For this series, I revisit games that were heralded for their quality and originality at the time of their release, but have soon become just good game in the bargain bin at your local game store. Some games on this list are part of famous and highly-praised franchises, including the first game in this blog series.
What separated the Game Boy Advance from its handheld predecessors was that it was able to give a true console experience on the go to gamers for the first time. While Pokemon Red/Blue, Link’s Awakening, and Kirby’s Dream Land were certainly great on the original Game Boy, they all lacked the stylistic panache and depth of content found in console games.
The GBA was home to both remakes of classic Super Nintendo titles as well as original games that followed in the 16-bit console’s footsteps, and several major Nintendo franchises had the opportunity to provide a console-like experience on the handheld. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap was one of the better examples of this, and while it received critical acclaim and achieved impressive sales numbers, it’s somehow become a forgotten entry in the 30-year-old series. What happened?
What is it?
The Minish Cap was the only single player Zelda game that was exclusive to the Game Boy Advance when it came out in 2004. The game was (at the time) the first story in the Zelda timeline, revolving around wizard villain Vaati and the birth of the Four Sword. The Minish Cap takes place in a relatively traditional version of Hyrule, with familiar locales such as Fairy Fountains, Lake Hylia, and Lon Lon Ranch.
The game features a traditional top-down view in the vein of the original Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past, yet the art style emulates that of The Wind Waker with its spritely characters, cartoonish environments, and strangely large heads. The title gives the player the ability to shrink to the size of the Minish, a race of miniature rodent-humanoids that populate the land, with the help of Ezlo, a former wizard who also serves as Link’s hat (the only time in the series that goofy green hat has a creative story behind it). Many of the game’s locations, including dungeons, are played as one of these bite-sized creatures.
What makes it a classic?
This GBA exclusive was short (the game only has six dungeons) but jam-packed with content. The dungeons are unique not only from one another but also to many entries in the series prior; The Minish Cap features a palace in the skies and a dungeon designed entirely for digging, both of which are gameplay elements visited later in the series. Also, items such as the Cane of Pacci, Gust Jar, and Mole Mitts are either copied in other Zelda games or inspired familiar equivalents.
While Zelda games often present various side quests that keep the player coming back for more, The Minish Cap manages to add plenty of extra content through the mechanic of Kinstone fusion. Kinstones are magical items you collect throughout the game that bring “good luck” in the form of extra chests, pieces of heart, and other secrets when fused with pieces of similar shape and color. Link is able to fuse his Kinstone pieces with those owned by other characters in the game, so the fusion not only adds extra mini-quests for the player, but causes the gamer to interact with nearly everyone in the game, giving him or her the sense of truly belonging to the presented world.
More than anything, The Minish Cap succeeds in its conciseness, high-quality level design, and creativity. Zelda titles are often defined by their breadth and longevity, but this GBA entry manages to pack in plenty of content into an otherwise smaller adventure (no pun intended).
Why is it forgotten?
Handheld entries in even the most highly-lauded series often become ignored in favor of their larger console counterparts, but The Minish Cap even gets forgotten in the Zelda handheld conversation. One could list a number of reasons why the GBA game has little long-term appeal, but the main one is probably its brevity. You could probably complete the game in under 20 hours, well below the average Zelda completion time range of 25-35 hours. In addition, the fact that The Minish Cap was a handheld exclusive certainly doesn’t help, particularly since the game was released amid the hype surrounding the (at the time) upcoming console release Twilight Princess. Also, despite the inclusion of creative mechanics such as Kinstone fusion, the controls and feel of the game are nearly identical to its handheld predecessors, so longtime fans of the series might remember the game mainly for what stayed the same rather than what was novel about it.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is not perfect. It’s not even one of the best five games in its own series. That said, it’s a fantastic entry in the Zelda series that seems to get lost in conversations about the franchise, Nintendo’s best handheld efforts, and even the best games on the Game Boy Advance. Fans of the series should at the very least give it a try if they haven’t done so already, as it will provide, at worst, a solid action-adventure experience, albeit a relatively short one.
Picture Above: YouTube