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2-D Zelda Makes A Triumphant Return
By: Nick Ferris
The Legend of Zelda returns to Nintendo's portable line-up with The Minish Cap, the first new, exclusively hand-held adventure starring Link since Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons on the Game Boy Color in 2001. Capcom subsidiary Flagship, which also developed the Oracle titles and the Game Boy Advance remake of A Link to the Past, took on the task of producing a brand new Zelda title based on the visual and gameplay styles of A Link to the Past. Realizing that such an effort would undergo intense scrutiny from fans of that legendary SNES action-RPG, Flagship also drew elements from other members of the Zelda game library including more recent titles like Majora's Mask and The Wind Waker. Sure enough, The Minish Cap delivers another fantastic Zelda experience that will satisfy most fans of the series.
The Minish Cap's place in the Zelda story continuum is somewhere prior to Four Swords Adventures as evidenced by the first appearance of the Vaati the Sorcerer in Hyrule. Vaati quickly reveals his true intentions when he turns Princess Zelda to stone and shatters the illustrious Picori Blade, a sword which had sealed countless evil forces in a Bound Chest. With those forces freed and Zelda unable to use her powers of light to stop Vaati, the King charges young Link with reforging the broken sword. To do so, Link must seek the help of the Picori, a band of tiny people who only show themselves to children. Thus Link sets off on yet another quest to save the land of Hyrule. The story of The Minish Cap may not be the most original concept (even for a Zelda game), but it serves its purpose to move the gameplay along without being too contrived.
On his journey, Link encounters the title character--the Minish Cap, also called Ezlo--a creature who perches on Link's head for the rest of the adventure, offering up advice and the occasional wisecrack. The Minish Cap also has the ability to shrink Link down to Picori size so that he can fit through small holes, traverse pin-sized areas, and occasionally attack enemies from the inside. In essence, this creates two separate worlds out of one Hyrule. Instead of dark and light worlds like those of A Link to the Past, The Minish Cap allows the player to switch between a normal and miniaturized view of the kingdom. This size-shifting capability makes for some thought-provoking navigational challenges in both the overworld and in dungeons. Link can also use more traditional methods like rock dragging and switch pulling to solve the many puzzles that stand between him and his goal. While most of these perplexities won't require more than a moment to solve, there are a few mind-bogglers that could stump even the most experienced Zelda veteran.
While The Minish Cap seems to be more puzzle-oriented than the previous Zelda titles, the classic sword-slashing gameplay returns with a few added tools in Link's arsenal. Many of the ubiquitous Zelda weapons and items return including several swords, bow and arrows, bombs, and boomerangs. New to The Minish Cap are items like the Gust Jar, an item with the power to suck up and spit out various loose objects, the Cane of Pacci, a multi-purpose staff that is particularly useful in flipping over platforms and enemies, and the Mole Mitts, a glorified replacement for the shovel. Link can gradually learn a series of sword techniques, though most of them are more interesting to watch than they are useful. Also available to Link is the ability to temporarily spawn clones of himself that follow Link and mimic his actions. This technique allows up to four Links to solve puzzles and fight large bosses in unison. The mix of traditional gameplay with a sizable bag of new tricks will please both Zelda purists and those seeking a more innovative battle experience.
For those wanting more than just another hack-and-slash action-RPG, this game has plenty of other gameplay features that add some extra value and play time. Gamers fond of collection challenges will enjoy searching the world for Kinstone fragments that, when fused with fragments held by other characters, unlock side quests and hidden monsters. If that isn't enough, The Minish Cap allows the player to collect seashells that can be gambled for character figurines, much like those found in The Wind Waker. While collection quests are infamous for typically getting old fast, hunting for Kinstones and seashells is quite addictive and adds quite a bit of extra length to the game.
Most of the controls follow the usual format: items and weapons can be binded to the A and B buttons, and the menu is activated with the Start button. The shoulder buttons are reserved for special functions like activating Link's roll move, pushing and pulling, and fusing Kinstones. However, because these buttons are rarely used, they would have been better used to implement some sort of quick-equip function, especially considering the sheer frequency of necessary equipment changes can sometimes make opening the Start menu almost as common as actually using equipment. Fortunately, this is only a minor problem and doesn't significantly detract from the fast pace of gameplay.
The Minish Cap particularly shines in its graphical presentation. While the basic look resembles that of A Link to the Past, The Minish Cap surpasses the visual stylings of its SNES antecedant with richer colors and textures that even rival those of the Gamecube's Four Swords Adventures. With an environment that features a tremendous amount of detail and variation and gorgeous Wind Waker-inspired character design and art, The Minish Cap is one of the prettiest portable RPGs ever.
Some players may swear they are listening to a Zelda compilation soundtrack when they load this game into their Game Boy Advances. Original tunes are few and far between, but this is probably for the best because any of them that weren't pulled straight from Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, and The Wind Waker are pretty bland and not quite up to the usual standard of Zelda music. Most of the sound effects are also grabbed right out of previous titles, and the overall audio quality virtually matches that of recent console Zeldas.
Two aspects of The Minish Cap that may concern players are the difficulty level and length. Don't come to this game expecting much of a challenge. While some of the puzzles are momentary stumpers, most enemies (save for the final set of bosses) have glaring weaknesses and highly predictable patterns. The low difficulty also contributes to a shorter game time. The typical player can fly through the game's six relatively short dungeons in about ten hours, and the side quests only add another five. Like other Zelda games, however, The Minish Cap's consistently high fun factor makes the second play-through as fun as the first.
While those looking for the next epic Zelda title may be a bit disappointed by the game's short length, The Minish Cap does everything that a Zelda game should do. It takes the better elements of previous adventures, adds a generous helping of clever new gameplay, and tops it all off with an entertaining story that holds everything together. Flagship's gamble has paid off; The Minish Cap is a worthy successor to A Link to the Past and unique enough to be called the next great Zelda game.
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