This game is a prelude to the Four Swords storyline, which is in turn, a mirror of the main Zelda story. There is a sword (Four Sword) that can cast down evil (Vaati), though only with the power of light (Zelda’s Light), and they need to find an artefact that grants the wearer their wishes (Minish Hat).
As Link, you’re called on by Princess Zelda to attend Hyrule Town’s centurial Picori Festival, but an evil sorcerer named Vaati has designs to ruin it. He unleashes monsters across Hyrule and turns Zelda into stone - Link is called on to visit the Minish people and ask for their Light. While doing this, he must restore the legendary Four Sword to its former glory, as it is the only blade that can cast down such evil. On his journey, Link meets with a mysterious hat named Ezlo, who is also on a mission to stop Vaati. Without legs, he’s finding it hard, so he buddies up with Link’s head and the two embark on their adventure. 8
The Minish Cap is an extension of gameplay found in Flagship’s Four Swords and Oracle titles, but it does throw plenty of its own original ideas into the mix. The puzzles and fighting elements are largely an extension, and sometimes an advancement, of the mechanics seen in the two Oracle games, and from Four Swords, TMC takes the idea of being able to clone Link four times to solve certain puzzles.
This Four Sword leads to some interesting puzzles - you often have to figure out the correct pattern of Links that will enable you to manoeuvre through certain obstacles, or to hit a set of switches at once. Unfortunately, the ingenuity of Four Sword puzzles within dungeons is not replicated on the overworld. There, puzzles amount to having charged your sword with enough elements (the more elements infused in the sword, the more clones you can create) to be able to push a certain size of block.
New to The Minish Cap are Kinstones, stones which have broken in half and grant the pairers good luck if they reunite the two halves. These parings can created golden enemies that drop hundreds of rupees, open secret pathways, or further the story. It sounds like an interesting idea, but in honesty it only serves to fuel one of the game’s biggest problems - nonsensical overworld puzzles. In between dungeons, you have to follow hideously broken crumb trails to access the next stage in your quest.
Whether it be retrieving books or retrieving Kinstones, these tasks are always awkward, always ambiguous, and always a pain in the arse. Vanilla Kinstone pairings are a pain because you don’t know why you’re doing it. You might uncover something as important as a dojo, or as mundane as another Kinstone. There’s one sidequest in particular that has you running across Hyrule looking for 6x6 pixel walls in random caves for the reward of an extra bottle. These walls are so mundane, you’d hardly notice them, and if you did think to fuse Kinstones with a wall, you’d say to yourself, “okayyyy…. what now?” Worse, Kinstones must sometimes be collected from an overworld area that exists purely to house these Kinstones, in order to advance to the next dungeon. I don’t know why I’m collecting Kinstones, I just know that the game has placed some artificial roadblock to make it seem like there’s more content that there actually is. Annoying.
A better mechanic is the Minish Cap. With the cap, you can shrink down to Minish size and explore the world either as two-pixel Link, or in some areas, as “normal” sized Link where everything else is massive.
Outside of dungeons, this can get a bit tiring as everything conspires to limit your progress and generally make life as awkward as possible - silly, broken sidequests and all. It does shine, though, when you get to see the world from a Minish point of view - where rain is lethal and bookshelves make excellent homes.
Inside dungeons, the cap is hideously underused aside from dungeon bosses. Most bosses involve use of the cap in one way or another - it might be to let you crawl inside bosses to deal damage, or to put a new spin on traditionally mundane enemies (a bit like David and Goliath). So, while the Minish idea is pretty cool, it’s not used to full effect. Everything is so unnaturally positioned to limit your progress, and I suppose this is a problem with the game as a whole.
While the Zelda series involves a lot of backtracking after acquiring a new item, so you can reach items and places that were otherwise teasingly inaccessible, in The Minish Cap it just seems so artificial, and so dense with temporary dead ends. Traversing Hyrule has never seemed so much of a battle. 7
An area where The Minish Cap truly shines. This game is drop-dead gorgeous, easily the pinnacle of the 2D Zelda games. It’s so dense with detail, so crafted and characterised, that Hyrule is more alive in this Zelda than in any other 2D incarnation.
While dungeons are quite sparse, and nothing much to look at, the overworld is an intricate maze where light breaking through tree canopy reflects off morning mist, where towns are full of life and vibrancy, and where characters and enemies jump off the screen and revel in your imagination. Beauty aside, this game is also a technical tour de force for the humble Game Boy Advance.
TMC can up the enemy count seemingly at will; there will be more than one occasion where so much is happening on one screen, whether it be massive Gyorgs weaving between each other while shooting energy balls in every direction, or Wizrobes appearing at every side of the arena and cutting the screen up with their magic blasts, that you’ll lose Link in the midst of all the action.
The huge bosses use sprite-scaling and rotation as if it never went out of fashion - creating some unique encounters that could only have otherwise been created in 3D. 10
As with past Flagship games, the sounds are pretty good. Nothing mind-blowing, but good. As Link rolls and slashes his way through the game, he makes grunts and yelps reminiscent of Ocarina of Time, but somehow, it works. The little noises all the characters make help them come alive that little bit.
The music in the game is, again, pretty good, but not best of series by any means. Overworld music is cheery when it needs to be and creepy when it needs to be. During the final boss fight, that’s when the soundtrack really comes alive and creates an apocalyptic mood so perfectly fitting to the weird, intense atmosphere of the battle. 8
Because the music plays its role in supporting the mood created by the wonderful graphics, The Minish Cap may be the most atmospheric 2D Zelda yet. A Link to the Past did a pretty good job of creating its Light/Dark World dynamic, and so too does TMC create an interesting contrast between the land of the big and the land of the small.
When you’re on the rafters of a man’s house, talking to the Minish people that reside there next to apple cores and old books, well… when have you done that in a game? You feel in such a secret place - it makes you look around and wonder what stuff is going on right under our own noses. For a short while, anyway. It’s probably just germs and stuff. 8
The Minish Cap bought a few innovations - the Minish Cap itself, which we’ll hopefully one day see the full potential of, Kinstones, which we’ll hopefully never see again, and awesome new bosses, which is a tradition that must be upheld. 7
Realistically, The Minish Cap is solid, yet flawed. Like The Wind Waker before it, the game has a lot going for it, but it slips up in so many crucial areas that we can only give it an 8.