Preview: The Legend Of Zelda : The Minish Cap (Game Boy Advance) Hands-On

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Flagship / Genre: Action / Release Date: 01-10-05
A new Zelda game is always hotly anticipated, whatever format it’s on. Be it a new Cube epic, or a portable masterpiece, when Link shows up, gamers everywhere rejoice.

And now, with Nintendo not wanting anything to interfere with the release of the DS, they’ve pushed Minish Cap back a month or two in the US, but left its European date untouched. So here’s a full playtest, brought to you exclusively by InsidePulse.

Storywise, an evil swordsman has opened the local equivalent of Pandora’s Box, afflicting the land with monsters. To do so, he broke a seal that was kept in place by a magic sword, given to the people of Hyrule by the race of tiny magical people known to the Hylians as the Picori, but who call themselves the Minish. So Link has to head off, reforge the sword, repair the seal, and stop the bad guy. Oh yes, and he’s got to cure Zelda, who’s been turned to stone.

The game itself is very much what you’d expect from a “classic Zelda game”: Top-down view, items assigned to buttons, the oh-so-cool flick-screen scrolling between “zones”; you get the idea. The trick this time round is that Link has recruited the services of a highly opinionated creature who has decided to accompany him as a sentient hat. As well as having useful information, the hat knows a few magic tricks of its own, including the ability, at certain special places in the game, to shrink Link down drastically, leading to all sorts of Gulliver-esqe antics, communicating with the Minish/Picori, gaining access to otherwise unreachable areas, and having to negotiate a whole new set of challenges due to his new size. You’d really be surprised what goes on under the noses of the people in Hyrule…

All the questing is, again, classic Zelda. A succession of dungeons, gaining the Elemental Powers to infuse the sword with, broken up by the usual mini-questing for various items and as your sword powers up, you can learn more advanced sword techniques. And of course… Well, I’ll not spoil the surprise, but let’s just say there’s “more than a slight nod to other games in the series. In more ways than one”

In fact, the whole game’s riddled with recurring characters: Anju the Cucco-breeder is back, as is The Postman, Gorman, Mutoh and the Carpenters, the list goes on… Special mention goes to the young visitors from Holodrum and Labrynna.

But, of course, with a Zelda game, the quest is only half the story. And boy, does this game have side-quests galore. This time round, the Big Thing is special half-Talismans, known as Kinstones. These can be fused with people all over Hyrule, if you have a half that fits with their half. Legend suggests that when a half of a kintone is fused with a matching half, good luck will result for both parties: In reality, fusing Kinstones makes changes to the game world. They might be as simple as making a hidden chest appear, or as complex as inspiring an NPC to do something, setting in motion a chain of events that results in major residential redevelopment of Hyrule Town. Some very special golden Kinstones function as specific keys to unlock certain important areas of the game. As the Kinstones reveal their secrets, you’ll be able to visit Big Faries, learn the secret sword arts, and pick up the ever-familiar Heart Pieces, and complete all the other mini-quests.

Graphics-wise, the game shines. Simple, yes, but highly effective. Never a trace of any problems, the game serves as living proof that complexity is not always the Best Way. And I love the way Mini-Link is done… the two-pixel sptrie really puts the size difference into context (luckily, there’s an indicator, so you can see where he is). As far as sounds go, we have a nice balance of knowing remixes of tracks from other games, as well as totally new tunes. It’s actually very atmospheric (as far as a GBA game can be atmospheric, anyway), always suiting the mood, and making good use of the GBA’s sound capabilities.

Recent games in the series have been accused of lacking the “magic touch” of earlier games: Certainly, the last two GB titles, to me, felt like something was “missing” somehow. However, I can safely report that Minish Cap is a return to form, and a worthy successor to Link’s Awakening.

Coming soon: The definitive review! In the meantime, the Nintendo-Europe Official Minish Cap site has more stuff… And a very cool interface. Keep it here at InsidePulse.