The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap GameBoy Advance, ported to 3DS and WiiU Developed by Flagship and Capcom Released in 2004
In many ways The Minish Cap serves as a final salute to a particular branch of Zelda games. This was not only the last title developed by Flagship, it was also the last title in the series to base its gameplay on A Link to the Past until the 3DS came around and brought A Link Between Worlds with it. I have criticized these titles several times, complaining about boring combat, simplistic puzzles, and a perspective I simply couldn’t appreciate. While not fantastic, I will say I found Minish Cap a bit more tolerable than games like the Oracle titles and Link’s Awakening.
Put on your party hat
We once again take control of Link, this time a smith’s apprentice, who is asked to accompany the princess to a local festival. Each year the people of Hyrule gather to celebrate the Minish, a race of small creatures believed to be a myth. When the sorcerer Vaati appears and turns Zelda to stone, Link is told that the Minish are certainly real and he has to find them in order to reforge a legendary sword to defeat Vaati with.
Helping Link on this adventure is Ezlo, a wise sage that was turned into a hat by a curse Vaati put on him. Like Tatl and Midna, Ezlo makes a poor first impression, since he is loud and quick to complain. Sadly, he never evolves past that point and is really kind of forgetable. In fact, the few times I remembered he was there his advice didn’t help at all. Vaati fares a bit better and you can see how his actions are changing the world of Hyrule, even if he rarely shows himself to Link directly. He’s a cool villain and it’s a shame he never appeared in any of the bigger games or Hyrule Warriors.
The plot certainly has a fairy tale vibe to it that meshes well with the established feel of Zelda games, so the Minish are certainly welcome in Hyrule. Regrettably this is the only game in which they appear and The Minish Cap is just not that exciting from a story-perspective. Not bad, mind you, it’s just a basic Zelda story lacking some much-needed oomph.
Story score: 6/10
In terms of gameplay Minish Cap is hardly a ground-breaker. It controls somewhat similarly to A Link to the Past with Link having two item slots. Usually you’ll carry a sword in one hand, leaving the other for an item. Link brought mostly familiar toys to this adventure, including bombs, a boomerang, bow and arrow, as well as some new stuff like Mole Mitts that allow you to dig through some walls and the Gust Jar, which sucks in enemies and objects before spitting them back out. These items see a lot of use, both in combat and to support puzzles and exploration, and there is a neat balance between old and new here.
Combat is still lackluster, amounting to little more than frantic swings, but most enemies are easily dispatched anyway. Some foes do require a specific item to fight, like the flying enemies that are immune to regular strikes, which highlights an annoyance I have with these 2D games. Having just one slot for an item besides your sword means a lot of faffing about in the menu to select another tool, because you never have the right stuff equipped for the next obstacle.
The big twist in this game is making Link tiny. The Minish are so small they can’t be seen by most people, so to talk or even see them you need to become tiny. Ezlo helps you with this when you stand on specific objects with holes in it, like tree stumps or big vases. This is a gimmick used well, as the context of the world changes completely when Link it little. You need to find alternate paths to get around scenery that is negligible when normal sized and cute critters like bugs or cats suddenly turn on you. The first dungeon makes fantastic use of this, making the central chamber a huge barrel that you enter and spin around by walking to line up the holes with new paths. The game keeps throwing in new surprises related to being small and I have always been fond of exploring normal areas as something tiny, see also the Napoleon stage from Psychonauts.
The dungeons themselves are fun, but Minish Cap only has a few of them. In fact, I believe it has the lowest dungeon-count in the series, but all of them matter. I had a lot of fun traversing through these places and solving the little challenges they contained. The puzzles are all quick and navigation is rarely an issue, so while it doesn’t give you that huge kick when you figure out a large problem, the frequency of relatively-simple puzzles are like smaller doses of that kick. The bosses I am mixed on though, with half of them being a confusing mess and the rest being too easy. Only the third dungeon boss found a good middle ground, and he was the cousin of a more famous boss from Wind Waker.
Outside of dungeon spaces you wander around Hyrule to figure out the next course of action. While some of the in-between quests were fun, like having to harass people in the city until they give you their overdue library books in order to reach a Minish stuck in the library, the correct way forward can often be confusing. Ezlo’s advice rarely helps, at one point he literally just said “I wonder who can help us with this.” I felt abandoned in the overworld, with the game expecting me to just wander around and chat with everybody until I somehow advance the plot. That Minish in the library was a struggle to find, because an NPC blocked the path there until I spoke to a very specific Minish all the way on the other side of the map, with no clue hinting at this at all.
The game had the occasional lull when I was lost in the overworld, but once you’re inside or on the direct path to a dungeon it is a lot more engaging. When it allows you to solve puzzles in rapid succession it shines, which is why the parts in Hyrule are such a bummer, and I had a good time making use of the arsenal of items Link carries around.
Gameplay score: 7.5/10
Winners don’t do drugs
For a GBA game there are a lot of fancy visuals to Minish Cap, such as fun animations to the sprites, a detailed world to explore that accounts for both of your sizes, and cats. I really like the cats. The sprites for the characters are a mixed bag, however, and especially Link can look really off in some shots, such as below where his eyes are a tad creepy.
A pet peeve of mine is how much the Zelda games recycle and that is also the case here. The music is great, for example, but most of it consists of familiar tunes you have heard already. More egregious are the rampant “cameos” of characters from previous games, which I just find annoying. Not every Zelda game needs Tingle sending you on banal missions, and Minish Cap will also reunite you with Malon looking for her lost father, Anju whose chickens have ran off, and other, familiar faces. Shout-outs can be fun, but they are so prevalent here that it becomes annoying, especially since new, important characters have comparatively simplistic sprites.
The design of the world is, again, splendid, and makes up for a lot of the issues with the characters. Areas tie together nicely and there is a variety of zones, each with their own atmosphere. When small, Link is represented by two bouncing pixels, but at times the game will zoom in and it’s kind of like playing normal Link, but with large scenery and bugs as foes. This does lead to some fun boss battles against enemies that usually die in one swipe when you are normal sized. The game also has vistas that are way prettier than anything on the humble GBA has a right be.
Presentation score: 5/10
Use kinstones to get more kinstones
The main side-activity found in Minish Cap involves the kinstones. These are round emblems broken in two in specific patterns and you can walk up to characters to try and match any of your pieces with one of theirs. There are about three different patterns per color, so it’s not like only one kinstone will match with any other, there are countless duplicates out there. Matching a kinstone is rewarded with “fortune”, which for Link means a cutscene showing something happening on the overworld.
This can be as basic as a chest appearing somewhere with rupees or another kinstone in it, or a really cool event that changes the layout of the world. While it’s definitely neat to see a zone radically change simply because you matched a kinstone, the fact that it may just as likely lead to some useless rupees is a bit of a downer. A lot of the other side-quests also revolve around kinstones, such as one where you need to round up enough Gorons to clear a tunnel or find all of Tingle’s brothers. I am sure you can see how that gets kind of dull after a while.
Extras score: 5.5/10
As a Zelda game Minish Cap is alright, nothing more nothing less. The experience of solving puzzles is good and the items are fun to use, but simplistic combat, mixed sprite art, and the problems with the kinstones get in the way of this. There are parts where this game really shines and parts where you hardly even recognize it as a Zelda game. When the game gets fun it at least manages to maintain that momentum for a long time, yet it inevitably comes crashing down. One way or another, this one is reserved for only the fans that seriously want to have played every Zelda game. Others can safely skip it.