Thursday, January 13, 2005

Review: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

American GBA and DS owners have only recently been able to go to their local store and buy the latest in the prestigious Zelda series, whereas European gamers have had their copies since last November. I finished my copy a week or two ago and now it's time to give you my verdict.

This is the fifth Zelda game that Flagship/Capcom have developed for Nintendo, having previously worked on Oracle of Seasons and Ages for the Game Boy Color, the GBA port of A Link to the Past (and Four Swords), and then the Gamecube's Four Swords Adventures (which actually came out afterwards in Europe). Their experience really shines through every moment in the Minish Cap, and they've even brought a fair few new ideas to the series that not even Nintendo have managed.

The storyline is our old Nintendo favourite with a few twists. Zelda is in trouble again - this time she's been turned to stone by an evil young magician called Vaati, who suddenly became very powerful when he stole a magic hat from his master, Ezlo. Before escaping with said hat, Vaati turned Ezlo into the eponymous Minish Cap. A while into the adventure, Link discovers the Cap and puts it on. Ezlo's hat form has the head of some kind of bird, and he talks to Link, giving out advice and smart remarks whenever they're needed. He's a bit like the Red Dragon boat in Wind Waker.

It's up to you, as link, to traverse Hyrule, beat the 6 different dungeons and power up the Picori Blade (more on this in a minute) so that you can defeat Vaati. The major twist this time is that the usual Master Sword is referred to as the Picori Blade in this game (told you I'd get to it). The reason for is that once upon a time, a race of tiny little people called the Picori came down from the sky, and fashioned a powerful sword for the hero of that time (also called Link) so he could banish the evil once again. Once every 100 (or is it 1000? I can't remember) years, the force field to the Picori Shrine weakens and their presence is felt once again. Now is that time.

Upon finding the Minish Cap, link is able to shrink himself down to their size and explore areas that were almost invisible to the eye before. You will find yourself surrounded by giant shoes, reeds, cats and all sorts of other everyday objects. It's a bit like Honey I Shrunk the Kids, but without Rick Moranis (thank god!).

Another big twist this time around are the Kinstones. They're like little jigsaw pieces, and if you find someone with a matching half to yours, something good happens in the land. What this is varies greatly, and includes chests appearing, rare golden monsters, and new areas to explore. Most of the kinstone trading is entirely optional, but it's addictive stuff and adds quite a bit of replay value to the game.

Thirdly, Flagship have come up with some novel new items instead of just reusing the standard Hookshot and that sort of thing. The first one you get is the Gust Jar, which you can use to blow yourself across the water when standing on a lilypad, or you can suck a stretchy mushroom into the jar from a distance and use it to fling you across a gap. I won't spoil the other items as a lot of the fun is the in the surprise of exactly what you discover next.

Graphically, The Minish Cap is phenomenal. It's definitely much more detailed than A Link to the Past ever was, yet still captures a lot of the charm from that game. The best way to describe it would probably be to tell you to imagine the Wind Waker, but from an overhead perspective. There's some impressive sprite scaling effects when you face off against some of the bosses (such as a giant Chu Chu, or green slime). It's a showcase of what the GBA can do and it's just a shame that something this good took such a long time to appear. Hopefully, an all new Zelda won't take as long to appear on the DS (you hear me Nintendo? No ports!).

Aurally, pretty much every familiar tune from past Zelda games have reappeared, but sometimes slightly remixed. For example, you think the Hyrule Castle theme is going to be the one from A Link to the Past, but then it becomes something different. It's definitely some of the best music on the GBA alongside Final Fantasy I+II Dawn of Souls.

From a challenge point of view, TMC is a little underwhelming. The six dungeons are pretty easy to get through, but are nevertheless fun the whole time. Even though TMC is a fairly easy game, there's still a lot to keep you occupied if you choose to spend some time on the side games, kinstone trading and figurine collecting.

Ultimately, this is one of the best GBA games ever made, and keeps up the high standard that most of the Zelda games have lived up to (excepting the dire Phillips CD-I game of course). While all you DS owners are waiting for some more decent games to arrive, do yourself a favour and get The Minish Cap. It's Nintendo gaming at it's best and it's guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

The Retro-Gaming score: 9 out of 10.

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