8.4

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap review
A not-so-mini adventure

The good:

All new items
Strong two-world system
Variety in combat
Strong puzzle elements

The bad:

Awkward item control setup
Too easy to rake in rupees
Little challenge from enemies
Annoying to find those last few Kinstone Fusions

Summary:

Minish Cap marks the series first completely new adventure on the Gameboy Advance. Legend of Zelda has a long history of successful adventures already, and MC promises classic gameplay with some new twists.

Visuals

The graphics of Minish Cap are absolutely beautiful. The style is taken straight from Wind Waker and Four Swords. Everything is done in bright colours and it all feels very bold as well. While shunning the realistic approach there is no denying the charm the style brings.

The character sprites have been crafted very well. Despite the small size that results from being on the handheld it is fair to say that the character designs work well to reflect the people and creatures they are meant to be. Of course, the small sizes makes it hard to display emotion, so it's hard to have them match up with the conversations or events. There's just not really any visual difference.

The sprites are animated well too, with convincing running, walking, shaking, attacking etc. It is all so fluid and there is no sign of shortcutting anywhere on it. The way the characters appear to interact with the world (their feet appear to hit the ground as opposed to running on ice all the time) is a testament to the attention lavished here.

There is a lot of variety here too, not only with the cast of characters but with the environments and items. A lot of work has gone into creating a vast varied world, and it shows. This level of attention goes down even to individual villagers. There is some repetition (like the guys that teach sword techniques) but it is kept to a minimum.

Audio

The Legend of Zelda series has always been strong in this department, and Minish Cap doesn't intend on breaking that tradition.

The collection of music tracks that accompany that events of the game will have a familiar feeling to long term fans of Zelda, as each one has the same sense of epic fantasy that past music collections have always had.

Although the style is the same the music itself is definitely fresh and new. This combination sounds odd but it gives the best if both worlds. It retains the theme it needs without simply recycling old material.

The game also makes use of a solid collection of sound effects. The slashing of the sword or the explosions from bombs. Each one sounds well done and have been inserted into the game perfectly. The voice clips that trigger everytime Link does some action also help to bring our little green-garbed hero to life.

Plot

Another Zelda game, another Ganon tries to take over the world plot… actually, surprisingly not. MC strays away from the normal plotline adopted by many Zelda titles and, although it makes minor references to the usual story, is a new tale that puts a different villain in the limelight.

A contest is held by the royal family, and while there is much competition there is one swordsman who excels above all others. However, this swordsman known as Vaati betrays the trust given to him. He destroys the Picori Blade and turns Zelda to stone. From there he promptly vanishes and causes mischief around Hyrule.

With nobody else to turn to, the king asks Link to seek out the Minish, very small people who can only be seen by children. Along the way Link comes across a mysterious talking hat called Ezlo, who guides Link on his adventure.

It's hardly ground-breaking or original but it's solid enough and a nice change of Ganon stomping all over the place yet again.

That said, I'm a bit disappointed with the game's character depth. Most of the game's cast just don't have it. Link is nothing more than the typical altruistic silent protagonist… and that's it. There's no difficult decisions, heartbreak moments, new resolve or anything. Link literally doesn't change at all throughout the adventure.

Vaati commits an equally bad sin. He simply isn't particularly interesting. Vaati lacks presence as a final villain, instead coming across as a spoiled brat that really doesn't even seem to do much past the opening events.

Gameplay

If you've played any past 2D Zelda games (except Zelda II) before then you'll likely know the basic core mechanics of the game. Minish Cap plays from a top-down perspective where Link explores an overworld and dungeons, defeat enemies and solve puzzles.

Link moves about with the D Pad, with eight directional movement on offer. It's pretty fluid and responsive, giving a lot of freedom in its design. A acts as the all purpose action button. As is usual, this button's action depends on the situation. Use it to chat to people, read signs or open chests etc.

The B button is the sword button, allowing you to attack enemies. The attack options aren't particularly complex though. Most of the attacking is done just by tapping the button for a swing. There no real variation to this though, so hammering the buttons can get a little samey.

Link can get a variety of other sword techniques to use by finding the relevant sword teachers. These guys are hidden all over the place, with some being pretty obvious and some being in very obscure places. There are some good moves learned here, like the ability to fire beams at full health and an attack used in midair that causes Link to crash down with his sword. This extension of the usual sword fighting helps to prevent the swordplay from becoming too much of the same thing.

Unfortunately, this doesn't help the general difficultly of the enemy forces. It is simply too easy to stay alive. The game isn't really interested in throwing high number of enemies at the player, nor providing truly challenging enemies that cleave large amounts of health off. The game also tends to be too generous with its health options, which really makes things too easy.

Even the bosses lack the sort of challenge you would expect from them. Sure, they're more difficult than the average enemy, but that's it. There's never really a moment where your life comes close to an end against them. Even the final boss battle's difficulty only comes from figuring out what you're supposed to be doing.

R is used as the game's select item button. Here you get to assign an item from MC's collection to use whenever needed. Sounds handy, so why does this system feel so awkward compared to past games?

It's because of how Minish Cap approaches item use. To put it bluntly: it's too excessive given the setup. MC often calls up items to pass by the puzzles and even some of the enemies, but because you're having to use multiple items often during the same sections then you find yourself dipping into the pause subscreen too often in order to switch items around.

The game's approach to the shield system only serves to compound this problem. aLttP had an ideal setup where the shield was always equipped and was in use when the player wasn't doing any other action except moving. It worked well. Why then, does Minish Cap change this to making the shield a usable item? With only one item slot open it makes it unnecessarily complicated and awkward.

Despite the limits imposed by the system there is a solid collection of items to use, and it is pleasing to note that not only does the game offer the usual classic items (like bows and bombs) but a set of new original items too. The gust jar is an excellent item that draws objects in and then fires them out again, while the mole mitts can dig through soft earth pretty quickly.

The main selling point of MC's gameplay is the ability to alter Link's size. This in effect creates two worlds - the normal world that is familiar Zelda territory and the Minish world, where everything else becomes much bigger to Link.

It's not the first time the Zelda series has used the concept of two worlds, but this is a fresh twist on that concept. When Link shrinks down the way he interacts with the environment changes. Shallow puddles become vast lakes and ordinarily mundane creatures become towering monsters.

This is used heavily in its puzzle concepts, so sometimes you may need to shrink to enter small holes for example. It's good to see that the idea isn't just tacked on but used a lot. That said, I would have liked for the concept to be usable in all areas. As it is, the ability is only usable in certain areas.

Exploration is split between a main overworld and various dungeons. The overworld is kind of like a hub area that connects to all the game's dungeons, but is constructed to be its own environment filled with game elements too.

Much of this overworld consists of environments like trails, swamps, forests etc. These areas have little in the way of intelligent life but are often teeming with dangerous enemies. However, passing through these areas isn't as simple as walking from A to B. Often you'll find progress halted by obstacles, and must apply logic to get to the destination.

Often these challenges are presented in a very natural fashion. Unlike dungeon puzzles the problems here tend to be caused by the environment setting. Deep water or trees may be providing the obstacles here. It's nice to have to work your way through like this, and it's generally put together in a logical way.

There are also some villages scattered around Hyrule, each with a thriving community in each. Well… thriving might be a slight exaggeration but there are certainly some signs of life there that you don't see in other areas.

Chatting to the people is often a good way to find out what you should or can be doing, or just get some random background information on the game's setting. Sometimes you'll just get random nonsense, which fits in well with the whole concept.

If only it was worth the effort to visit anywhere other than Hyrule Town. Alas, the other towns simply don't have all that much in them and they're pretty much out of the way. The awkward journey to reach them isn't worth it when there isn't really much there.

Shopping is also an experience offered by the game, but it's bound to be something you'll be disappointed in. For a start, there isn't much to even buy, and much of the selection is easily obtainable for free elsewhere. However, these problems are made even worse by just how ridiculously easy it is to grab rupees. It's not often you'll not be maxed out on money past the beginning of the game. Not needing to manage funds plus making most of the items pointless anyway equals a waste of space.

There are six dungeons to be working your way through, which is a pretty low number compared to previous titles in the series. Despite that, the dungeon design is as good as ever. There is a healthy collection of puzzles (new and old) as well as the usual collection of enemies and bosses.

Sidequests are also important to the series, and Minish Cap delivers them as well. There are people in trouble that require you to complete some task for them, or little games you can play in for prizes.

The classic concept of finding heart pieces is still here in force. Heart pieces may be earned by completing games or simply finding them, usually in some hidden area that you normally wouldn't come across. Some of pretty difficult to even find, but it's a challenge to find them.

Remember the figurine sidequest from Wind Waker? It is one of WW's best sidequests. Guess what? A figurine sidequest is here too. Oh, wait, this one isn't that fun… I had expected this to be as big a part of this game as it was in Wind Waker, but it's more about just going there and asking for them and then going in random chances. How boring.

Instead, Minish Cap provides us with kinstones. In the game there are many kinstone pieces that can be collected. Every piece has a corresponding other half that fits it to create a complete kinstone, held by the NPCs in the game. The aim being to fuse kinstones.

Some kinstone fusions are required, but many are optional. Rewards vary, but rupees and heart pieces are pretty common here. The problem though is that the sidequest can become frustrating. Tracking down the last few people needed for the final fusions can be rather problematic when said people are hidden well, and without any indicator of having done all the fusions from any specific area then it can take ages to manage it.

Wondering around the same areas for so long because you can't remember who you've fused kinstones with can get rather annoying if you happen to be one of those 100% players, but not so much if you don't mind leaving a few kinstone fusions undone.

Overall

Minish Cap is a worthy adventure game for the GBA marred by some item management issues and too easy difficulty. There's definitely some fresh ideas here that works here, but be prepared to endure some notable flaws if you want to experience this adventure.

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