It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since the last 2D Legend of Zelda game was released. Since that time, the series has evolved significantly. Twilight Princess showed us the potential that motion controls have in the Legend of Zelda, and Phantom Hourglass demonstrated how well we could play the Legend of Zelda using only a stylus. This year, the series’ 25th anniversary has set the stage for additional changes. We’ve already seen Ocarina of Time make a stunning transition to the Nintendo 3DS, and Skyward Sword is ready to prove that full motion controls are the best way to play the Legend of Zelda.

I recently played through The Minish Cap again. It was the first time I had completed the game (and the first time I had truly spent time playing the game) since it was originally released in 2005. I was surprised to see that, even after six years and significant changes, The Minish Cap has greatly influenced every Legend of Zelda title released since 2005.

I don’t think anyone would argue that 2D Legend of Zelda titles have no influence on the newer 3D titles, but I also don’t think most people realize just how strong that influence is. Some of the recent changes are simply the latest update to ever-changing game mechanics, but others have had a significant impact on dungeon design and the ever-changing Legend of Zelda timeline.

Some of the biggest changes from the past six years got their start in The Minish Cap.

Cities in the Sky

An intriguing aspect of both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword are the cities in the sky. Skyward Sword puts the sky-based civilization at center-stage for the first time, but the previously released Twilight Princess gave us a glimpse of an ancient, highly advanced, forgotten civilization. In 2006, I was amazed to see the Legend of Zelda introducing something so new. Somehow, I managed to forget completely that one year earlier The Minish Cap had introduced the Wind Tribe and the Palace of Winds.

The Palace of Winds also appears in Four Swords (as Vaati’s Palace) and in Four Swords Adventures, but there was no civilization associated with it in those games.

I’m far from the first person to suggest a connection between the sky towns in various Legend of Zelda games, but I am most interested in The Minish Cap’s influence on Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. Sky civilizations were not a part of the Legend of Zelda story before The Minish Cap was released, but six years later they have become a major story element and will become even more important once Skyward Sword is released.

Placing the Focus on Unique Equipment

The Legend of Zelda series hasn’t always been known for unique equipment, but the games began adding interesting and original equipment beginning with A Link to the Past. Of course, the most famous item from A Link to the Past is the Hookshot.

The Hookshot is a neat adaptation of a grappling hook, but in the end it really is just a glorified grappling hook. It fits well with the other standard equipment that Link often carries, but the latest Legend of Zelda games aren’t remembered because Link used his standard equipment.

Over the last twenty years, Link has slowly added untraditional equipment to his arsenal. Unfortunately, for most of that time each game introduced only one or two new types of equipment and used them sparingly. When things really mattered, Link always relied primarily on his standard equipment (which I am defining as a sword, shield, bow and arrows, bombs, boomerang, and Hookshot or grappling hook).

Twilight Princess and Spirit Tracks both have Link relying less on his standard equipment and use the new equipment for more puzzles and battles. The Spinner in Twilight Princess is a favorite among Legend of Zelda fans. Twilight Princess also made the standard equipment feel new by changing the functionality of those items. Spirit Tracks introduced the Sand Wand, whip, and Whirwind.

(Oddly enough, Phantom Hourglass, which was released between Twilight Princess and Spirit Tracks, relied entirely on standard equipment and only changed the functionality of the items enough to make them work with a stylus.)

Skyward Sword looks like it will continue the trend of using new equipment more than the standard equipment, but The Minish Cap focused on new equipment before the latest Legend of Zelda games and it took the idea even further.

The Minish Cap includes all of the standard equipment except the Hookshot, but marginalizes them most of the time. The dungeon items, three of which are unique to The Minish Cap, take center stage and are used extensively throughout the game:

  • The Gust Jar is originally introduced to solve puzzles and clear debris but is also used for transportation, to defeat some enemies, and is required to kill the final boss.
  • The Cane of Pacci is used to flip over objects but is also used to access new areas by turning pits into trampolines and, like the Gust Jar, must be used to kill the final boss.
  • The Mole Mitts are primarily used to dig through caves but obstacles have been placed to make them required for a boss fight and to navigate several caves throughout the overworld. They also act as a replacement for a shovel.
  • The lantern is a classic Legend of Zelda item that has always been used to light torches or to help Link see through dark areas, but in The Minish Cap it is also used for combat.
  • Roc’s Cape remains the same as in previous Legend of Zelda games but is used in new types of puzzles.

Meanwhile, the standard equipment, aside from the sword, is rarely required. When the standard equipment is required, it isn’t used in a new way.

The reliance on new types of equipment affects the rest of the game entirely. The overworld is more interesting because the dungeon items are used while traveling, and the dungeons themselves are masterfully designed to take advantage of the new equipment.

A New Type of Dungeon Design

Dungeons in the Legend of Zelda often follow a similar pattern where you work your way to the dungeon item, use that item to complete the rest of the dungeon, and then use the item to defeat the boss. In some cases the item then becomes baggage that is rarely used once the dungeon is completed.

While this does not apply to every dungeon, it does apply to most Legend of Zelda games. The Minish Cap not only follows this formula, but it takes it to an extreme (with the exception of dungeon items never becoming baggage). The new dungeon designs are the most unique in the Legend of Zelda series due to their extreme reliance on dungeon items (and partially due to the miniature-Link mechanics).

Following the release of The Minish Cap, dungeon designs in all Legend of Zelda titles changed. Arbiter’s Ground in Twilight Princess is a perfect example of a dungeon design influenced by The Minish Cap. The series has shifted from dungeon designs based on a location (forest, mountain, lake, etc.) to dungeons designed entirely around the use of a single item.

The Lasting Influence of 2D Design

The Minish Cap introduced, or in some cases perfected, features that are now considered a crucial part of what makes a Legend of Zelda game, but you could argue that every Legend of Zelda game has provided something important to the series. Even The Adventure of Link is credited with introducing magic, sword skills, and Dark Link to the series. What makes The Minish Cap stand out among them is the timing of its release and the way it was designed.

The Minish Cap is the last 2D Legend of Zelda game and could be the last one ever released (though I hope that isn’t the case). Despite the huge differences between 2D and 3D Legend of Zelda games, it has a far-reaching influence that often goes unnoticed even among dedicated Legend of Zelda fans.

If you haven’t played The Minish Cap recently, I suggest you give the game another play-through (or a first!). The game I ignored for six years is 2D Legend of Zelda, perfected.