Although practically all of the games in the Zelda series are well known and loved by everyone, many tend to forget about or overlook a lot of the handheld games within the series. To be completely honest, I am one of those people who would immediately list Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask within my top favorites. However, I am also a huge fan of The Minish Cap, and I have plenty of great reasons to share with you why it deserves way more love than it actually gets.
First of all, the graphics are incredibly colorful and maintain the vibrancy of Four Swords and The Wind Waker, its predecessors. The sheer saturation of colors not only brings this game to life, but the resulting graphics will still impress players to this day, even though it’s a mere Gameboy Advance game. That long-lasting appeal is definitely something that we can all appreciate!
Exploring worlds both great and small
The gameplay is also really fun, and playing as Minish Link has a rather surprising appeal—maneuvering him to avoid and route around obstacles such as raindrops, puddles, and even the miniscule creatures that one would normally not have to worry about as a normal-sized human! I find this incredibly entertaining, having a miniature-sized Link surf his way down a river on a lilypad or fight past large enemies that were previously the size of small insects. The very notion that tiny creatures living in tiny objects is especially charming in the design of the Picori and Minish Village; Nintendo went to the extra effort to ensure that the slightest of details were present—like their houses being Hylian-sized shoes and the village elder Gentari’s staff actually being a sewing needle.
There are six dungeons in total, and none of them are on the extreme difficulty side of things, all of which able to be completed in a short amount of time. Yet the dungeons are more about personality and atmosphere than difficulty; each of them have their own quirks and present their own little challenges to the point where receiving each of the elements at the conclusion of each dungeon is certainly rewarding and satisfying. There are still the typical Zelda puzzles and enemies we know and love—switches, lighting torches, and pushing blocks and statues around. The different puzzles and obstacles in each dungeon are very well thought out and even enjoyable to solve and complete. That doesn’t even mention that many of the items that you receive throughout the game are unique and interesting as well as fun to use.
Deepwood Shrine has vibrant greenery and looks like somewhere you’d find Indiana Jones exploring. Its item, the Gust Jar—allows Link to draw things in such as enemies or Rupees and fire them out as weapons, or to even propel himself across water as a Minish. That item is one of my favorites to use because I haven’t come across another item in any other game quite like it.
Deepwood Shrine has vibrant greenery and looks like somewhere you’d find Indiana Jones exploring.
As for the Cave of Flames, it’s quite a feat just to get there, first plowing through Mt. Crenel and making your ascension. The trip is enjoyable as you climb vines, fly over whirlwinds with Ezlo serving as a makeshift parachute, and scale rock walls. The best part is when you reach the top of Mt. Crenel where the music intensifies as well as the mood because of the rain. I think that the Cave of Flames is essentially designed to be like a mine—a characteristic that had yet to be explored in the franchise—and, let’s face it, it’s hilarious watching Link’s reaction as he rides the mine cart throughout this dungeon. I found its item the Cane of Pacci to be quite curious as it gives Link the ability to flip platforms and even enemies upside down! How anyone comes up with these items and their functions is beyond me, but they are pretty clever.
Before reaching the Fortress of Winds, you have to get through Castor Wilds and the Wind Ruins, which are practically almost separate dungeons themselves. There’s no need to fear, however, because you do get the Pegasus Boots beforehand, one of the few familiar Zelda items found in the game. These are extremely helpful because they get Link moving a lot faster than before! It is especially helpful when you need to dash across the difficult, swampy terrain of Castor Wilds, and to perform a dash attack—but most importantly, now it’s quicker and easier to take up less time going places. You will get the Mole Mitts in this dungeon, and they are another fun and interesting item to use as they allow Link to dig just like a mole through soft earth as if he were an archaeologist. They are pretty simple, but still another great item to obtain in this game. My favorite part about the Fortress of Winds is the boss Mazaal, who resembles Gohdan from Wind Waker; it’s definitely an engaging and entertaining fight as you’re faced with dodging its hands and their attacks and then having to sneak into the the boss’ head as a Minish to tear up the circuitry as one might see in the movies.
The Temple of Droplets has an air of mystery about it, and since it serves as the water dungeon of the game it actually is quite challenging. (Everyone loves Zelda water dungeons, right?) I like that it has both ice and water incorporated into its design, and the Flame Lantern an ingenious item since you can melt the ice in both the dungeon and in the boss fight with the giant Octorok. Royal Valley and the Royal Crypt come first; they’re also favorites of mine because they are pretty creepy and give me a taste of Halloween. As for the beautiful Cloud Tops, you can fulfill your childhood dream of walking on the clouds, and I find it oddly satisfying that you can even dig through some clouds with the Mole Mitts. I like that this area is hard to navigate and easy to get lost in because it not only gives you a challenge but also really makes you think.
I find it oddly satisfying that you can even dig through some clouds with the Mole Mitts.
One of the best dungeons out of the game in my opinion is the Palace of Winds, mainly because it’s high in the sky, and the boss is a delight to fight, one of the most unique fights in not just the game but the franchise. The design of this dungeon is stunning—you can see the clouds and world far below, which is a bit terrifying since Link is able to fall off of the edge down below. You have to be careful about where you walk! This dungeon is quite puzzle-heavy, so, if you’re into that sort of thing, then this is the place for you. I think that’s a good thing as it’s a nice break from the more traditional combat-heavy dungeons. I find the item that the dungeon item, the Roc’s Cape, is one of the most gratifying items in the game.
The boss fight is awesome, not only because you’re actually riding atop of him over the clouds, but also due to the fact that you have to utilize the the Four Sword as a mechanic for beating the Gyorg Pair as you alternate back and forth between the Big Gyorg and the Small Gyorg with the aid of the Roc’s Cape in order to jump onto them. It can get a little tricky sometimes, because you have to try and set up Link and his three clones in a way that will successfully hit the amount out of the eight eyeballs that are open on the Big Gyorg, while at the same time dodging attacks from the small one. This fight definitely keeps you on your toes by forcing you to pay attention to which eyes are open and waiting to be wailed on with Link’s sword, as well as when to take that leap of faith onto the other Gyorg as the other one moves out of the way. It’s a very engaging battle, and I always enjoy it given how it’s sort of rewarding after such a long dungeon, perhaps nearly as long as than the other dungeons combined.
Lastly, the Dark Hyrule Castle—almost a cliche in most of the Zelda games—not only has amazing music, but an evil atmosphere that reflects Vaati and his dark intentions. The color scheme of purples and greens adds to this as well. Darknuts are one of the most terrifying enemies in Zelda, and the fact that there are several in here to defeat makes going through Dark Hyrule Castle that much better.
There is just so much to do in The Minish Cap that it still astounds me. Besides going through the dungeons and the overworld, you also have a number of sidequests to complete: trading Kinstones and collecting figurines. The kinstones have a total of 100 fusions, adding a significant hunting and collecting element to the game as you meet scores of interesting characters. For example, the owners of some of the Kinstones that you fuse with are cats, the Tingle brothers, and even Din, Farore, and Nayru themselves. Many of these fusions unlock new abilities, access to new areas, or other general rewards, and it’s always fun to see what you get out of each fusion.
As for the figurines, these are fun to collect as well, because you never know what you’re going to get, and they’re cute and interesting to look at! There are 136 total, and you have to ration your collected shells in a mini-game so that you minimize duplicates so you can collect them all. The last six are actually not available until after you beat the game, so there’s a bit more incentive for you to finish if you really want to reach completion of your figurine collection! It’s like a drawing for a prize in a sense, where Link is trading the mysterious shells needed for these figurines for a chance to win a particular figurine. As you can imagine, this takes some time and patience, but it’s a nice break from the main storyline, and satisfying to complete the full collection. There are plenty of opportunities to get these mysterious shells, so it’s another great thing to add on the to do list for this game.
Before moving on, I wanted to mention one of my favorite places out of the entire game: the Elemental Sanctuary. It really is a nice safe haven away from the troubles of Hyrule and Vaati’s wrath. It’s very much a serene and peaceful place; in a sense, video games in general (but especially the Legend of Zelda series) have always provided me with that similar feeling and safe haven away from life and its harsh realities. They really helped me get through some rough patches in my life, and made me incredibly happy to immerse myself in the world of Hyrule and each game’s individual story. I think that being in Elemental Sanctuary sort of reminded me of that, and gave me that same escape, just within The Minish Cap itself. I find it not only extremely calming but also charming because it serves as a constant reminder that it’s okay to remain a child at heart and that even the smallest of people can accomplish great things. Cheesy, I know, but it’s the truth. In fact, these reminders are some of the main things that I got out of playing The Minish Cap.
The next thing that I need to talk about is the amazing music. The Legend of Zelda series has always had great music, and The Minish Cap is no exception. Yes, it’s a bit limited by the fact that it’s on Gameboy Advance; however, there was definitely a lot of thought and effort put into this game’s tunes. Many of them incorporate some familiar motifs from the older Zelda games such as the infamous dungeon theme in the Royal Crypt that harkens from the very first Legend of Zelda. There’s also the all too familiar house music, fairy’s fountain medley, and the Hyrule Field theme, which is Zelda‘s now-familiar anthem. Another example of a familiar motif is within the theme for rescuing Zelda; it sounds exactly like the credits to Ocarina of Time. It’s very sweet and nostalgic when you hear it as it’s a reminder of another great game in the series. A lot of these songs are extremely catchy—so don’t be surprised when you find yourself randomly humming one of the songs.
My personal favorites are “Vaati’s Theme,” “Ezlo Appears,” “Minish Village,” “Zelda,” and “Elemental Sanctuary” just to name a few. They really fit the characters really well and manage to evoke the emotions needed for certain moments throughout the story. Just listen to the amazing soundtrack here; it’s totally worth your time:
In terms of Vaati, I think that he is more of a respectable villain within The Legend of Zelda series than people give him credit for. For starters, he didn’t start out as the bad guy. He was a young Minish boy who aspired to be a Minish sage just like Ezlo. As such Ezlo took him in as his apprentice. He merely succumbed to the evil within his heart and his selfish desires in wanting more—to become an evil sorcerer and obtain all the power he needed through the Light Force. One can’t help but kind of feel sorry for him and Ezlo at this unfortunate turn of events, but it also provides another valuable life lesson (which I truly think that the Zelda series is also great at)—to be careful what you wish for, and to be careful about the selfish desires and nature of the human heart.
Also, you have to admit that he’s pretty smart—turning Princess Zelda into stone in the beginning to prevent her from interfering with his plans and entering the competition at the Picori Festival in order to receive the Picori Blade as a means to covertly obtain the Light Force. He also takes over Hyrule Castle and completely transforms it into his domain, showing that he is absolutely serious about his plan and achieving it. To be honest, I kind of like Vaati a bit more than Ganon, mainly because of his past. It makes me feel like I can empathize with him more since he didn’t always have bad intentions. The final showdown with Vaati is epic as well as fun, of course, with him having three different forms. It requires the use and help of your Link clones, tying the Four Sword into this game as well. Eventually, with his defeat brings the end of the game, all is made well again and Hyrule is restored—all made worth getting through everything up to that point.
Last but certainly not least, Link’s companion is a talking cap… enough said! Ezlo is definitely not as annoying as Navi, and, once you find out more about his backstory, you will grow to like him even more. Learning about how one of his apprentices betrayed him and turned to evil lets you in more about Ezlo’s goodwill and willingness to save all of Hyrule with Link, despite it not being his fault—and you can’t help but find him likeable. Later on throughout the game, you are able to utilize Ezlo for abilities that Link wouldn’t have otherwise. Out of all of Link’s companions, he is one of my most loved and memorable, not only because of his occasional wit and overall character, but because of his story as well.
Overall, The Minish Cap is a fun and amazing game that deserves better attention than what it’s gotten. The story still resonates with me even after all of these years, and it will always be one of my favorite Zelda games of all time. Hopefully if you haven’t played through The Minish Cap yet, I’ve managed to convince you! Although now it’s almost well over twelve years old, it is still a game worth giving a chance.
What do you think? In your opinion, what is the one underdog in the Legend of Zelda series that deserves more attention and acclaim?