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E3 2004: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

Monday, July 5, 2004

E3 2004 Coverage > The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Game Info
System: Game Boy Advance
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Flagship
Release Date: TBA 2005

The Legend of Zelda:
The Minish Cap

Gamers have been craving a new 2D Zelda game on the GBA for years. They've yearned for a fully-fledged adventure that could trounce the old greats, like Link to the Past and Link's Awakening. Sure, getting Link to the Past on a GBA cart was a nice treat, and Four Swords was a fantastic little diversion, but they only served to whet the appetites of the GBA-owning Zelda faithful. Well, Nintendo and Capcom have teamed up yet again, finally delivering what's been long overdue.

The Minish Cap looks to use an upgraded version of the GBA Four Swords engine. The games look nigh on identical, from both a technical and artistic standpoint, though The Minish Cap is sporting a lot of extra detail in certain departments. The backgrounds are just a lot prettier, for starters, and character/enemy animations are really quite superb. Enemies die in very animated puffs of smoke, and the boss featured in the demo dungeon features a good amount of sprite-scaling. One of the coolest visual treats, though, is just having the opportunity to see new 2D enemy designs in the Four Swords art style. Enemy designs have been pretty much identical in both style and type in every 2D Zelda game since Link to the Past, even including Four Swords Adventures on the GameCube. The Minish Cap enemies are delightfully original, looking much more detailed and animated.

Gliding with the Magic Jar
The controls in The Minish Cap have been derived from multiple past Zelda titles. B still swings your sword, and A uses whatever item you have equipped. R grabs and picks up items, like in the GBA version of Link to the Past, but grabbing is merely one of its functions. R has effectively become the game's context sensitive button, much like the A button in The Wind Waker. Use it to hold, throw, open, grab, speak, and in a tip to Four Swords Adventures, roll wildly around the screen. The L button initiates a Kinstone conversation with an NPC, which I'll get into later on.

So what's this game about? Honestly, I'm not entirely sure. A lot of the events and locales in the E3 demo might not even have anything to do with the finalized game, evidenced by the fact that Link's talking hat speaks to him about showing off at E3. That's right, I said talking hat. The actual Minish Cap looks just like Link's normal green hat for the most part, until it lifts its head and starts yelling at Link. It looks more like one of those burrowing birds from Pikmin than anything. I wouldn't be surprised if that's where its design came from, as a matter of fact. The Minish Cap gives Link various pieces of advice throughout the progress of the demo, but its most notable ability involves shrinking Link to the size of an insect. How and why, you ask? Well let's look through the first of the four levels that were present in the E3 demo.

The first demo area is referred to as the "Field", and lives up to its name fairly successfully. Link starts in an overworld field similar to one you'd see in Link's Awakening or the Oracle games, and is briefed by the Minish Cap. His mission? Find the Minish people that live deep within the forest. You start out battling your way through various overworld screens populated by Octorocs and ChuChus (that's right, 2D versions of the little blobs from The Wind Waker). Eventually you come upon the entrance to the Minish village, but the entrance is far too small for Link to pass through in his current state. Here's where the shrinking comes into play. If you hop on top of a nearby magical tree stump, the Minish Cap will begin waving around on Link's head. Pressing the R button will cause the Minish Cap to speak some strange incantation and reduce you to the size of a bug. The effect is actually very similar to the Gnat Hat in the original Four Swords, where you could walk around on the screen as a tiny little dot and pass through small entrances. The Minish Cap makes it a little easier to see where you are, though, with a bubble pointing out your location as you walk around.

Link in the Minish village
When you enter the Minish village, you initially pass through a small log that illustrates the art style you can expect from the shrunken portions of the game. The camera effectively zooms in, so Link appears to be at his normal size, but everything around him is huge. Blades of grass tower over his head and obscure portions of the screen, and the enemies you have to fight are all huge insects. At the end of the log, you're introduced to the Minish people. They basically look like little gnomes, all living in houses made of mushrooms and shoes and the like. After talking to them, you come across what is supposedly the game's first dungeon - the Forest Temple. The second demo level you could play at E3 was actually just the Forest Temple from the first demo, but significantly larger. The version in the first demo was just 4 or 5 rooms, while the second demo was at least half of the entire dungeon. As such, I'll skip over the version in the first demo and talk about the version in the second one.

The Forest Temple is made out of old stone, and overgrown by various plants and fungi. It's got a decidedly musty feel, and a good chunk of the gameplay elements in it are based around mold and mushrooms. Several rooms in you acquire a Magic Jar, the first new Minish-Cap-exclusive item we've seen. Holding A sucks air into the jar, and releasing A shoots a puff of air out of the jar. Sucking in air quickly clears the ground of any mold buildups and pulls certain items towards you. Certain mushroom enemies are most easily killed if you shoot a puff of air at them, so you can attack their vulnerable undersides. There are also mushrooms that are locked into the ground and serve as giant rubber bands. If you grab and pull one with R, you can stretch it backwards with you. Letting go will launch you forwards over pits, spikes, etc. You can also jump back over those pits by sucking the mushroom towards you with your Magic Jar. Once the mushroom stretches far enough and reaches the jar, you'll immediately rocket back over.

Freeing the giant barrel
The dungeon is centered around a main hub room that has a huge barrel on its side in the middle. After burning the vines that hold the barrel in place, you can enter through a hole on the barrel's side. Once inside, there's a neat little scrolling effect as you walk in place and cause the barrel to rotate around you. By rotating it to different degrees, you can exit through different holes and access different areas of the dungeon. Once you get the Magic Jar, you can suck a spider-web off one of the barrel's holes and make your way to the dungeon's boss. You can also use the Magic Jar to remove webs from other doors throughout the dungeon, and propel yourself while on top of a floating lily pad.

Upon entering the boss room, dozens of green blobs fall from the ceiling. This finally cumulates with a gigantic ChuChu crashing to the ground. It slowly moves around the room, and its only vulnerable point is the base of its body. If you hack at its base repeatedly, it falls to the ground. You're then supposed to whip out your Magic Jar, suck at its head, and stretch it out as far as possible. When you release the A button, the ChuChu will snap back and hurt itself against the wall or floor. It'll then stand back up, grow an even larger base, and come at you again. Keep it up and you'll make short work of the guy.

The second dungeon previewed in the demo was full of lava and railcars. You fight Keese with a boomerang, figure out railcar puzzles like the ones in the Oracle games, and use the Minish Cap to fit through some tight spots. The most interesting and notable part of this dungeon, though, was the inclusion of the famous Four Sword. Once you get the sword, a little bar appears at the top of the screen. If you hold B to charge your sword for a spin attack, the bar will begin to fill. Once it's full, you can use the power of the Four Sword. There are special tiles in this dungeon that will leave a shadow of yourself if you step on them while the Four Sword bar is full. You can step on four tiles in sequence, and you'll leave a shadow on the first three. Stepping on the fourth will allow you to move around with your shadows in the formation that you created them in. You have to be careful to step on the right tiles, though, since only the first four you touch will create your pattern.


Once you've got a formation made, your charge bar starts to deplete. When it's empty, your shadows will disappear. In the mean time you can use your four Links to step on switches, push large blocks, and generally do the things you can do with four Links in the single-player portion Four Swords Adventures. If you try to pass through a passageway that's not wide enough for your formation to fit through, your shadows will immediately disappear and you'll have to go back to the tiles if you want to get them back. The demo had some genuinely interesting ways of using this whole system, and I'm looking forward to the puzzles that will put it to use in the final version of the game.

Matching up Kinstones
There was one more area previewed in the E3 demo, and it was the only one to show off what will presumably be a fairly important gameplay element. In the world of The Minish Cap, there are items known as Kinstones. People try their hardest to find pieces of these stones, since if they manage to piece together a full one they know that something wonderful will happen. A lot of the NPCs in The Minish Cap are in possession of half a Kinstone, and one of your sidequests is to find the matching halves. You can get Kinstone pieces in treasure chests, from other people, even just from cutting patches of grass. NPCs that you can share Kinstones with will often times have a bubble over their heads signifying the piece that they have. If you walk up to these people and press L, you can scroll through the stones that are in your possession to see if you have any that match up. If you do have a matching piece and complete a full Kinstone, some variety of event will occur. It could be a cave opening up, a treasure chest appearing somewhere, or a beanstalk growing out of the ground and into the heavens. These events will all be marked on your map, so you can go reap the fruits of your labors whenever you want.

The village demo level starts with Zelda showing up at Link's house to play. She introduces the idea of Kinstones, and asks that you go out to buy some milk from Malon and Epona, who just recently arrived in town. You then have pretty much free reign to wander the village, talk to people, and complete Kinstone quests. This level is the largest offender in the demo of timeline butchering, though, since Malon and Epona are in it, which would require this game to take place in the OOT or MM time periods. It could theoretically make a bit of sense if you place the game after the events of Majora's Mask, assuming Link made it back to Hyrule, settled in a house somewhere, and continued his childhood relationship with Zelda. In all likelihood, though, this level was constructed solely for the purposes of E3. The events therein could be completely trashed before the game actually comes out. I'll reserve judgment regarding how much this game will butcher the timeline, though it seems that every Zelda story nowadays tries to make the lives of the timeline-conscious fans miserable.

Overall, the Minish Cap demo proved that the GBA's first new single-player Zelda game has quite a lot of potential. I can only hope that Nintendo and Capcom work their butts off on the game, so we don't have to wait too long to play the final version.