At 25YL, we love gaming, and moreover, we love The Legend of Zelda series. That’s why we’re going to cover the entire Nintendo Franchise, including handheld games, every week. This week, we are taking a look at The Minish Cap.
Every Legend of Zelda game has a story to tell. Some will tell of great adventures across the seas, of ghosts and pirates. Some tell the tales of growing up, of finding your place in the world. Some embrace death and explore our limited time on Earth.
The Minish Cap tells us how Link got his hat.
That’s not to say it’s a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s got charisma and neat puzzles. It’s got a clever core mechanic that allows for some unique experiences. But its also a game that exists only to add backstory to the lore of the Zelda canon. Like Link’s hat.
Minish Cap starts with a hat-less Link walking through a celebration with the Hyrulian princess, Zelda. A few minutes later and, shocker, she’s in danger. This time, an evil wizard named Vaati has turned her to stone and broken a legendary weapon known as the Picori Blade. Unsurprisingly, it falls to Link to get it fixed and save Hyrule. Link is sent off to go find the Picori, or the Minish as they call themselves, but gets stopped by a talking hat being bullied by Octoroks. The hat, better known as Ezlo, explains that the Minish are, as their name implies, rather mini. He explains that he can help Link shrink down and get their help. Sure enough, once small, Link quickly finds the Minish and they give him the main quest: find some sacred elements in dungeons and re-forge the Blade. Pretty standard Zelda stuff.
It’s a charming game, one that feels more in line with Wind Waker’s Toon-esque atmosphere than the more traditional Zelda dourness. Link is about as expressive as a 2D Gameboy Advance sprite can be, giving him far more character than previous handheld entries. The towns feel full of life, with responsive animals and reactive inhabitants. Cats will chase tiny Link and the mail carrier will leap over Link if you stay in his way for too long.
The shrinking mechanic is the main gimmick of the game. Shrinking and growing on specific stumps will get Link into and through dungeons, as well as open new areas of the overworld. The game does a lot with it beyond just using a travel tool, reintroducing standard enemies like ChuChus and Octoroks as giant boss monsters in dungeons.
Yet for all its charms and clever ideas, Minish Cap is frequently forgotten. The story is lackluster and the other new mechanic introduced is frustrating and only adds extra steps to puzzle solving.
The story focuses almost entirely on lore and backstory for other games. Rather than introduce new characters into the lore or explore grand new themes, Minish Cap focuses on explaining elements of other games. According to the official Zelda timeline, it is chronologically the second game in the series, and so busies itself diving into details for games that come thousands of years later. The immediate pay-off is Link getting his iconic hat, but so much else in the game is purely in service of Four Swords. Minish Cap explores the backstory of Vaati, the main antagonist from Four Swords, as well as the origin of the Four Sword, the mystical weapon that lets Link split into multiple versions of himself from, you guessed it, Four Swords. (For more on Four Swords, check out Collin Henderson’s piece on it)
The town is full of recurring characters and tribes. Beedle sets up a shop, Gorons meander about, Dampé is inexplicably there. The only new character of note is Ezlo, who spends so much time as Link’s hat that I’ve had to look up his name multiple times while writing this. The Minish are cute additions to the lore but serve no real purpose outside of crafting the Four Sword. There is an argument that the Minish become the Kokiri or the Koroks, but it’s tenuous at best and has never been confirmed.
The other new mechanic introduced is Kinstone Fusing. On the surface, it’s not really a bad mechanic. If you see somebody with a heart near their name, you can fuse Kinstones with them. Just match two halves of a stone, push them together, and you’re done. As long as you’re checking chests and killing enemies, you should have the right Kinstone every time.
For a while.
Traditionally, if you see something behind a puzzle in a Zelda game, you have three options. One, solve the puzzle and get the reward. Two, realize you don’t have the tools needed, make a mental note, and come back later. Or three, fail to solve an obvious puzzle, like someone who is definitely not me.
Minish Cap adds a fourth option. Kinstone fusing is, at minimum, one extra step to finishing a puzzle. If you’re lucky, you’ll see someone who wants to fuse, have the right stone, and congrats! You’ve unlocked something. But now you need to travel to whatever it is you just unlocked. If you’re unlucky, you’ll see a chest or door you want to unlock first, then spend a good chunk of change hunting down people who want to fuse Kinstones, When you do find someone that wants to fuse, you may not have the right shape stone. Then you get to spend time grinding enemies in hopes of finding the right shape. Afterward, you get to return to your fusing partner, line up the stones, then return back to the start to get your prize.
The saving grace is that Kinston fusion is largely optional, but the game clearly wants you to spend time with it. Fan-favorite upgrades are locked behind long Kinstone fusing quests and Hyrule residents constantly have the bubble above their head when approached, begging for a fusion. So while it is optional, its optional in a “really hard to ignore” way.
Minish Cap is by no means a must-play Zelda game. Clocking in at around 10 hours of story, it’s a short, sweet nugget of fun being held back by a lame mechanic and a desire not to create, but to flesh out the lore of other games. As much as I want to love it, it’s just too little of a game to really remember past “oh yeah, Minish Cap. That was alright.”
But also, you should quit before the Palace of Winds because that dungeon is a slog.