The Minish Cap, Link’s most recent outing for the GBA, is a fun little game. From a graphics standpoint it’s bright and bubbly with Capcom’s trademark fluidity infusing every movement The visuals echo The Wind Waker eerily well for the context of such a small screen. Sound-wise, the GBA pipes out familiar Zelda tunes as best it can with a speaker barely an inch square. The controls take best advantage of the buttons at your disposal – I’m the unfortunate possessor of giant man-hands, but  I can hardly fault the game for the fact that when I get excited I stab, gust and roll all at once, usually off a cliff. No, overall I’d say tMC has proven to be a good way to whittle away the morning subway commute.

But it’s not Zelda. Not really.

Zelda is… Zelda. It’s not a timeline that holds the games together. It’s their character, their secret soul. What’s behind the rupees, to borrow a phrase. As the series has changed, so has it’s character. The Minish Cap attempts to recall the great 2D adventures of old school Zelda and uses elements perfected in 3D Zelda to capture the spirit, but ultimately falls short. It functions as a mirror of the series more than its most recent entry. Because Zelda is such an attractive franchise, tMC comes off handsomely enough – but I maintain it’s a imitation, not the genuine article.

I’ve broken it down into sections so the haters will have an easier time picking at it. I aim to please and annoy.

1: “Oh, it’s you again.”

Sometimes I think Zelda succeeds on the quality of its NPCs – the majority of MM trades on your interest in the workaday lives of Terminians. In tWW you must supplicate the Teacher on Windfall with trinkets until she’s so flattered she loses her grip on her finances and hands you the deed to valuable water-front property. aLttP has you play your ocarina to settle the soul of a sad boy in the woods. Some interactions are necessary, and some arbitrary, but all enrich the experience because there is reason behind them. Every though the story of the Skull Kid in aLttP doesn’t get you closer to your goal, it helps fill out the world, gives it a breathing texture that helps convey the illusion of reality.

tMC is filled with familiar faces. You have Tingle and Malon and Dampe. There are three suspiciously colourful ladies in a room at the Inn. A Goron diligently works at carving a cave in Hyrule field. Each time I encountered someone I had seen before, I was charmed. But the extent of my interaction with each went little beyond the first meeting, and most I could ignore if I wanted. Not specifically a crime against the name of Zelda – when the world is in peril, who has time to fetch every chicken? Yet I didn’t ignore these characters. I was drawn to them because I remembered them fondly from past adventures and wondered what part they would have to play in this current crisis.

That part, it turns out, was to give me the impression I was playing a Zelda game. Even the multiple sword-masters, clearly intended to echo your first instructor in tWW, gave me techniques rarely necessary in the course of the game. It didn’t matter that I went to Lon Lon Ranch and performed an altruistic B-and-E for the sake of Malon getting to the next screen – aside from the musical cue and the fact that she called herself ‘Malon,’ there was nothing uniquely Malon-y about her. Developers borrowed the face but left behind the character. She could have been anyone. And the Goron – where, exactly, do Gorons figure into the game? I was up in the mountains, and nary a Goron did I see. Again, the developers use a face we fans respond to, but don’t go the extra step to justify it.

Certainly, reoccurring characters are a part of any franchise. But these characters had back stories and purpose, fit into the world in such a way as to convince you this is, indeed, a world contained. Compelling characterization is not limited to 3D Zelda – people still moon over the lost love of Marin, last seen in LA. The Minish Cap is all surface and reflections.

And, finally, there’s Zelda. Zelda, the centre of these legends, who at the start of The Minish Cap comes running in to Link’s house (where he lives with his ‘grandfather’ as opposed to his ‘uncle’) and, to paraphrase, says, “w00t Link  I am teh Zelda  There’s a fair  Fun-fun ”

Two words: Come on. Even as a child, Zelda wasn’t a n00b. Coy and daring, not goofy and mindless. I could excuse this characterization if the rest were solid, but it all plays out as if Capcom aped the form of the game but didn’t bother with one of the elements that makes it great.

2: “Sounds like a song I know.”

Music in tMC is cobbled together like Hyrule Radio’s Top Forty. Not a problem in itself, but when combined with the sheer lack of characterization, at times it shows the game for the filler it is. Like Malon – the opening strains of Epona’s Song is meant to remind you who she is because there’s little else to do it. Members of the -blade family – Swift, Grey, Wave, Grim – are new to the series, but the music in their training halls is old hat from tWW. Aural ties are ultimately forgivable, but only in the event they aren’t merely providing a tenuous connection to history. As far as the dubious Capcom plot of faking out fans, the music goes a far way. It just has little to back it up.

3: “Wash. Rinse. Repeat.”

Enzo is Navi. Or, more accurately, Navi’s sharp-tongued successor Tatl. As mentioned, Swiftblade and kin are each an Orca. The Minish stand in for every non-Hyrulian denizen of Hyrule – shrinking is the new masking. Vaati is Standard Villain #5. What’s that? You say there’s a room with blocks in? Whatever shall I do? These re-iterations aren’t that bad, but what they exemplify is where the ball is dropped elsewhere.

The two truly innovative items in tMC are the Gust Jar and the Mole Mitts. Working under the constraints of 2D, developers came up with clever means to make the world a little more interesting and completely fail to follow through. The Mitts and the Jar are important in the first half of the game, but quickly fall into obscurity after they are found. Standing on the threshold of that final bell towards the end of the game, desperately trying to take a swig of Lon Lon’s Finest, I noticed them for the first time in ages. Their usefulness is too quickly expired. I’d love for each to become a staple in the Four Swords line of games, because in tMC they made little more than a tantalizing guest-shot.

Had use of these two items been more thoroughly integrated, tMC could be heralded as having redefined the nature of space in two dimensions. Zelda, regardless of its platform, is always pushing the gameplay envelope – NPC interaction in aLttP; transformation in MM; story in LA; travel in OoT and tWW. What is offered by tMC adds nothing but missed opportunities and more of the same.

That’s it for my critique. I thought it was a fun game – a good game when judged on its own merits. But put it up in its place in the franchise and it fails to be anything more than an imitation. It goes through the motions, has the voice and looks the part, but beyond the surface all the small things that give Zelda its soul – characterization, innovation, a sense of adventure – are missing. In place is a convincing forgery that only makes me long for LoZGC, with Miyamoto and Aonuma still steering the boat.