The Minish Cap Thoughts

NA Release Date: January 10, 2005 (GBA)
Initial Playthrough: c. September, 2019 – October, 2019 (WiiU Virtual Console)

So far we’re only to the second game of the series play-through and already we’ve found one of the Zelda’s I’ve not played at all! TMC falls solidly in the mid-to-late 2000s gap where despite playing The Wind Waker and enjoying it, I was still not excited about the aesthetic of Toon Link. Thus, I sat out basically everything between WW and Skyward Sword, with the notable exception of Twilight Princess.

The other issue is I played this game quickly over a period of a few weeks, but didn’t get around to completing the write-up before six months had passed… Nonetheless, let’s see what lasting impressions I was able to cull from TMC.

Fun-Sized Link is Just That
I remember hearing about this game from a co-worker when it came out. I didn’t think it sounded that ‘cool’ for Link to become super small. In all the Zelda I’d played up to that point, there was never really a time I thought “if only I was tiny, this would be easier/better/more fun.” In particular, I was concerned with what it meant for the overworld- the amount of additional content would theoretically go as the square of the size differential!

As it turns out- when a game mechanic is really fun, none of that matters. Particular highlights were the first fight against the green Chuchu- that something which had been so trivial across so many games now required a herculean effort just to survive was a pretty amazing beat. Other lengths the game goes to for the sake of playing with scale are also appreciated, such as dodging water drops while it rains on Mt. Crenel, clearing dust in attic rafters, etc. These prior examples all constitute the ‘zoom in’ mode when Link is miniturized- he appears the same size on-screen, while other things around him appear much larger.

Yeah… this about sums it up.

The alternate mode, addressing my earlier concern about scaling the overworld, simply changes Link’s sprite to a few measly pixels of green and leaves everything else unchanged. The UI does a good job helping you track him, and this perspective has you slipping through cracks in walls and running for your life from the otherwise friendly house pet population of Hyrule Town.

This conceit is executed so well and forms the backbone of nearly all the high points of this game. Crawling up inside an Armos to switch its mechanical power back on, allowing you to fight it at normal scale, or wrecking havoc on the innards of Wind Fortess boss Mazaal, were some of the moments that left me most satisfied when looking back on my time with the game.

Kinstones and Other Tedium…
At first, the kinstones were kinda fun. Partly because I kept forgetting where I was supposed to go for the main quest, I was always just roaming around Hyrule trying to figure out where I was supposed to be. As a result, I had a pretty ample stock of kinstones just lying around. That was nice so that when I found someone to trade with (which is sometimes integral to progressing in the main story) I usually had what they wanted.

I can recall at one point though needing to trade with some minish guy and not having the right shape of the super-common green type, which was a little maddening. No joke, I must have had 20+ spare green kinstones of shape W, X, and Z each, and zero of shape Y. So I had to wander out and farm kinstones to advance the plot, which I really wasn’t thrilled about. Sometimes, as when you gain access to the Wind Ruins, the kinstone mechanic is cleverly dovetailed with the primary gameplay, but more often than not it feels just overlayed atop typical LoZ-fare.

Another thing which took me a while to divine the purpose of were the mysterious shells. These were an important item in Link’s Awakening (though those were ‘secret’ seashells) that got you the better sword, so it was kindof a let-down when they turned out to just be a special currency for getting in-game collectible statues. I’ve never been much of a complete-ist in video games, and certainly not now with the more limited time I have for this stuff, so I’d normally be inclined to say ‘meh’ and skip it. …buuuut I had 100’s of these damn shells burning a hole in my pocket at about the midway point of the game and it seemed a waste to max out at 999 when I knew I’d keep finding them in chests everywhere just to go to waste.

Gotta catch ’em all. Or not.

So I start playing the weird probability game with Carlov to just burn through all the shells and clear my inventory. But it turns out it takes like… 30 seconds to get one figurine. There’s 130 + 6 (after you beat the game) to collect in total. Which means, even if luck is very much on your side, you could spend more than a full in-game hour (and odds are, significantly more than that) continuously cycling through Carlov’s (fine, but after 20+ iterations insufferable) dialog branches and pulling that stupid lever and watching the animation. So yeah, my appetite for that evaporated pretty quick. The insult to injury here is that, come to find out, only in completing this painful exercise of repetition can you get that inaccessible piece of heart you can see from the back entrance of one of the Hyrule Town homes. Yuck.

To-Scale Character Development
The story wasn’t really breaking a lot of new ground, though I gotta say I’m OK with that. Particularly for a handheld of its era, you weren’t really looking to be completely immersed so much as you were hoping for a decently fun way to kill a few hours stuck on a train, waiting for a flight, etc. TMC certainly delivers on that front- it’s a well-composed, compact game that generously rewards you for making a small effort to be clever in your puzzle-solving and battle stratagems. However, if I tell you that in TMC your quest to save the princess from an evil wizard by reforging a magical sword may only be completed by collecting a series of ancient MacGuffins elements then you would, perhaps, not be so shocked surprised.

Lest I damn any more with faint praise though, there were a few story touches I thought were quite nice. First- the fact that the Wind Element is missing after you complete the Fortress of Winds was unexpected. Even playing with my expectations just that little bit made me enjoy the main quest progression that much more. It felt more like what you’d really encounter on a true quest- setbacks which force you to reconsider your approach and change your tack.

The other thread I enjoyed was the relationship between Ezlo and Vaati. The idea that Vaati is Ezlo’s dark apprentice who turned on him is, while a little reminiscent of that galaxy far, far away, a fresh relationship dynamic we don’t see much of in Zelda games. It was fun to slowly piece together Ezlo’s history, and his role in how everything came to pass. That both your sidekick and antagonist share common roots as members of the Minish race is a satisfying justification for the fun of the scale-shifting mechanic.

‘What are you looking at?’

I Still Don’t Want to Play Four Swords…
Minish Cap is kind of an odd duck, in that it is the chronological start of, but also publishing-order finale to, the Four Swords side-series of games. Beyond that, it is a member of both the multiplayer-focused FS series but also a ‘mainline’ Zelda game. It’s hard to be all things to all people, and to that end, I think MC suffers a bit for it. Maybe I just never really bought-in to the narrative value of a magic sword whose ability was to split the user into multiple independent copies. Certainly, that is the justification for multiplayer Zelda, and I think some folks enjoyed it, but it was never my cup of tea.

The multiple-Links gimmick in TMC makes for some very fun puzzle-solving instances, and also lends a layer to the complexity of some boss battles (Gyorg Pair, Vaati’s later forms) that I genuinely enjoyed. Still, from a narrative standpoint the mechanic pulls me out of the world a bit. I’ve already suspended my disbelief for the talking hat that makes me smaller- the Four Sword takes it just a little too far with the silliness… Contrast this with the morally challenging, reality-questioning opus that is Link’s Awakening (which manages to ‘stick the landing’ on a giant sentient whale…) and you’ll find this isn’t an unfairly high bar for the mobile entries of the series.

All of this to say: we won’t be playing FS or FSA as part of this run-through. TMC, while fun on its own, did little to convince that any subsequent exploits of The Links and Vaati are really that essential to the meta-narrative of Zelda.

Wrap-Up: Winners and Losers
Winner(s): Din, Farore, and Nayru! As a big fan of the Oracle games, it was unexpected for the corporeal goddesses to crop up here as homeless folks. One of the more fun kinstone bits for me.
Loser(s): Tingle(s). We actually encounter this goober for the first time in our playthrough here, along with his weird family. I used to be an apologist for him in MM, but after reading about some of his endeavors in his spin-off games, I can no longer support whatever’s happening there.
Winner(s): Blade Brothers. I stumbled across these guys progressively through the game pretty organically; the payoff of getting all the Tiger Scrolls was also proportional to the effort, even if I am too much of a hack to make any real strategic use of the techniques…
Loser: Gregal. I’m sorry, man. Some of us were not smart enough to use the Gust Jar to get rid of that ghost who was haunting you to death, apparently, and so you died. The larger tragedy, of course, was that meant I never got the Light Arrows.
Winner: Vaati Reborn/Transfigured/Wrath. Hell of a final boss battle- it kicked my butt a few times and I needed to go around collecting heart pieces for an evening in the end game to buff up for him. A really challenging progression that made for a satisfying finale.
Loser: Maggie the Librarian. For whatever reason, I was super Not In the Mood for that book return fetch-quest. Boo.

Final Thoughts
I put off writing this for too long, and a bit too much of this game fell out of my head. Still, it’s been a fun to go back and remember it again from my notes, watching a little play-through footage and listening to the soundtrack some. And: I wasn’t sure where else to put this, but the art and audio direction were both spot-on. This is a huge leap from the GB/GBC entries, particularly from a visual standpoint, and the developers deserve a lot of credit for that.

Not sure TMC will ever be a classic for me, but it’s held up well in the 15 years since its release and I’m really glad to have finally picked it up and played this one to completion.

Up Next
Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS Cart)

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