Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 01/10/05 | Genre: Action/RPG
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is, at first glance, exactly what many of us hated about Wind Waker: a progression to a more cartoonish, less fun Zelda. When I picked up and played the game for a couple hours, though, I found that not only did the newest Zelda in the series have all the classic elements that made 2D Zelda great, it enhanced and polished some of the best aspects of the game and did away with the ones fans like me reacted negatively to (if I have to sail another boat ever again in a Zelda game, I'm pulling out my razor blade item and end Link's misery right there).
The story is typical Zelda: Link lives with his grandfather, Smith, in the land of Hyrule and is best friends with Princess Zelda. Through the misdeeds of others, he finds himself the only one who can save her with the power of a mystical sword. This time, however, Link will find himself the constant companion of Ezlo, a hat with the powers to transform Link into the size of the Minish people, who live right along side with the Hyrulians
First, lets deal with some of the positives that it brought back. LOZ:TMC has a lot of familiar items with both new and old uses. The Pegasus Boots are there, but instead of simply smashing trees, they are the only item that can get you across swampland quickly enough so that you don't sink. The flippers let you enter water (which, thank goodness, in this game doesn't hurt you to fall into because there's plenty of it barring your way) and also skim across the water like a water bug as mini-Link. Classic Zelda gamers will feel comfort in knowing that a certain tree can be bashed into to open a doorway or portal right away, but get just as stumped as newbies when it comes to figuring out that their new puzzle-solving methods.
But it's not just new uses for old items that bend our brain. There are new features and items that really give the game its own identity.
One of those features is that of Kinstones. At first, I thought Kinstones was another lame attempt to get people to play the game together via a gamelink cable (honestly, unless you're a junior high gamer, the majority of us don't know anyone else who plays Zelda games, much less ask them to �link' with us so that we can get some upgraded item, a la Oracle of Ages/Seasons). However, Kinstones are just a way to get you to talk and get to know characters in the game, even minor ones. You will randomly collect new Kinstones as you work through the game and characters will ask you to provide the other half. Once you find a match, many of the new optional mini-dungeons or characters are revealed. This is how many pieces of hearts are found, as well as opening important side-quests for upgraded items.
New items include the mole mitts (which replace the shovel, but also has new uses) and the gust jar, which is a lot of fun. The gust jar allows you to defeat a lot of familiar enemies in new ways, such as sucking them into the belly of the jar and then blowing them out again, in a manner similar to Kirby. What's great is that they introduce these new items to you in the beginning of the game, so that a lot of the figuring out that comes early on really feels puzzling. (We all know, for instance, that a bow and arrow are used on targets to open doors, but did you know that you use the gust jar to suck in elastic mushrooms to hurtle you across gaps like a rubber band?)
The overworld is where you will spend most of your time, not in dungeons. At first blush, a typical Zelda gamer would say, �What? Only 5 full dungeons?� After a few hours of gaming, though, that is quickly dispelled because you find that a lot of the puzzles take place in the overworld itself. Reaching new areas you couldn't previously explore with the help of a super-jumping cane or digging through tunnels into the depths of numerous cave mini-dungeons where treasure and danger await.
The overworld is easy enough to get around in. A vehicle or horse would only hinder you here, and the map is a cinch to navigate. One of the greatest and smartest new additions to the series is the addition of progressive shortcuts � that is, you push a rock into a hole and so the area that you had to previously do some labor-intensive, item-switching work to get to now becomes a quick footpath. Kind of like getting into the back of a house to get a key, and then unlocking the front door so you can just step in and out every time you need to get there. Dashing in the Pegasus Boots and the ability to warp courtesy the Ocarina of Wind (which operates the same as the flute in A Link to the Past) also help you get places quickly.
The maps are truly the best in any Zelda game so far. How many times have you saved an adventure game to take a break and when you got back you had no idea where your next goal was? Or, in previous Zelda games, you unlocked something but you have no idea where you unlocked it? The world map is split into areas of similar geography (mountains, forest, ranch, town, lake), and then each sub-map is scrollable to see the open footpaths available to Link. Each of the Kinstones you fuse is marked with an opened door, mysteriously appearing treasure chest, or newly affected person who changes his mind when it happens.
One of the greatest things I think they did away with in this version is the idea of �warping� from one world to the other to solve puzzles. Instead, they just have you shrink to a smaller size and explore the same map. This actually accounts for a lot of fun in the game. Places where mini-Link can go are in plain sight but you have to train yourself to look for them. Suddenly, a water spout in a fountain becomes a mini water dungeon and you find yourself looking for a way to get for it. Understandably, this can account for hours of frustration if you don't have the right items yet to get there, and you have no way of knowing when in the game you might have the necessary prerequisites. I spent hours exploring Hyrule Town as mini-Link thinking I could get to certain places, only to learn that later in the game I would need a special item to do so.
Fortunately, such scenarios where you feel lost are few and far between. Most of the time, generous hints are given to you by Ezlo the Minish Hat that you get early in the game, and the dungeons are easy to blunder into if you feel like you can't do anything else in the overworld.
There are other small things that made the game a lot of fun for me. First of all, since there are only 5 dungeons and 5 major dungeon bosses, full heart containers are few and far between. Fortunately, heart pieces are easy to find. There are more than 40 heart pieces to find, so the majority of your health upgrades (which can be obtained with 4 pieces, for those neophytes out there) will come in random exploration of the world, not from beating bosses.
Small things that have been eliminated I also applaud. Number one, the shortcuts that open up in travel so you don't feel like you're spending most of the game waiting to get somewhere or traveling. Secondly, the elimination of a magic meter. After replaying Zelda: A Link to the Past in preparation for this new game, I found the magic meter to be a hindrance to certain puzzles in dungeons and you would have to backtrack too often to refill your magic meter just so you could use the lantern to light a stupid torch.
Finally, I like the fact that the game rewards you for collecting rupees. Too often in Zelda games, collecting rupees up to a point is a necessity, and then you sit with 999 rupees in your bag for the rest of the game. In this game, you can purchase almost anything to help you move forward. Kinstones, potions, power-enhancing enchantments (called �picolytes�), and bomb bag and quiver upgrades are all available for the right price. Neither do they simply give away rupees either: most often they are collected one at a time over the course of the game by defeating enemies, hacking bushes and digging fertile ground. There is a lesson to be learned from saving money!
With those minor gameplay tweaks and a positive step forward in some of the major changes, I like that this game seems more balanced than other classic Zelda games. A lot of players rush from dungeon to dungeon, without worry of exploration in between. The Game Boy Color games had a feeling of �fakeness� to its obstacles to get to the next dungeon, that is, forced overworld play just for the sake of more game time (like we care that the Goron Elder in the Oracle of Ages gets his whatch-ma-call-it by playing the stupid mine-shooting mini-game a thousand times). This game really engages you, and you never feel any major partitions between one dungeon and the next. It is truly hard to put down, and destined to be included as one of the greatest Zelda games.
Finally, I have to say as I read other reviews, I am disappointed by the assumption that this will be the �last� 2D Zelda game. The quality of 2D games is only limited by how much fun it is to play, not by how 3D it is. I think that the quality of this game has a lot to say for 2D games in general, and I certainly hope that it is not the last Zelda that will employ such classic gaming style.