Time to kick off the dungeon reviews for yet another game. The Minish Cap is one of my favorite Zelda games and has some of my favorite dungeons of the series — as I will get into in future reviews — but the game’s first dungeon is the one dungeon in the game that feels the most underwhelming. Some might even say it’s diminutive in performance, a pretty small-scale dungeon without much going for it. But it’s also a pretty miniscule problem for the game, too. Ah… I’m sorry. What I’m saying here is Deepwood Shrine doesn’t offer much but it’s not terribly offensive either.
The dungeon’s thematic design is probably the best example of this. The dungeon by no means looks bad — nothing in The Minish Cap does; the game is beautiful — but it’s hard to say anything interesting was done with this dungeon. It’s one of the series’ few true “nothing but a forest temple” dungeons. This is ironic since arguably the first full-on Forest Temple of the series in Ocarina of Time was much more complex and fascinating from the thematic side of things. Aside from the fact that Deepwood Shrine is small and you’re Minish-sized while exploring it (and I’m not going to lie, that is cool, it’s just not unique to Deepwood Shrine; it’s part of the game itself), there’s nothing to the dungeon whatsoever beyond “It’s a temple or shrine of some kind, meant for purposes unclear and irrelevant, and its in the woods. It’s, y’know, woodsy and such.”
Enemies are mostly giant — er, normal-sized — bugs and a few walking shrooms. There’s some cobwebs and thorns about. But that’s it. Even the music, while good, isn’t anything that new. It is at the very least interesting how menacing it sounds for a forest dungeon, and it synergizes well with Ezlo’s initial comments about being scared to go in. It’s by no means a bad theme, of course, I just think it’s the same as most of the dungeon’s thematic elements: Well put-together, but nothing new or that fascinating.
Moving on from the dungeon’s feels, let’s discuss that ever-important gameplay. Let’s face it: The dungeon is basic. It has to be, doesn’t it? It’s the first dungeon of the game. But the best early dungeons of the series combine easy challenges with interesting ideas to give you a unique experience. It’s never an excuse to wait and avoid using the thematic and mechanical uniqueness that later dungeons always have until the game thinks the players are well-versed enough.
So how far did Deepwood Shrine fall into that trap? I’ll admit I’m a bit biased, since I’ve played the game numerous times and each time Deepwood Shrine feels worse and worse to me. So I’ll say this about the dungeon: It’s not as enjoyable on subsequent playthroughs, and it could have been put-together much better. But it’s still alright.
Again, it feels like I might be biased since the dungeon does offer plenty of new things. It has those stretching mushrooms. It has a really interesting and new dungeon item. It has several interesting and fun mechanics, such as the rotating barrel in the central chamber and floating across the water on lily-pads. It even has some great bosses, the Madderpillar being an excellent spin on the classic Moldorm fights, and the Big Green Chuchu being easy (which is perfectly acceptable for a game’s first boss) but still enjoyable and boasting a great concept. So what’s not so enjoyable about Deepwood Shrine? Well…
I guess I’d have to pin it down to this: While the dungeon boasts many unique concepts, I never really felt like I had to approach the dungeon any differently. The Gust Jar was a cool new item, but most of the time you just use it to uncover things, fight annoying shroom people, or grab stretching shrooms from a distance like a makeshift Hookshot; the dungeon feels like it’s going through the motions of how to play like a Zelda game. There are some neat ideas, but they’re either too short-lived, or never really used in a fresh way. So the dungeon is good, and it is original in some ways, but overall it just manages to feel like another basic, uninspired dungeon, and it doesn’t even boast challenging fights or clever puzzles to make up for it since it’s the game’s first dungeon.
I dig the dungeon’s lore of a meeting place for Humans and Minish, and I loved its entrance-way, and how approaching it switches to full-view so you can see how the dungeon’s front looks when Minish-sized. I liked the central barrel. I would have loved these ideas to have been expanded. What if there were huge wide-open sections of the dungeon where humans could have stood? Perhaps a few portions of these could take place largely outdoors, where you could explore tiny portions of the forest surrounding Deepwood Shrine in full-view like the rest of the dungeon? Just some acknowledgement that humans used to come here would have been great. And the central barrel was a really cool idea and a neat visual effect that wasn’t used at any point in the rest of the game and seemed to add very little to Deepwood Shrine. I’d have loved to see more stuff like this. Bottom line is: I think the dungeon had some under-utilized elements to work with that would have helped it feel unique and fresh if capitalized on.
By no means is Deepwood Shrine a bad dungeon. It’s fine. It’s enjoyable. But it really has very little going for it — even though it creates the illusion of having much going for it — that other dungeons didn’t already have. It’s basic, it’s easy. It’s the forgettable first dungeon of The Minish Cap. It’s not bad. It’s not going to be painful. It’s just not something that’s going to give you its own experience, not something that’s going to stimulate you or give you much reason to remember it. It’s got shortcomings, but they’re… all… pretty… small… Gah!
So what about you? How did you feel about Deepwood Shrine? Did you think it was a fun dungeon and a great introduction to The Minish Cap? Or did you, like me, think it was pretty underwhelming and found the game’s later dungeons much more exciting? Tell me in the comments, and look forward to next week when I review the Cave of Flames!