Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Zelda: The Minish Cap Review

After the expected amount of break time, we now return from being a blog exclusively about thinly-veiled satire to a blog exclusively about The Legend of Zelda. You may be wondering why I’m reviewing so many Zelda games lately. Have I perhaps elected to become some type of sage Zelda hermit, living alone out in the mountains where I do nothing but meditate, play Zelda games and look meaningfully at the morning sun through my grizzled beard? Well, no. I wouldn’t be complaining if someone paid me to do that, but no.

You see, I had been playing Four Swords Adventures for a while before the Youtube show Game Grumps reminded me of my past frustrations with Zelda 2. After completing these two games, I realized there was only one game out of all seventeen in the main series that I hadn’t played. I owned and had played every Zelda game except one: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. Well, it turned out that The Minish Cap was available for purchase on the Wii U digital store, and I had a gift card for said digital store. So I hope you like these Zelda reviews, because I’m in too deep to NOT go over this game.

The Minish Cap was a Zelda game released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004 (and 2005 in North America). Much like the last three handheld Zelda games (Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons), the Minish Cap was actually developed by Capcom instead of being done in-house by Nintendo. This information is relevant for reasons I’ll bring up later. At any rate, for some reason I missed this Zelda game when it came out, I couldn’t tell you why. I wasn’t as aware of game releases when I was younger, and it certainly wasn’t like today where I will retroactively pillage history in attempts to ‘complete’ certain games or series. But I’m glad that’s a thing I do now because the Minish Cap is a great game.


That’s right folks. This is nothing like Zelda 2, where I was supremely frustrated and it clouded my enjoyment. This isn’t even like Four Swords Adventures where the game was decent but bothersome flaws and lack of originality made me less enthused about it. The Minish Cap is a good Zelda game, and I enjoyed myself a lot playing it. Is it the best Zelda game? Weeeell, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Probably best to start at the beginning on this one.

A Small Summary

The game opens on the day of the Picori Festival. In this land, there are said to be tiny people living among us unseen known as the Picori. The Picori forged a magic sword (creatively) named the Picori Blade, which seals away a great evil inside a chest. Every hundred years, a gateway between their world and ours is said to open for one day. We celebrate by having a big festival and a sword-fighting tournament. The winner of the festival tournament gets to touch the Picori Blade...wait, what was that last part?

So we are completely aware that this magical sword which people might want seals away a great evil, but we let people just come up and touch it? It’s not like they’ve taken any test of morals, the only thing they’ve proven is how good they are at hurting people with sharp implements. Why not just give them a medal? Do you remember last Olympics when the UN allowed the winner to softly caress each nation’s nuclear launch codes? No. No you don’t because that would be a terrible idea. It’s also an idea with more fail safes, and in a world without dark magic.

Alright alright, I’ll stop mocking the establishment so I can start mocking the villain. The winner of this year’s sword-fighting tournament is someone named Vaati. You may remember Vaati as the giant eyeball demon thing who was the villain in the Four Swords games.

It’s pretty difficult to forget so many extraneous bat wings.

I’m not sure why Vaati bothered winning the competition though, as right as he’s walking up to take the sword he starts yelling about how he’s going to unleash the evil the sword is guarding and use it for his evil purposes and just generally be a really evil guy. And here I was hoping for something a little more subtle than Redeye Wingsalot. Anyway, princess Zelda is turned to stone trying to stop the (evil) sorcerer Vaati, and the Picori Blade is broken. The only way to restore the sword and stop Vaati is to journey through the world in search of magical elements to forge into the blade.

So it’s a pretty standard Zelda setup, collecting a bunch of magical McGuffins in exotic locales to stop an evil force. The difference comes in the titular Minish Cap, which is found shortly after the quest begins. The cap’s name is Ezlo and it can talk, as we later find out it was transformed into a cap by Vaati for getting in his way. With the help of this cap, you can shrink down to small size and explore small areas like mouse holes, intermixed with sections of regular Zelda gameplay. So speaking of the gameplay, how does that hold up?

Miniscule Mechanics Make Gratifying Gameplay

This is the first “normal” Zelda game I’ve reviewed, so perhaps a brief overview of its typical style is in order. Typically speaking, Zelda games are as follows: You adventure and explore the overworld for a bit with the goal of reaching a dungeon. Along the way, you may be sidetracked by one or more sub-quests in your way, like doing a task for someone to get a crucial item or drop some barrier. Once you get to the dungeon, you have to run through solving a bunch of puzzles, many of which revolve around a new gadget you get midway through like a bow and arrow or bombs. You then have a boss fight that probably involves exploiting a weak point based around your new item. Then, McGuffin collected, you do this process several more times before the showdown with the main villain, possibly with a twist mid-game that opens up a new array of McGuffins to find.

If you think this sounds a predictable trend for over a dozen games to follow, you’d be right. One of the biggest criticisms of The Legend of Zelda series is that it’s too unoriginal. This is a complaint leveled at a lot of Nintendo games, and I have capital-letters OPINIONS on the matter that will have to get their own article at some point. However, the main thrust of the argument is that in some games, iteration is more important than innovation. In other words, so long as the individual areas and mechanics in the game are new and interesting, it doesn’t matter if they’re doing anything drastically different. Zelda in particular gets mileage out of this because very few games are quite like Zelda; it’s almost its own sub-genre.

The shrinking segments of the game are pretty cool. You can sort of see the normal-sized room in the blurry background of these rafters.

This point about iteration is important, because The Minish Cap is a fairly “standard” Zelda game. But the game, especially during the dungeons, is still a lot of fun! Areas are designed with a fair amount of clever puzzles that make good use of existing mechanics. There are some cool boss fights and a lot of interesting stuff is done with the shrinking power. The overworld isn’t the games strongest point, but the tiny areas mixed into the towns and buildings are definitely its highlight. Some dungeons are shrunken down and take place entirely in little nooks a matter of feet across. These can have some neat size-based puzzles.

This slimy chu-chu enemy is normally even smaller than you are. Not so during the games first boss fight.

It’s hard to explain a lot of what makes Zelda games like this great without going through every little thing. It’s just...polished, pure and simple. The controls feel good, some areas are pretty interesting, some puzzles are cool, some bosses are fun, and so on. For an example of one such nice touch, there’s a side quest in the game where you can collect Tiger Scrolls. These are new sword techniques that make combat easier and are given to you by a collection of eccentric swordsmen in hidden dojos throughout the world. This is a plus for the game’s exploration, its combat, and its writing all at once.

Pictured above is Greatblade, my favorite of these swordsmen.

Tiny Troubles

Okay, so it’s clear that I like The Minish Cap, yes? Good, because it’s always easier to talk about what frustrates me, and this game certainly had some moments like that. The game may be good, but it has some failings that keep it from the lofty heights the series best achieve. A lot of my issues have to do with the optional side quests in the game, and the overworld in general. The overworld in The Minish Cap is not very big. In fact, it’s small enough that the internet has fit it all in one image. Let’s take a quick glance at it, shall we?

Keep in mind that this map is missing enemies and friendly characters. Also, I suppose this is technically a spoiler, just not for anything major or specific.

That’s a decent amount of space, but not too much compared to other Zelda games. Some of the other handheld Zelda games have smaller maps, but even they were arguably more economical with their space. You would think that The Minish Cap, of all games, would get a lot out of a small amount of overworld space. They actually do so for the central town. There are dozens of miniature hidey holes you can shrink down and enter in there. Navigating the town is handled differently when you’re small too, so you have to be clever about getting to certain places when small by doing things like crossing between chimneys. I love this type of stuff, but there isn’t much of it in the rest of the overworld.

Oh there are some miniature areas elsewhere in the game, but not near as many as I’d like. Mostly it’s just areas you blow through pretty quickly. There’s of course plenty of real estate in the dungeons and indoor areas, but most of the optional content in the game has little to do with turning tiny, and instead with something more obnoxious. That being said, let’s talk about something from the game I don’t really like. Let’s talk about kinstones.

Boy, it sure is nice everyone in the world wants to connect random bits of segmented rocks.

Kinstones are little circular stones that you receive halves of. A large number of the games friendly non-player characters will have little thought bubbles indicating they’re willing to fuse kinstones. If you have the right piece and do so, then a magical...something happens at...some place. Sometimes it’s just a chest appearing in a random area in the overworld. Sometimes it opens up a path you couldn’t reach otherwise. But the main point is: You have no idea who wants to fuse kinstones, or when in the story they’ll arbitrarily want to fuse kinstones, and you have no idea what fusion activates what event.

This is one of the worst methods of doing side quests I have ever heard. This entire system is a fetch quest in its purest, least interesting form. There’s no story involved, no puzzle solving, no clever use of your existing abilities. This is arbitrarily extending the size of the game by forcing players to constantly check with every character in the world. Then if they’re lucky, they get to waste time going somewhere else to get a reward. Early on you might not have the kinstones you need, but by the end of the game you’ll have way more than needed, and neither state is an enjoyable one. In the first case you’re frustrated because you might not remember to check back with this character later, and in the latter it becomes particularly apparent how much busywork it all is.

The longest side quest in the game requires you to go all over the world and do 6 separate kinstone fusions. Now you do get a decent reward midway through this, but the final reward is a bit different. To get the final reward you have to travel to one last location, only to find you can’t do anything there. If you look it up on the internet you’ll find that this is the one reward in the game that you can’t get until after you’ve beaten it. It’s actually a useful item, but who cares when you can’t even use it?! Not only that, but I went back after beating the game to get this reward. I talked to the person who gives it and gave him what he asked for. And then...nothing. Another quick trip to the internet revealed that, again without telling you, the game won’t give you the reward for this last part of this long quest until some unknown, arbitrary amount of time passes. What?! WHY?! There’s no reason to do that! It’s just a bad idea!

Wait you mean you’re NOT supposed to mess with the player for no reason? OOOoohhhh, now I understand!

Beyond those side quest frustrations, there’s one more slight issue I have with the game. Remember when I said the game was made by Capcom? Do you also remember when I said Four Swords Adventures was severely lacking in original ideas? Well...Capcom does that too. It’s not near as bad as in Four Swords Adventures, but they still recycle a lot of minor things. Half or more of the characters in The Minish Cap are character designs (if not exact characters) lifted straight out of other Zelda games such as The Wind Waker or Ocarina of Time. A lot of other minor things are reappearances, such as remixed music and reused sound effects/voices.

This is a shame, because it’s missing out on one of the cool things about Zelda as a series. Part of the reason Zelda can get away with having 17 friggin’ games in the same franchise is because each one is typically just different enough to be fresh. Minish Cap brings small changes to the gameplay, some new gadgets, all new dungeons, puzzles and bosses, but it only goes halfway on the story. There’s some original material with the Picori, but it’s an unfortunately/appropriately small part of the experience, with at least half the game being as generic as Zelda gets in terms of setting and characters. This isn’t the biggest deal, but whether or not you think story is important in Zelda games, it undeniably affects the quality of the game at least somewhat.

A Short Song Section

Of course, one portion of the game I haven’t talked about yet is the music. I typically save that for about 3/4ths to 4/5ths of the way through the review. Related note: We are now about 3/4ths to 4/5ths of the way through the review. The music of The Minish Cap has a little more remixes of old music than I’d prefer. Also, even among the original music, nothing is as legendary as what the best games in the series have to offer. All the same, there’s some good stuff here, so let’s go over some of my favorites.

Castor Wilds has a bit of remixing the classic Zelda overworld, but the majority is original and has a great feel to it. It features less conventional instruments and a cool sound whose region I can’t place because I’m incompetent. Rest assured, it’s uh, foreign probably.

Minish Woods is a laid-back and atmospheric song from early on in the game. It’s got a clean, tranquil forest feel while still holding a memorable melody, and I enjoy it for that.

The Temple of Droplets is one of the better dungeons in the game, and this is due not just to clever puzzles but its music as well. The tinkling chimes and echoing sustained notes work very well for this miniature ice-and-water dungeon.

Cloud Tops is another song that slightly incorporates old music, but only sparingly. Besides, it’s a fun track that evokes feelings of majesty and high-flying adventure.


So the Kinstones are annoying, the overworld is small, it could be more original and there are some other tiny frustrations here and there in the game. But really, those are the only complaints I have for it. It mostly comes down to me noting that the game could’ve been better. The overworld could’ve been bigger, there could’ve been more originality, I’d like a lot more creative miniature stuff, and side quests could’ve been bigger, more involved and/or more organic. But ultimately, this is less so things that make the game bad and more things that make it merely great instead of perfect.

At the end of the day, The Minish Cap is not an exceptionally good Zelda game. But it isn’t an exceptionally bad one either. It’s an average Zelda game, and those are exceptional to begin with. It just goes to show, big things come in, wait. Small things come in big...uh. Well-crafted gaming experiences and, um, varying sized packages...

...The Minish Cap is a good game.

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