Nintendo has truly learned how to do more than just create a new game within an established series; it has mastered the process of buffing and refining newly created adventures until they shine. Such is the case with The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (TMC). Here is a game that truly looks like the spiritual successor to the Super NES “Link to the Past” era both in look and feel, but then manages to change up the gameplay and spruce up the aesthetics enough to give it a truly modern feel. Playing through TMC is a true joy, a veritable bevy of nostalgia bringing you back to when games were fun without looking like fully mastered cinema pieces. It harkens back to the era when gameplay ruled all and successfully solving a difficult puzzle or figuring out a boss pattern was all we needed to do to get by. Truly, TMC does an amazing job accomplishing what it no doubt set out to do.
First off, TMC knows where it comes from and effectively dupes a majority of what makes a Zelda game a Zelda game. Zelda games tend to follow a mechanic whereby you gradually collect fabled items which allow you to do all sorts of wondrous things. As you collect necessary goodies, you are allowed access to new areas, can cultivate wide varieties of secrets, and topple huge, exciting boss encounters. TMC follows this tradition by bringing together a mix of some classic tools combined with some new and ingenious inventions.
Of particular note are the Mole Mitts and the titular Minish Cap. The mitts allow you to dig through certain substances (and underground) but are utilized in the most ingenious of ways. Prepare to think outside the box without ever really having to strain your mind too hard to do so. The Minish Cap allows Link to shrink down to microscopic proportions. While in mini-mode, things that at one point seemed as insignificant details suddenly become serious obstacles.
The shrinking aspect is used in all sorts of fun and clever ways. Large parts of the game revolve around this gameplay mechanic but never do they feel overbearing or unnecessary. Dungeons and overworld areas alike seamlessly blend in the necessity of shrinking and the feeling you get as you figure out one and the other is quite rewarding.
Dungeon and overworld exploring has always been a staple of the Zelda series and TMC comes through with shining colors. Despite the small number of actual dungeons in the game, those that are available are ingeniously designed, filled with old and new fiends alike and are quite lengthy. They provide a legitimate challenge without ever truly leaving you stumped, and the boss fights for each are well designed and magnificently incorporate whatever theme is prevalent for the labyrinth at hand.
The overworld is similarly brilliant in design. Always leaving you one skill away from completely exploring an area, TMC leaves you constantly wanting and yearning for more. Again, the overworld is not the most enormous land mass you have ever laid witness to, but what is there is filled with diverse (and beautiful) terrain teeming with critters to destroy and secrets to find.
Hidden secrets in TMC are handled through something called “Kinstone Fusion.” Basically, as you go about your travels, you will come across little halves of Kinstones that you can fuse together with practically anyone and everyone on your quest. Even pets and livestock join in! Only certain stones fuse with others so it can be a challenge to find just the right match. That being said, the average gamer won’t have much trouble matching up many stones, perhaps making this the most playable Zelda yet. This is the first game I have played in a while that truly makes me believe you could uncover almost all the secrets in the game without ever having to consult a walkthrough; a true marvel in game design that more developers should take note of.
Plot wise, TMC attempts to force a plot into the game, and while it somewhat succeeds, you won’t be playing this game on the merits of its storyline alone. TMC pulls one right out of left field and introduces a twist into the Zelda mythos that attempts to draw a good lot of the games together. It feels somewhat extreme but is handled in a decent way. Unusual in nature, the translation is very well done and the character interaction never feels unnatural or forced. Cut scenes are sprinkled throughout the game and consist of both in-game models and nicely painted stain glass stills. I enjoyed the plot of TMC about as much as any Zelda game; that is to say it gave me another reason to continue progressing, but it did not exactly make the game for me.
Graphically, TMC puts almost all Game Boy Advance (GBA) games to shame. Sporting some of the most colorful, well animated, drop dead beautiful sprites I have seen to date, TMC harnesses the power of the GBA and compresses it into a wonderful presentation for that tiny screen. Tons of tiny little touches, such as the wisp of smoke that appears when a slaughtered enemy leaves this plane of existence or the way Link animates fully in whatever he does, add to the overall magnificent canvas painted by the developers. This is what a two-dimensional Zelda game should look like, and it has truly raised the bar for future GBA game attempts.
Rare is the instance where I want to turn up the volume on my GBA. TMC does just that to me, though, sporting some remixed tunes guaranteed to wake up the old nostalgia feeling and enough new tunes to keep things fresh. Everything feels like Zelda, and the score ranges from light-hearted and dynamic to haunting and moody. Rarely does a developer have enough skill to milk the GBA’s minimal sound prowess into this sort of an orchestral odyssey, but Capcom has certainly done its homework here. Add to the great soundtrack well detailed and executed sound effects, and you have some tasty icing on an already delicious cake.
Two dimensional adventuring in the land of Hyrule has truly never been better. TMC takes all of the elements that I know and love about my Zelda games, improves on and adds more to them, then moves them to a portable medium and provides a true must-buy title for the GBA. Sporting enough action to keep any adventure fan busy, with enough nostalgic appeal for the hardcore fan and enough creative whimsy to keep us yearning for more, TMC will appeal to just about any audience. An absolute treasure amongst a steadily growing, stellar GBA library, TMC will please you like no other; enjoy.