The 12 games of Christmas #2: The Legend of Zelda – The Minish Cap

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap has a pretty lousy reputation among fans. Or at least it did a decade ago. It’s probably improved since then, because there are newer Zelda games to hate. The rule of Zelda fandom is that the latest game is always the worst in the series, and with each new release suddenly the ones you hated a few years ago are brilliant. Have always been brilliant. Have always been at war with Eurasia.

At the time of its release, though, Minish Cap gathered quite a few detractors. It wasn’t a real Zelda game, claimed many critics, because it was codeveloped by Capcom offshoot Flagship. (The Flagship-developed Oracle games were OK, though, because… well, mainly because they were no longer the newest portable Zelda titles.) The last boss encounter was arbitrary (true). The trading/collecting quest was pointless (yeah, but aren’t they always). And so forth.


For my part, I really enjoyed, and enjoy, Minish Cap. Although I always feel a twinge of guilt when I think about it.

For whatever reason, Nintendo launched Minish Cap in Europe first, shortly before Christmas 2004. That was the Christmas I found myself trying to find love for the DS, so I imported Minish Cap to take along with me for when I started to feel burned out a system whose catalog consisted of The Urbz, a bad racing game, and a port of an eight-year-old platformer. It didn’t take long, truth be told. So Minish Cap mostly kept me occupied on that trip, thanks to the DS’ GBA cartridge slot.

I wasn’t entirely used to the dynamics of the DS’s physical form factor, though, so in my excitement over being able to plug in stereo headphones and listen to the game on a plane without the use of the GBA SP’s asinine (and way overpriced) headphone adapter, I didn’t really pay much attention to my thoroughness. The DS headphone jack had a surprising amount of resistance and, weirdly, the ability to seat a plug in such a way that you could hear the audio through both the system’s speakers and the stereo headphones.

Not realizing this, I played on the plane for a couple of hours, reveling in being able to hear the game, until suddenly the elderly lady next to me tapped my arm.

“Can you turn that off?” she asked once I pulled my headphones out.

“Wait, you can hear that?” I said, startled.

“Oh, yes,” she replied. “Everything.”

And sure enough, even though I was listening to the game through headphones, the plug wasn’t seated well enough to shut down the speaker circuit. I suppose three hours of scratchy music and Link’s “YAHHH!” samples would wear on anyone.


Ah well. Even if it ruins old ladies’ days, I still admire The Minish Cap. It was good, solid fun, and the concept of shrinking a character to send them scurrying through an oversized world isn’t played with often enough. It’s also much more interesting when integrated into a 2D game, since you can’t just scale down the camera perspective — you have to redraw the world and invest greater detail into elements that otherwise would simply vanish into the background.

My one complaint about Minish Cap is that I never finished the game 100%. The European version had an unfortunate bug that prevented players from completing one of the trade quests. Although maybe that was a good thing, since it disabused me of the urge to try obsessive-compulsively scraping every last little bit of content from games. Sometimes, it’s enough to simply enjoy a work.

9 thoughts on “The 12 games of Christmas #2: The Legend of Zelda – The Minish Cap

  1. Played it recently again until I beat the 2nd dungeon and yeah, I still don’t like it. The handholding is fierce, the dungeons are extremely easy (too many keys on the very same room with the locked door), I abhor areas where regular items look gigantic (like shoes, toys, etc.), and there was something about a kinstone that had me searching for days to be able to continue the story.

    Worst Zelda after Phantom Hourglass and the Temple of the Ocean King. Still good games on their own, though. But when compared with other Zelda games… well, I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone.

  2. I played this eventually on DS as well while working through the GBA backlog, since I’d never actually owned that system. At that point Hourglass was the only other Zelda I’d played since LttP, and I quite enjoyed Minish’s relaxed retro feel.

  3. It’s really for the best that you were dissuaded from collecting everything by a glitch, ‘cuz with all the random Kinstone fusions and the figurine grinding to get all the tools and power-ups you would have to be some kinda lunatic to try and unlock everything in Minish Cap.

    Speaking of Kinstones, Minish Cap is (for a lack of better words) a small world, and Kinstone fusion reeks of trying to pad out the game time more without really putting in much effort. While there’s still plenty of things to discover your own dang self, banging rocks together to unlock arbitrary barriers replaces a lot of the good ol’ fashioned exploration, and while on occasion you’ll get something great like remote bombs or a new boomerang, it kinda sucks to go to the trouble of hunting out a chest you just unlocked to only find Rupees/shells/more Kinstones/a shield upgrade that would’ve been a lot more useful before beating the game.

    I will say, the game makes great use of its toolset, though. Don’t think there was any dead weight in Link’s tool selection. Even situational stuff like the Mole Mitts and Cane of Pacci gets put to use on a semi-regular basis.

    • Oops, little correction: The shield upgrade is postgame content, but you get it from letting Biggoron chew on your shield for a while, not from a chest. Either way, it would’ve been a lot more handy when I had a reason to go into Wizzrobe territory.

  4. At least you weren’t playing Super Mario Advance on the plane. I can imagine the elderly lady wouldn’t put up with Toad for three hours.

  5. “Have always been brilliant. Have always been at war with Eurasia.”

    This made me so happy. What a wonderful shout out, Jeremy!

    I missed Minish Cap during the GBA era, and now it seems pretty expensive to pick up — at least here in Germany. I do love Metroidvanias and Zelda games in handheld format, though, so maybe I’ll just keep trawling garage sales until I discover this somewhere…

    As for its (lack of) popularity, it probably doesn’t help that the GBA pretty much got the definitive Zelda game in the form of a A Link to the Past port…;)

    • The GBA port of LttP has a few neat touches (adding pot-breaking functions to things that didn’t originally break pots, adding individual bottle slots on the main menu, letting you keep the shovel permanently), but locking the new dungeon and spin attack upgrade behind the multiplayer only Four Swords game is not cool.

      The vertical retail loss making some hookshot points harder to spot and Link shouting every time he slashes are kinda dumb, too.

  6. I’m really enjoying this series of articles, and am happy to see Minish Cap on the list. I’ve always felt it was an underrated Zelda, and it’s one of my favorites. Anyway, looking forward to seeing what #1 will be.

  7. I was so excited when I finally tracked down a copy a few years ago, and enjoyed what I played, but it wound up glitching up on me more and more, and I stopped playing.

    I have the Ambassador version, but haven’t found the time/will to start all over again…

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