Let me just start by saying, “I’m a huge Legend of Zelda fan.” Not to the point where I get into philosophical debates about where each game falls in the “timeline” or anything like that, but I love playing these games. I have fond memories of skipping another Super Bowl featuring the Buffalo Bills to play the first game in the series; and staying up way past when I should have. The sense of adventure from these games is unlike anything else I’ve ever played.
The worlds always seemed so huge and vast. You could spend hours and hours, or weeks of your life exploring every nook and cranny only to realize you’d barely scratched the surface. It’s always about finding that next hidden secret and using some newly acquired item in ways you didn’t think were possible to discover all the things Miyamoto and the development team had tucked away in some far corner of the world.
Imagine my surprise then when I booted up The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap this past week. I had tried once before, but didn’t make it more than about 15 minutes before I had other things that required my attention and never got back to it. I started this game expecting something like I’ve always done. Link will start out with nothing and you’ll have to acquire the items he needs to begin his quest to save Princess Zelda. Then after just a few minutes things go crazy and you realize there is an entire world literally under Link’s feet.
When you meet the king of Hyrule he gives you a quest to find the Picori, a race of tiny beings that only children can see. Along the way you meet Ezlo, a Minish sage and craftsman, who has been turned into a hat. He gives you the ability to shrink down to a tiny size. This gives Link access to a whole new world. The tiny race of Picori inhabits just about every part of the real world. They help people in their everyday lives. They hide things under pots and they craft great weapons used to defeat Vaati, a corrupt member of their race.
It’s this combination of the real world and the miniature world that makes this such a unique experience. Many games in the Zelda franchise have alternate worlds, like the Dark World in A Link to the Past and the Twilight Realm in Twilight Princess, but they have generally been separated and rarely interacted with each other, if ever. There are numerous times throughout The Minish Cap where you need to switch back and forth between mini-Link and normal-Link to complete tasks. Statues in previous games that would activate at your touch can now be manipulated and turned on or off by shrinking down and going inside them. Houses now have secret accesses that only a creature the size of a mouse can reach, but hold important items that a normal sized person would need.
Then you have the Kinstones. These coins, which you find littered all over the place, can be be matched up with many of the inhabitants of the world to unlock new areas, cause treasure chests to be uncovered and create new areas of the world to explore. Most of these places or items aren’t necessary to progress through the game, but just talking to people will let you know they have part of a Kinstone to fuse with you. It was something I actively searched out every time I entered a new part of the world. Even if you don’t want to go actively searching for what the Kinstone fusion uncoveres, you would more than likely come across it as you crisscrossed the land looking for the four elements to restore the Picori Blade and defeat Vaati. Capcom sparingly used these Kinstones to advance the game. If you hadn’t fused any of them before that point you probably had a treasure trove of them stored up. You could then have a field day just talking to people and creating these treasure coins.
This is a game that balances the sense of exploration with the hand holding that many modern games employ. Sure you know exactly where you need to go to get the four elements you’re looking for, but it never tells you exactly what you need to do to get there. Those clues are hidden in the conversations you have with people in the world. Since the developers give you so many reasons to talk to people you’re constantly getting those clues to guide you along. Sprinkled into those clues are dozens upon dozens of side-quests that you can do to get helpful items that make the job of saving the world just a little bit easier.
Many times with a Zelda game I hit this point where I’ve been playing for 20 hours or so and I miss a day of playing, which turns into another day, which turns into a week, which turns into a month away from the game. Then I have to try to remember what I was doing and get motivated to get back into the game. With Minish Cap I’ve been so sucked into the world that I can’t stop playing. The game isn’t very long either, especially for a Zelda game. In less than a dozen hours the adventure is over. There are just so many little hooks in the game that I can’t help but pull it out and play for just a few more minutes even if I only complete part of a quest before having to stop.
People have been asking Miyamoto if he’d ever consider doing a 3D remake of a game like A Link to the Past after doing the hugely popular remake of Ocarina of Time. While I would love to see that game come to life on the 3DS, I think this is a better candidate for the treatment. The layers of depth to the visuals when you’re the size of an ant is amazing and I kept thinking that I would love to see this world come to life in 3D. Nintendo and Capcom really went all out to create a wonderful world that was full of life and mystery with this game. This game easily ranks among my top three Zelda games of all time along with A Link to the Past and Skyward Sword. I’m glad I finally got around to playing it, even if it took buying a 3DS and a free copy of the game to do it.