The Minish Cap doesn’t have the utmost sentimental value to me – I was a teenager when it was new – but there’s still something enjoyable about it. We have a proper 2D Zelda, developed by Capcom. Capcom’s involvement was a surprise, but their developers were very faithful to the series. Third-party development was a trend that would continue at Nintendo at the turn of the century and into the new millennium. The Gameboy Color Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons Zelda games were also made by Capcom. Star Fox: Assault for GameCube was developed by Namco. Nintendo left to third parties lesser DS titles such as Super Princess Peach (developed by Tose), and Yoshi’s Island DS (developed by Artoon, former Sega ex-pats) before largely bringing development efforts back in-house once again. Capcom didn’t disappoint with The Minish Cap, a spiritual successor to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I remember posting on Nintendo Now message boards when all we had was video and screenshots, and one member wrote “I just want this game to be released.” The Minish Cap has a signature Capcom feel, with a fast sword slash, and difficult but not too difficult dungeons.
The game wears its influences on its sleeve, though there’s originality as well. Most obviously, we are borrowing the top-down perspective from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – even as far back as the original Legend of Zelda. More recent at the time of launch was The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and this game takes some cues with a similar cartoonish look. Children have snot running from their noses like in Wind Waker. The animations are more fluid than Link to the Past, however Gameboy Advance has a curiously small, though thankfully widescreen, resolution of 240 x 160 pixels. Compared to SNES, which usually ran at 320 x 240 pixels, and A Link to the Past could clearly display more pixels at once. All the while, the graphics are sharp, animations are rich, and color palette more varied than the older title. Mount Cremel is very much inspired by Ocarina of Time‘s Death Mountain, and some music is borrowed from OoT as well. Again, the game manages to be unique. Where a traditional Zelda has head-scratching puzzles in dungeons, Capcom leans on fast-action gameplay, which results in a Zelda unlike any other.
Vaati has turned the Princess Zelda into stone, and wishes to wreak havoc on the rest of Hyrule. I remember when the game was previewed, I was surprised Ganon and Ganondorf weren’t the villains. Looking back now, The Skull Kid was the villain in Majora’s Mask, and “Shadow Nightmares” were the villains in Link’s Awakening, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. On a path to save Hyrule, Link discovers Ezlo, a talking hat. Vaati was Ezlo’s apprentice, but turned toward evil (sound familiar?). Ezlo can shrink Link to be much smaller, enabling him to solve some puzzles. Ezlo is mostly like Navi from Ocarina of Time, largely there to tell you where to go next. Link is raised by his grandfather, and you can stop by their house to sleep. Link must find the four elements – Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind – to stop Vaati. There are six dungeons, fewer than the three-plus-seven dungeons in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The world record for a Minish Cap speed run isn’t even two hours, but if your adding the extras and not speedrunning, it’s decently long – let’s say ten hours.
The first two dungeons are boring, though the third is a delight. After the third dungeon, you will be able to fuse more “kinstone” than ever before. NPCs (non-playable characters) all over the world-map carry kinstones, and pressing the L button next to them, assuming you have a match, allows you to fuse a kinstone half you found in your travels with theirs. Generally speaking, this results in pieces of heart, (for example) a larger arrow quiver, or just plain rupees (currency). The nice part of kinstone fusion is once it’s done, you have a really clear indication on the map of where the reward is. Compare this to say, Ocarina of Time where you’re almost on a scavenger hunt for pieces of heart. In Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, I always felt behind on the side-quests, but the “kinstone” quests are easy. If there’s a complaint, it’s that the game will randomly and frequently give you a kinstone you already have. Additionally, a reward for kinstone fusion can be… yep, another kinstone piece. At game’s end, I had 14 out of 20 hearts for Link, and all major game items. Side quests could have been worse.
As a Game Boy Advance title, this is a real highlight for the platform as well as the series. The “Four Sword” is the game’s final sword, and led to two “Four Sword” Zelda games, and one was remade as a limited run. All these games are rare, and overlooked. Do not doubt, Minish Cap is as high caliber as any other Zelda of the day, though far from the most talked about. This is a good entry point in the series, and an A+ effort from a third party. Ultimately, you’ll see it’s short, maybe even the shortest in the whole series, which is amazing, considering there are some epics. The best way to play is the Wii U eShop, but doing what you can to increase awareness of The Minish Cap benefits all Zelda players out there.