Nintendo and Capcom teamed up again in 2004 to create another installment of the classic The Legend of Zelda series with The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. This Game Boy Advance installment combines some of the best aspects of previous Zelda titles, melding the visual style of The Wind Waker with the overhead nature of A Link to the Past and the multi-Link gimmick of Four Swords Adventures. Musical themes from nearly every game in the series can be heard as well. The Minish Cap tells the story of how hero Link came across his famous hat... oh, and how he saved Hyrule again, too. The Hyrule Centennial Festival is disrupted when the evil Vaati opens a box of evil and breaks the legendary Picori Sword while searching for the mythical "light force". To make his getaway he turns Princess Zelda to stone. The kingdom elders decree that a brave child is Hyrule's only hope, as only a child who is pure of heart and just as brave can make contact with the Picori people. All of this setup brings us to the game's gimmick: tiny people. The Picori (or "Minish", as in "diminish", as they call themselves), live along side Hyrulians, but are so tiny that they cannot be seen by just anybody. They live in attics, in walls, and down holes away from prying eyes. Vaati's evil extends to the Minish as well, and so with Link serving as liason between the two cultures, the quest to restore the Picori Sword, rescue the princess, and defeat Vaati swings into action.

Link's quest is very similar to the past quests in the Zelda series. Our hero takes his sword, shield, and pack of usual items to clear out the game's eight dungeons and recover missing treasures that can open up new areas or grant new abilities. The newest item this time around is the Minish Cap itself, a magical talking hat that Link rescues early in the game. The hat adopts Link and aids him on his journey, offering advice or humor on the current situation. The cap becomes a character all its own as the game goes on; note Link's discomfort as it crawls up his shirt to reach his head, for example, or how Link must wake the groggy cap after a night's rest. The cap also provides Link with a means to both shrink down to Minish size to interact with the tiny people in the walls and then grow large again to return to Hyrule. These size changes are instrumental in progressing through the game and can make some mighty obstacles out of what is usually a non-event. When Link shrinks down during a rainstorm, he finds that the water droplets are heavy enough to bash him in the head, for instance, or a simple wading pool becomes a mighty sea at a Minish scale. Learning to move back and forth between sizes is key to success and maintains the Zelda custom of requiring Link to explore two worlds (Light World/Dark World of A Link to the Past, Present/Future of Ocarina of Time, etc.).

As mentioned above, some items and gimmicks from past Zelda games appear in The Minish Cap. The Secret Seashells from Link's Awakening are back, but this time they are used to buy figurines of the game's many characters. The Four Swords method of splitting Link into several Links also appears, only now the team is controlled entirely by a single player instead of being a launchpad for multiplayer gaming. Hyrule itself is rendered in Wind Waker-style graphics with fluid animation and bright colors. The Lon Lon Ranch from Ocarina of Time is present, and even the method of tooting a tune on the ocarina to catch a ride to various places around the kingdom returns from A Link to the Past. Longtime fans of the series will see a lot of familiarity here and while that does detract from some of the puzzles that are recreations of past puzzles, there is plenty of fresh material to explore as well. Something new to the series is the kinstones, a collection of circular coin-like stones that have all been split in half in various ways. While exploring Hyrule Link can collect vast amounts of kinstone pieces which he can then fuse with the appropriate stone's mate that are owned by various characters around Hyrule. A successful kinstone fusing can unlock new paths, reveal hidden treasure, or unleash new enemies. There are plenty of kinstones to be found, more than Link will need, in fact. This is because that the original specification for The Minish Cap called for a four-player multiplayer mini-game in the tradition of Four Swords in which players could collect, trade, and combine kinstones amongst themselves. This concept was removed late in the game's development, leaving the single player kinstone gameplay intact with bulk amounts of kinstones available that were originally meant to be split between four players.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap was released in Japan and Europe in November 2004, but North America will have to wait until January 2005 to explore the Minish domain. This is a new policy for Nintendo, as Europe is typically the last region to receive new games, but with the Nintendo DS debuting in North America ahead of other markets (another change from usual Nintendo procedure), it's only fair to let the rest of the world take a crack at Link's latest adventure before North America. Once again Nintendo proves that they never do anything small.


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