If it weren't for the fact that the Capcom logo appears each time you boot up The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that it was in fact developed by a third-party company. That’s because this particular Legend of Zelda title – which originally released on the Game Boy Advance back in 2004/5 – delivers an abundance of quality and, in particular, exceptional creativity in the gameplay department.
With that said, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise; Flagship, the Capcom development team behind the game, was also responsible for previous handheld Zelda titles The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, both of which were met with very positive acclaim upon their release in 2001. Moreover, Nintendo kept a watchful eye over the development process, no doubt providing guidance to ensure one of its most revered franchises maintained its impeccable reputation. The end result is easily one of the best instalments in the handheld catalogue of Legend of Zelda games.
The basic premise in The Minish Cap revolves around the classically overused trope of saving the princess, but this time it’s an evil sorcerer known as Vaati filling in for Ganon. His evil designs are very much in-line with his more popular counterpart, and only through the assistance of the Minish – a race of miniature beings who possess magical qualities – can Link save Hyrule before it succumbs to darkness.
Compared to the grandest of adventures from throughout the series’ impressive history, Link's quest in this particular game is actually one of miniature proportions, and not because it was originally designed for Game Boy Advance, but rather that he must call upon the power of the titular Minish Cap to shrink in size throughout his adventure. Travelling through the game world, solving puzzles and even defeating certain enemies all require Link to take on a smaller size at times, conveniently making it the central gameplay mechanic. It's not an ability that you can activate as and when you wish; you need to find special shrinking pedestals in order to do that, and the benefit of this is that it's pretty clear when you need to use one. As a gameplay concept, it presents you with interesting situations, and also has a positive impact with regards to dungeon design, as tiny passages enable you to circumvent locked doors and other impassable hazards.
In addition to this, Link wields numerous variations of a magical blade known as the Four Sword, which bestows onto him the ability to create up to three copycat clones of himself. This also plays a central role in many of the game's dungeons and puzzles. In order to create a clone, you must charge your sword and walk on to a specific type of tile, and there's a very good reason for this. Certain problems require you to have your Links lined up in a particular pattern, and this is where the ingenuity of the feature really shines through; it's essentially what sets The Minish Cap apart from other Legend of Zelda titles due to the fact that it adds so much more depth to the dungeon design.
As you progress through the game, these problem-solving aspects become more complex – but do so at a comfortable pace – and require spatial awareness of the environments and speed from you. Despite it's age, and that it returns after the ground-breaking instalment that was The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, The Minish Cap nevertheless feels like a refreshing experience, primarily as a result of the Four Sword mechanic.
Both this and the shrinking ability are woven into what is otherwise a fairly familiar Legend of Zelda formula. Link's quest takes him across all four corners of the land in search of sacred objects and useful items to aid him. Sadly, the four corners aren't all that far apart, and where The Minish Cap slightly stumbles is that it's a surprisingly short entry in the series, even for a handheld instalment. The main quest clocks in around the 10-hour mark and features only six main dungeons, the majority of which are fairly short.
There is a selection of optional side quests that serves to lengthen the experience should you wish -– and no doubt completionists will want to find every single heart container and collectible - but they aren't fleshed out enough to hide the shortness of the central quest. It's not a huge issue or really a flaw, for that matter, because the main game delivers a wealth of quality; it's just noticeable because you're left wanting more. Moreover, the game's relatively low asking price on the Wii U eShop essentially negates any concerns with regards to value for money.
Thankfully, this smaller gameplay experience is backed up by an impressive visual presentation which takes the colourful charm of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and converts it into the classic 2D top-down style for which most of the series' earlier entries were renowned. It also results in an interesting hybrid of different periods in the Legend of Zelda timeline, as many characters from the N64 titles appear here. The same applies to the music, which borrows popular tracks to provide a sense of familiarity throughout this wholly separate adventure. Furthermore, the sound quality is fantastic for a Game Boy Advance game.
One last point worth noting is that The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is surprisingly tricky in parts. To some extent, it's definitely worth exploring the overworld in search of as many extra heart containers and bonuses as possible, because the later dungeons (and bosses) will test you. Not only that, but it isn't always clear what it is you have to do next; while clues are available at the press of a button, some of them could certainly give a bit more context.
Featuring exceptional gameplay concepts, great visuals and a top-notch soundtrack, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap remains a solid entry in the series and, therefore, is a very welcome addition to the Wii U Virtual Console line-up. Despite being developed by a third-party company, this particular Legend of Zelda title bears all the creative hallmarks of a Nintendo-developed title. It’s a game with many clever elements, such as the shrinking and Four Sword cloning abilities, both of which ensure that this title is still highly playable and exciting roughly a decade later. Available at a reasonable price on the Wii U eShop – and complemented by the handy save state feature – The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap may only offer a relatively small main quest, but it’s one that provides a high-quality experience from start to finish.