The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is Capcom’s third (technically 4th if we count the 4 Swords mode from the GBA Link to the Past port as its own game) and final game in the Zelda universe. Their first two games, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, were solid Gameboy games that were built on the bones of Link’s Awakening. While neither is perfect, both are solid games. With The Minish Cap, Capcom finally got it right. For the most part.
The Minish Cap starts with young Link and Zelda attending a fair in Hyrule town before going to the castle. There, the evil sorcerer Vaati takes control of the elemental powers and turns Zelda to stone. The only clue Link has to go on to save her is a legend about the Picori, a race of tiny people. Soon, through the use of the titular Minish Cap, a magic hat (not really, but that is close a close enough explanation) that gives Link the ability to shrink himself down to tiny size to meet with the tiny Picori as well as with the reach previously unreachable areas. It gives the game a fairly original hook.
First and foremost, The Minish Cap is a fine looking game. The backgrounds are detailed and colorful; the character sprites, though they look a little over rendered, are still magnificent. Minish Cap is easily the best looking 2D Zelda game. The detail in the surroundings is especially impressive when you shrink down. The bosses look nice, but most of them are just big versions of regular enemies, which is a little disappointing.
It is also just a lot of fun to play. The selection of tools, while small, gives Link an interesting move set. Almost all of them appear in other games, but here they all used rather well. Plus, there are several sword abilities that are only useable with specific items. The game actually gives the player Link’s down stab from Zelda 2. The dungeons, while few in number, are inventively laid out and just generally a joy to play through.
The biggest problem with The Minish Cap is that it is just too darn short. There are only five dungeons and the word map is tiny. For a series that is generally as expansive and epic as Zelda, The Minish Cap is disappointingly brief. The game ends just as it gets going. There are a couple spots it looks like more dungeons could have been added, like the Graveyard and the mountain, but they were already pushing the game’s scenario to include 5 dungeons.
A slightly lesser problem is how gated the game feels. There are a lot of spots where you are blocked off by a hole with a rock to push into it from the other side. Those spots work for me. There you just need to get the right item to advance, a perfectly valid reason to block the player off. The spots where your hat won’t let you go somewhere until you so somewhere else or talk to someone else first. That sort of nonsense is prevalent in this game. Then there are the Kinstones. Many of the other characters have half a kinstone and Link must find the other half and match them up. When he does, it unlocks something on the map, like a piece of a heart or a cave full of rupees. It essentially takes all the reward out of exploring, since you have to find the kinstones before you can actually find most of the stuff.
Taken for what it is, The Minish Cap is an excellent game. But it is something far different from the regular Zelda game. Instead of a relatively open game about exploring. The Minish Cap is a very structured experience. The game is telling its story and the player is not really allowed to deviate from it. Fortunately, while the game is very guided toury, it is a singularly fun tour. Until A Link Between Worlds, I would say this was the best handheld Zelda game. The Minish Cap is a brief little delight.