In the introductory editorial in this series, we discussed how the best/worst Zelda game is often different for everyone, and that many times (though not every time) this is informed by something as simple as the first Zelda game played. Not that your first Zelda game is always your favorite, but that it sets a mold for what you feel a Zelda game should be. Of course there is no such thing as a “bad” Zelda game, because the one thing I think we can all agree upon as Zelda fans in that each Zelda game is impeccably crafted. However, Nintendo is not infallible, and perhaps each title has a set of weaknesses.
To that end today I will discuss why it is that I feel The Minish Cap is the worst Zelda game.
Jump inside to read more!
Let’s begin by talking about the first Legend of Zelda game I’d played: A Link to the Past. The bright and colorful sprites, vastly varied landscapes, the deep soundtrack, the unbelievable amount of secrets, the perfect gameplay… even the story, which might seem so simple at first, has a tragic darkness permeating throughout: these six innocent maidens are being captured and “sacrificed” to open a gate? That coupled with the fact that we witness the death of Flute Boy and see what happens to those poor souls who have made their way into the Dark World… it’s surprisingly dark despite the vibrant colors. In short: it’s a nearly perfect game.
So when word came in 2003 that for the Game Boy Advance Nintendo would be returning to the top-down sprited gameplay style of A Link to the Past but influenced a bit by the quirky Wind Waker, I was psyched! I preordered the special package that included the gold-colored “Triforce Game Boy Advance SP” and counted down the days until its release.
My hopes were almost immediately dashed. The color palette, first of all, was all wrong. Instead of A Link to the Past’s and The Wind Waker’s bright and vibrant colors we got a dull and dingy color palette. Just take a look at the ground, for instance: instead of the rich green color, we have a bland yellow-green in The Minish Cap. Certainly the graphics are technically improved in this newer game, simply by the virtue of an improvement from 16 to 32-bit, now we can see twice as much detail. But what’s the point if that detail isn’t visually appealing? And not only was the color scheme all wrong, but the actual layout felt tiny and cramped in comparison to A Link to the Past’s huge overworld… much of which you could explore right after setting out on your quest to find the three Pendants of Virtue. Almost nowhere was blocked to you to explore. Not so in The Minish Cap which makes use of the block-the-player-from-going-anywhere-but-this-little-area-until-they-get-the-new-tool mechanic that has become worse and worse as each new game comes along.
This even spills over into the primary gimmick of the game: the titular Minish Cap which shrinks Link down into bug-size to explore specific areas. The reason I call this a gimmick is that instead of enlarging the landscape to giant size to represent the Minish size–thereby providing a much-needed larger second overworld–the game often represents this by shrinking Link’s sprite down in size and uses the same overworld. Except in the few places it actually wants us to use the Cap. This is problematical on two fronts: 1) it tells us specifically where it does/doesn’t want us to use the Cap taking the fun of discovery out of the equation, and also 2) it doesn’t rectify the fact that the overworld already feels small and cramped in comparison to most other Zelda games. Compare this to A Link to the Past where once you discover a similar mechanic–the Magic Mirror to transport you to and from the Dark World–you can use it absolutely anywhere in the Dark World, discovering secrets all on your own with almost no indicators. When The Minish Cap wants you to use the Minish Cap to discover a secret, they mark it out for you in red ink.
The other major gimmick of the game, the Kinstones, replaced the excitement of discovering Heart Pieces in secret nooks and crannies with a much less interesting “find the right guy with your Kinstone” minigame. And then there’s the Four Sword, itself a cheap gimmick: at the end you get the power to charge up your sword and shoot a beam that heals Zelda the one time, but does nothing else.
The rest of the items were also pretty bland. The Cane of Pacci’s primary purpose is to flip stuff over. We already had that in A Link to the Past: it was a Magic Hammer. I’m not sure why The Minish Cap had to dress up and disguise the Magic Hammer. It’s only other use is to somehow charge holes in the ground up with some sort of propulsion power to send Link hurtling up high ledges. It seems like that should have been a separate item altogether. But speaking of bland items: all they could think of to put in this game’s ice dungeon was a lantern? A lantern?
But perhaps one of the most important aspects, the story, I felt was a bit boring. When I’d first heard the quote from Aonuma that The Minish Cap would take place before even Ocarina of Time and would be one of the oldest stories of Hyrule, I was so excited! What new and interesting details would we discover about Hyrule’s history and how would that relate to the other games we know and love? When it turned out to be about Vaati, the villain of the inferior Four Swords games, I was pretty let down. Four Swords games just aren’t as interesting to me as regular Zelda games–for many reasons, but one of which is certainly that I do not find their stories as compelling as those involving “the Triforce saga” of Ganon and the Golden Power and the Princess. However, I was able to put that aside and focus on what would be interesting about this game: Vaati’s backstory. Well, it was certainly interesting to see how he’d come to become the evil wind sorcerer… but The Minish Cap ended up feeling much more childlike in tone than any other Zelda game. This was likely intentional, due to the fairytale like story and things in the game (talking hat, magic beanstalks). It just felt like rather than a regular Zelda game, this was the “kid brother version”.
I guess I just mainly felt let down. Rather than a step forward in top-down Zelda gaming, I felt like we got a watered down and inferior Link to the Past-wannabe. The only new things it brought to the table were either just old things dressed up in new clothes or flat out gimmicks. And all of this wrapped in packaging intended for a slightly younger audience. Just not my cup of tea.
But maybe it all comes down to the fact that since my first Zelda game was A Link to the Past, any top-down Zelda title thereafter had not only huge shoes to fill, but shoes of a specific shape and size and color.
What was your first Zelda game? When looking at your least favorite Zelda game, does your first seem to be connected in some way? Let us know in the comments and maybe I’ll feature your combo in the next editorial in this series!