The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
The first original Zelda title for the Game Boy Advance proves that Nintendo's magic is well and alive.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is the first game in almost a year that I've turned around and gone through again, as soon as I cleared it for the first time. This is partly thanks to its all-too-brief length, but it's more an indication of the sheer gaming goodness housed within the tiny cart, which seems to be harder and harder to come by, anymore.
The experience plays out in typical Zelda fashion- blocks will be pushed, bosses weak points revealed, and an overworld that becomes more accessible with each new item discovered. It's been almost 20 years, and that formula has remained fun enough that I still eagerly devour each new iteration of the series.
What makes The Minish Cap so wonderful is that the team at Flagship didn't take the easy way out. About half the items are new, and those that do make repeat appearances seemed to be used much more sparingly, forcing gamers to make creative use of their new tools.
The other big twist that features heavily in dungeon/overworld exploration is Link's newfound ability to shrink to microscopic size. Normal enemies become massive bosses, and unassuming cracks can become doorways to new adventures. The mechanic works quite well, and slid right into place inside Hyrule's dungeon's and fields.
Although somewhat lacking in scope, the world of Hyrule looks and sounds beautiful on the GBA. Taking the cartoon-style graphics found in Wind Waker (Nintendo GameCube) and transposing them onto the old school 2D gameplay worked wonderfully. I was even more impressed with the soundtrack Flagship assembled. There's a number of new tracks that are extremelt catchy and will hopefully find their way into future iterations, as well as all the memorable Zelda standbys.
Minish Cap does falter, but I didn't feel like any major flaws detracted from the laundry list of things the game does perfectly. The biggest disappointment is that some items are progression sensitive. Wait too long to complete a side quest, and its gone forever. The odds are most people won't miss anything (I didn't), but it still loomed over my head during the entire quest, and I was constantly fretting about missing some cool optional item. Zelda, as with Metroid, should never ever have points of no return.
In another questionable design choice, many shops, minigames, and other areas of town aren't accessible early on simply because they "aren't ready yet," which is disappointing. Limiting your exploration options (especially with such lame excuses) so much in the first half of the game serves its purpose, but I wish Capcom had more faith in gamers' ability to adventure in a more non-linear fashion. There's no reason to not allow gamers access to the minigames right from the start. Flagship insisted on having them spoon-fed to you over the course of the quest.
These criticisms need to be followed up with a disclaimer, however. The only reason I'm mentioning them at all is because Zelda games are not held to the same standard as other videogames. The series has remained one of the best, most compelling, and most polished since its inception in 1987. Minish Cap is a more than worthy addition to that lineage, and has quickly bullied its way into my top 5 GBA games, booting Castlevania: Circle of the Moon from the rankings.
I never mentioned the Minish Cap plot in this review, because quite frankly, it doesn't matter, and is entirely disposible. That's not to say all videogames are given a free pass to have trite storylines; suffice it to say that Princess Zelda's latest plight offers up the necessary excuse to scale mountains, brave haunted woods, and seek out well-hidden heart pieces.
Minish Cap isn't reinventing the wheel, but its world/puzzle design has remained as sharp and imaginative as ever.
What's Hot: Visually stunning, with a number of original elements that make it a ton of fun.
What's Not: Very few negatives hold any merit.