Review: Fingernail-sized fun
This year will be a good one for Hyrule habitu?s. Later this year, the long-awaited realistic iteration of The Legend of Zelda will appear on the GameCube, complete with stunning graphics and an adult Link that has been anticipated since the footage was showcased before the GameCube's release. As the release date grows closer, fans of the Zelda series still have another title to sate their desire to rescue Princess Zelda and wander mystical Hyrule. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap takes players in another direction, following the adventures of a much younger Link as he strives to save Princess Zelda from a curse. To do this, however, young Link must explore Hyrule as a small child and as a much, much smaller child?an ant sized child.
The Minish Cap begins with young Link and Zelda as childhood friends. Link starts off, oddly enough, without the elven cap that has occupied his head since his initial appearance, and this bare-headed Link and Zelda attend a festival together. However, as expected, trouble appears in the form of a powerful swordsman named Vaati. Vaati breaks the sacred sword of Hyrule and also turns princess Zelda into a stone statue. The only chance that the kingdom has for restoring the princess and the sword and defeating Vaati comes from the legendary Picori, also known as the Minish people. The Minish people are a tiny race, so small as to be invisible. Besides their miniscule stature, the Minish also only appear to children, which makes young Link, once again, the only hope for Hyrule.
Shortly after beginning his quest, Link encounters a strange being which appears to be a cross between a hat and a bird. This creature, called Ezlo, joins Link in his adventure and becomes Link's hat. Ezlo is almost as much the star of this tale as Link, speaking regularly from atop Link's head and offering advice (sometimes reluctantly) when asked. Ezlo also has the ability to shrink Link to Minish size at certain portals, which is the game's unique quality. The sense of scale is very well done, as tiny Link finds obstacles in objects that wouldn't impede normal-sized Link, while normal-sized Link cannot interact with the Minish people or travel through tiny openings.
Young Link isn't as athletic as older versions of himself. He begins unable to even run or jump. However, he soon develops these abilities and a number of new ones, too. Many of The Minish Cap's items and abilities are unique and creative. The Gust Jar works like a primitive magical vacuum cleaner to suck up items, monsters, and air into it before firing it back out offensively. It can also be used to draw items to Link from across chasms as well as blow out fires and uncover things hidden by sand. The Cane of Pacci allows young Link to flip objects over with a beam of energy or to convert holes into launching pads. The Mole Mitts allow Link to dig through certain types of terrain. Although the application of these and the other devices seems limited, The Minish Cap comes up with a number of clever uses for the abilities. Link can also learn to climb walls, move objects while tiny, and even duplicate himself in what seems to be a tribute to the Four Swords Adventures. The number of things that Link can do is staggering, especially when considering the two available GBA buttons. Gamers that love the puzzles the Zelda series is known for won't be disappointed here.
In addition to the main quest, Link can also find and collect Kinstones, which are magical coins that have a number of positive effects. Link comes across Kinstone halves and, when he encounters an NPC with a thought bubble above his/her head, Link can attempt to fuse his Kinstone half with the one the NPC possesses. If Link has the correct half, something positive happens and is marked on his map. This ranges from uncovering fairy pools to finding heart containers to uncovering secret treasures.
The graphics of Minish Cap are lovely, with a colorful, cartoon-like art style and exaggerated animations. With the combination of the excellent sound work, it is always easy to tell what is going on at all times.
The controls are spot on as well. Link controls intuitively and responds accurately. The only problem is that the items must correspond to the two available buttons, which, when considering the sword generally occupies one button slot, really makes only one available button in most combat situations. This calls for a lot of pausing and swapping during the game. The left trigger is used only to initiate a Kinstone joining, and probably could have been used more efficiently, as is also probably true of the more utilized right trigger. However, this complaint is minor and probably can't be helped outside of using buttons in concert.