The Legend of Zelda on portable devices (not counting ports) has had a lukewarm history up to this point for me. The time I spent playing Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Seasons, and Oracle of Ages is not a time in this Experience that I can honestly reflect upon with much enthusiasm. I am aware that among Zelda enthusiasts this is a minority opinion but it is one I hold in spite of that. The Minish Cap, however, marks a turning point for me as I can say that this game is totally underrated.
Originally released on the GameBoy Advance, The Minish Cap was the third portable Legend of Zelda title developed by Capcom and, in my opinion, the very best one. What a difference the L and R shoulder buttons make to helping this title play a lot more seamlessly than previous portable Zelda games. It’s not perfect as your sword and shield still have to be mapped to the A and B buttons like any other item and that’s still a shame. At least I don’t have to equip a separate item just to lift pots though. The sword mechanics are the best of any 2D styled Zelda with the addition of Tiger Scrolls which allow different sword moves in different contexts or different items. I’ll even go as far to say that this game’s swordplay outclasses A Link Between Worlds and that title debuted much later. There’s also the mechanic of shrinking or growing in key locations in order to visit certain areas or solve certain puzzles. In fact, some of the most creative design choices in the game come from exploring Hyrule at the size of a dime. Enemies that are common annoyances become dungeon bosses at that size. An octorok has never been such an awesome threat. There’s also the idea of kinstones, tiny stones that you can “fuse” with the denizens or Hyrule to make random stuff happen. A lot of secrets are uncovered this way. The only, and I do mean the ONLY, major drawback to the gameplay is that it’s a pretty short game.
The story in The Minish Cap is also refreshingly different while still very Zelda. There’s not one instance of Ganon or Ganondorf in sight and yet we are definitely in Hyrule and Zelda is its princess. The game opens with a legend of a time of evil and how a tiny race of people descended from the sky to help the Hylians seal away that evil. They were the Picori and their weapon was the Picori Blade. These tiny people are said to only come every 100 years and are only visible to children and so every 100 years a festival is held to honor this legend and that’s where the game starts off.
Link is the apprentice of a blacksmith and friend of Zelda in a more rural Hyrule. Zelda and Link go to the festival together where there is a sword fighting tournament. The winner is a strange fellow by the name of Vaati. Vaati uses his win as a chance to blow open the sealed chest of the Picori Blade in search of the Light Force. Instead, he finds that he’s only released the evil locked away in the chest and caused monsters to appear all over Hyrule. Turning Zelda to stone, Vaati vanishes as abruptly as he shows up. Link is sent by the King of Hyrule on a quest to try and reforge the Picori Blade and free Zelda from her stone prison. In his travel to the Minish Woods, Link meets a talking cap named Ezlo who is crotchety but knowledgeable about things going on and also gives Link the ability to shrink to the size of the Picori or, as they call themselves, the Minish.
The Minish live in the woods and in town right under Hylian noses. They are the ones responsible for hiding Rupee in pots and grass. Some of the coolest ideas in this game come from being in that tiny world where the Minish will make shoes while the shoemaker is sleeping and other such oddities that play off of tales of tiny creatures. Link embarks on a quest for four McGuffins (or Elements this time). After gaining roughly half of them, Vaati possesses the King of Hyrule and has the soldiers searching the kingdom for anything related to The Light Force. Ezlo also confesses his story: he was a great Minish sorcerer with Vaati as an apprentice. Ezlo created a powerful wish-granting artifact known as the Minish Cap to give to the Hylians. Vaati was jealous, stole the Cap, and became a great sorcerer himself. His first act was to turn Ezlo into a cap.
After recovering all of the elements and infusing the Picori Blade with all four of them, the Four Sword was created and the last riddle of the Light Force was revealed. The Light Force dwelled within the Hylian royal bloodline passed down from daughter to daughter. Vaati overheard this and then transformed Hyrule Castle into a dark perversion of itself. He then decided to extract the Light Force from Zelda herself and “become a god”. Naturally, Link and Ezlo put a stop to this nonsense, Hyrule is saved and the door to the Picori Realm is sealed with Ezlo returning to it with the Minish Cap safe from greedy Hylian clutches.
I would be remiss if I did not note that The Minish Cap has a much more ambitious soundtrack than it had to be. It reused, remixed, and remastered a few tracks but had a surprising number of really good new tracks. They could have relied on the exhaustive treasure trove of good Zelda tracks but were bold enough to make some new memories.
Overall, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is a great, if brief, addition to the Legend of Zelda Experience. I can’t stress enough that if you are a Zelda fan and have not played this game: go play it. It’s not long but it’s beautifully paced, well-conceived, well-executed, and fun. The Minish Cap is a great bite-sized venture into the Legend of Zelda Universe and everything a portable Zelda title should be.