The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (2004)
When I were a younger lad, I tried very much to make hats and caps ‘happen’ for me. I was a proud owner of this naff baseball cap with Sampdoria on the front, an Italian football team that were successful in the early 90s – I was a football hipster before there were football hipsters. I’ve tried several beanie hats over the years, but never got much success out of them what with my humongous head. They did fit my head, of course, with a bit of stretching, but the end result was ridiculous. You can’t keep all of that head bate underneath a small canopy of wool. It’ll burst and tear, or look like a crater on your celestial bonce, and you’ll be left with hat-hair everywhere. There was even a time when I wore a Parisian beret to school every day. As you can expect, that one won me loads of friends.
I have to be envious of Link, pulling off the Peter Pan look so effortlessly. But why has he always got a hat on? Haven’t you ever wanted to know the story behind that? You probably haven’t, but there’s a ravenous fanbase out there who’ll speculate about anything Zelda-related, so this one is for them. Oh yes, we’ve got a bit of Zelda lore here to get through today.
And no, I don’t mean any of that nonsense about a timeline. Why do fans get so up in arms about Zelda timelines? Nobody cares where the Mario games fit together. Is Super Mario Land 2 a sequel to Mario Tennis? Who knows. It might be. What about Crash Team Racing, when did that occur? But suddenly, everyone needed to know where Link’s parents were and why King Zora got so fat. It got to the point where Nintendo, evidently sick of having fans ask incessant questions about timelines and how none of it made any sense, decided to cash in and release the Hyrule Historia. This told us that Skyward Sword was the first game and everything followed on from that. That’s well and good, but what about Triforce Heroes? Tingle’s Rupee Roseyland?
Well, here’s the plot – for whatever reason, wee Princess Zelda is pally with spotty oik and blacksmith-in-training Link. This lasts for 5 minutes until the sinister sorcerer Vaati swings by, turns the Princess to stone, and releases evil unto the world. Vaati himself isn’t Ganon in disguise, I assure you, and nor does Ganon step in at the last knockings as the final boss. A pale, pointy-eared magical elf, Vaati was always going to be a bit of a non-entity, but at least he’s something different. I’d like to see him again.
To beat Vaati, Link needs to harness the power of the (Minish? Picori?) Sword, and to do that he needs to visit the tiny Minish people. He needs to be mere milmetres tall to speak with them, which brings us the trademark mechanic of the game – Link’s ability to change between regular and miniature forms, using magical tree-trunks/pots/cracks in the floor/underpants. On his travels, Link finds Ezlo, the Minish cap himself – a pernickety hat who allows Link to become tiny. He travels around on Link’s head in the advisory role, a la Navi, Fi, and Tatl, and occasionally pops out to berate you.
What makes Minish Cap a pleasure to play is the graphics. Graphics don’t make a game, can’t have style over substance, blahdy blahdy blah. That’s all true, but you don’t want to have your eyes gouged out either, do you? I tend to go weak at the knees at lovingly drawn sprites and painstaking animation, and Minish Cap has both of these in spades. I like the graphics here even more than the cel-shading in The Wind Waker, actually, and when Phantom Hourglass hit the scene in 2007 I thought it was a massive step backwards. Link looked like a bug-eyed freak in that game. Here, especially without his cap and with his bed hair all over the place, he looks irresistible.
I lap up the music as well – there’s more than a couple of tunes that are throwbacks and references, but it actually gets eclipsed by some of the newer stuff like the chirpy Minish Village, the mysterious Minish Woods and the upbeat Hyrule Castle Town. The instrumentation sounds quite good for the most part as well, an area that the Game Boy Advance always struggled with.
One annoyance in the aural department is that Link vocalises every single move and shake he does with the Ocarina of Time-era Young Link feral scream. That’s nothing new for Link, but when you’re throwing out three combat rolls per second to get places faster, it gets grating. You could forgo the rolls of course, but then you’re painfully slow, and anyway he’ll be in fine voice for the sword fights. Link’s loudmouth doesn’t tear the game down, but it’s the most enduring memory I have of Minish Cap.
There’s a bigger ‘but’ than that, unfortunately, and you know how I love big buts: the game is a great little slice of fried Zelda gold, but it’s too short. There’s not enough dungeons and set-pieces. With only 5 main dungeons plus a final gauntlet to get through, plus the odd mini-dungeon cave here and there, it’s lightweight for a portable Zelda game. Link’s Awakening had eight dungeons plus change. So did the Oracles games. Then there was the GBA Link to the Past port. A healthy amount of dungeons wasn’t an unreasonable expectation. As the dungeon count is low, a lot of the puzzles take place on the overworld. We had this later on with Skyward Sword and the results weren’t pretty. Here, things can get a little cryptic, but it’s an easy game overall.
One supposes that the likely reason for the Minish Cap being lacking in longevity is that they needed the game out the door quickly. The DS was coming out worldwide, and starting strongly. As it was, this game has become a little bit obscure. Indeed, I often forget about it when I’m drunkenly pointing and shouting about Zelda games with the lads. Then we all put hard-hats on, clear a bit of room in the pub, and charge headfirst at each other until there’s a last man standing, who yells “Zelda über alles!” before collapsing in a heap of hats and broken glass.
02 August 2019