The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is a 2D top-down adventure game developed by Capcom and Nintendo for the Game Boy Advance. It’s part of the Legend of Zelda series. The main story is basically that you, the apprentice of a blacksmith, go to the village festival with your friend, who just so happens to be Princess Zelda. You witness the award ceremony for the winner of a sword fighting competition. However, an evil being tries to steal the award, a sacred blade. The blade shatters due to the powers hidden inside Zelda and in return, the evil sorcerer turns Zelda to stone. So it’s up to you to restore the blade and battle the evil being in order to save Zelda. You do this by adventuring to different locations, fighting monsters, solving puzzles, performing side quests, and collecting the four elements hidden in their own dungeons. You get new items along the way to help you with these tasks. The unique ability to this title is the ability to shrink down in size in order to traverse the landscape differently. Sometimes it just makes you very small on the screen, allowing you to fit into small holes or narrow spaces, but other times it will take you to a zoomed-in version of being small, making you appear normal size on the screen but making everything else around you much larger. It’s an interesting mechanic. And besides that, there are the usual Zelda-type elements in the form of action, puzzles, and exploration. Some of the items are new and a few of the items have multiple uses in the game to keep them interesting. The dungeons are fun. Unlike some older 2D Zeldas, Minish Cap has a lot of interesting set pieces in the design rather than using simple, similar assets everywhere. The visuals are almost all new for this title and lots of locations look unique. There’s some alright music and sound effects here as well.
The issues start coming in when you look at things like collectibles and secrets. There are a lot of collectible statues you can get in the game, but you can only get them in one place and the draw is random. You buy these with seashells which can be found throughout the game. This is the only use for the seashells, and the collection seems to only serve the purpose of extending playtime. The more shells you put in, the better your chances at getting a new statue you don’t already own. It’s not worth your time to bother unless you really care about doing everything in the game… even if this task will be lots of grinding for no real reward or satisfaction. The secrets are found by fusing kinestones with people. Basically, you find kinestones throughout the game from chests, beating enemies, or buying them. They are all different colored halves of a circle cut out in different patterns. Some are specifically used as keys to places, but most of them can be found throughout the game as much as you’d like. You then look for people with a question mark over their head when you walk up to them, and this means you can fuse kinestones with them. If you have the other half to complete the kinestone, you can fuse them and it will open up a secret in the overworld. But the problem is that is shows you what the secret does and then marks it on your map, which really doesn’t make it much of a secret. And since you can find kinestones everywhere, it’s not as though you even need to do much exploration to find a finite amount of them, even though there’s only a finite amount of fusions you can do in the whole game. It could’ve been used as a better exploration tool and it really diminishes the secrecy of secrets. There’s also another flaw in the flow of exploration in the game. See, usually in these games you are not allowed to go everywhere immediately. So to bar your progress and herd you the right way by design, typically obstacles are placed in your path that you can overcome later on once you have the appropriate gear to tackle them. However, in Minish Cap there are lots of times when you are barred by some type of environmental object or people in the way that later on are simply gone for no reason other than… well… you’re allowed to go to those places now. It doesn’t feel natural. It just feels like lazy game design. A more minor flaw is that this game seems to throw in a lot of things simply because other Zelda games had them. Things like the seashells, Tingle, the Gorons, and even the shop music are all shoehorned in because people recognize them from other Zelda games. Even some of the sound effects are pulled from other games as well. It’s weird because the visual style is so unique that mashing it against older ideas feels odd. Also, there could’ve been more dungeons. The lack of overworld things to do without tediously looking for kinestones is sad, and some of the shrinking stuff is downright annoying for backtracking. Plus, you barely even use the shrinking mechanic in the dungeons either. It’s just not very wisely designed for a Zelda game.
At the end of the day, it’s a Zelda game. As just a game, Minish Cap is pretty fun. As a Zelda game, it has a lot of issues. It’s certainly not as original as Capcom’s work on the Oracle of Seasons and Ages games. The exploration and secret hunting are very poorly implemented. The length of the game is a bit disappointing while being extended only by tedious backtracking and a mindless collection game. There’s a good game here, and it’s not the worst Zelda game, but it has a lot to live up to in the series and this just doesn’t cut it. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap gets a 6 out of 10 for being a good game, but not a very good Zelda game. But hey, I’m sure I’ll find another Zelda game to review… or a lot. Probably a lot.