D games become a chore, and I find myself looking forward to just getting out of them. In Minish Cap, the dungeons make up the majority of the game's value.

The A and B buttons, as always, act as placeholders for Link's weapons and tools. Since this is the Game Boy Advance, though, the R button now takes on a lot of responsibility. It is used to roll, talk to people, lift objects, etc. The R button actually feels quite natural, but because it has so many uses, they sometimes blend together at inappropriate times. Another aspect of the controls that really bothers me is how many of Link's rudimentary functions, like running with a sword or breaking pots, have to be relearned. Perhaps Nintendo feels like the Minish Cap is appealing to an audience that hasn't even heard of the Legend of Zelda. I don't see why that matters, though. Even if you haven't played Link's Awakening or Ocarina of Time, the desire to smash pots with your sword is universal. It's tedious, ridiculous, and lame that you can't do this until you're taught the technique two dungeons into the game.

The Minish Cap has a very strange difficulty curve. The majority of the adventure is very easy and painless. It isn't until the last two dungeons that things really start to pick up, and this is when the game becomes satisfyingly challenging. On the other hand, there are many points in the game where you cannot progress until you go talk to a certain individual. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, only when the game doesn't tell you who you are supposed to talk to (and this is precisely what happens). I spent the better part of a six hour train ride trying to find the right person. How was I supposed to know it was the little, easily-overlooked Minish living by the lake?

Lasting Appeal:
The greatness of a Legend of Zelda game is often (and sometimes unfairly) measured by its dungeon count. Majora's Mask only had three real dungeons, but that game was still long and complex. Minish Cap doesn't meet the standard eight of the past three Game Boy games, but the quest is fairly long. It's still a good 10-15 hour adventure, which is actually comparable to some of the more recent Zelda titles. The game just starts to feel like more has been crammed into smaller spaces. The map itself is nowhere near the expansiveness of those in Link's Awakening and Oracle of Seasons/Ages. Rather, you get a handful of rectangles unevenly pieced together. This really limits the amount of time you can spend exploring. The Minish Cap attempts to compensate for this by a new incentive called Kinstones. In Minish Cap, everyone is carrying with them the other half of a broken Kinstone. Naturally, it's in your position to collect Kinstone pieces and fit them to NPCs' Kinstones. For every Kinstone completed, a passageway or treasure appears somewhere on the map. The whole process keeps the game fun and makes treasure hunting a little more intricate.

It is very rare that you like a game the more you play it. By the time I finished the Minish Cap, I was feeling pretty good about its place in the Legend of Zelda saga. But then I started thinking about everything I had to do to get to the end, and I realized this is actually a rather weak entry. The Minish Cap defines some new, fresh, and fun ideas, but the overall adventure feels a little too tame and redone and starts relying on ridiculous artifices (like making the player relearn basic, basic moves) to make the game "feel" more fleshed out and longer when it really isn't. Newcomers to -- and unalterable fans of -- the Legend of Zelda series will still find a lot to like, though the game's discrepancies will surely be disappointing. If you've questioned Link's integrity since his Gamecube debut, the Minish Cap will probably only steer you further away.

+ Very polished
+ Kinstones
+ New, clever tools
-- Tame big/small formula
-- A lot of retreading
-- Pointless elongations
+ Keep playing. It gets better.

Score: 7/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 05/15/05

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