Video games are a huge business. Though they're one of the youngest forms of entertainment media, video games still make a ton of money, with 2020 expecting to have sales of $179.7 billion dollars in revenue. But video games aren't immune from some games just falling through cracks and being forgotten about; not every game can be a Mario or Fortnite when it comes to success. It could be for a variety of reasons from bad timing, a flooded marketplace, or that it was too weird or ahead of its time. Hell, even big franchsies like Mario and Zelda have a couple of games that all but the most die hard fans will remember. And with 2021 being a brand new year, I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about these forgotten games.
Welcome to "The Games That Time Forgot", where I take a look back at games that are often forgotten, vaguely remembered, and generally just lost to time. And since this is my first time doing this, I thought I would start off with something a little easier with a game from my younger years that I adored and wish more people would talk about. I'm of course referring to The Legend of Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon. Just kidding, it's the Minish Cap. Now you may be wondering why I'm looking at Minish Cap, since it was not only well recieved at the time but is considered one of the best games on the GBA. I even consider it my favorite 2D Zelda; and yet despite a lot of the praise for the game, no one ever really talks about. Sure it shows up on various lists, but no one ever really talks about it beyond that, and if 2D Zelda is ever mentioned, the conversation always focuses on A Link to The Past, Link's Awakening, and occasionally the Oracle games.
But is that really fair? Does The Minish Cap deserve some more love, or should it stay small and hidden while its sibilings hide the limelight? Well, with the game having recently celebrated its 16th birthday and the series turning 35 this year, I think now is a perfect time to rexamine this overlooked game and figure out where it belongs in relation to everything else in the series.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is a Game Boy Advance game released on November 4, 2004 in Japan, November 12th in Europe, January 10th, 2005 in North America, and finally April 7, 2005. The reason for the game releasing in Europe before North America was because the DS launched in North America first, and Nintendo of America didn't want to cannablize the sales of their new handheld, so Nintendo of Europe decided to push the game as their big holiday game, since the DS wasn't set to launch until 2005 anyway. It was published by Nintendo and was developed by Capcom and story writing being done by their subsidiary Flagship (who's history is a story for another day). And this wasn't their first rodeo either, as Capcom had also developed not one, not two, but THREE Zelda games at this point: the aformentioned Orcale of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, and the GBA port of A Link To the Past, specifically the multiplayer Four Swords portion.
In fact, development for Minish Cap actually started as early as 2001, shortly after development of the Oracle games. However, it was put in hold so that the team could focus on finishing up the Four Swords portion of A Link to the Past. Once that was done, the team went back to work; but there was just one tiny problem. What would be the focus of the game? Most Zelda games have played with the idea of two different worlds since A Link to the Past, and the team wanted to do the same thing here. But what to do? Time? Seasons? Those were old news at that point.
That's when the team noticed an item from Four Swords called the Gnat Hat, which enabled Link to shrink down to the size of a gnat. Why not build on that concept and make shrinking and growing the main gameplay hook? And so it was, and thus the game had its hook. Let's see how that worked.
So this was supposed to actually be out a lot sooner. Like two weeks ago sooner. Besides getting ready for my school term, moving in, and my job, I didn't have much free time for anything else besides playing video games, one of which was The Minish Cap. And my plan was to play it for a few hours, make my way through the game, and give you a brief overview of what I thought of it. I ended up playing through it all again. Yes, I was so busy doing research for this, that I forgot to to write about it.
When I booted the game up for the first time, I was taken aback at how natural it felt going back to after all this time. One could argue that's my nostalgia talking since I played when I was in my teens, and that's partially true. But I would argue that its because the game gives off a timeless feeling, as if it was always there. Everything from the game's art style, based on the cel shaded look from Wind Waker, to its use of characters like Malon and Beedle, as well as music from previous games, gives off a sense of a warm familiar feeling, like the team picked out the best elements from previous games and decided to put it in a blender. But while it also feels like a nostalgic throwback to previous games, it also does enough to set itself apart from the games and establishes its identity of its own. While the game's story is the usual "save Hyrule and Zelda from evil", there's a few things that help set it apart, like the origin of Four Swords villain Vaati, who's theme is easily one of my favorite music tracks in the entire series, and your companion Ezlo, a talking hat that is a mix between Midna and Navi when it comes to companions. Neither them or the newly introduced Minish are ground breaking, but they're interesting enough to make Minish Cap distinct while feeling familar, a trait that also carries over into the gameplay.
Every Zelda game has its own unique gameplay hook that everything else is built: A Link to the Past had dual worlds, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask had time travel, etc. Minish Cap's biggest hook is the ability to shrink down to size. That on paper sounds like a pretty simple idea, and that's because it is. But much like Giant Island in Super Mario Bros. 3, being able to explore a world that is a lot bigger than you goes a long way to make something unique, though Minish Cap obviously goes a little further with it. While you have the obvious stuff like having to fit into small gaps to activate switches or making enemies huge, there are also a couple of really cool moments like tricky platforming across normally harmless water, entering old suits of armor to activate them, and even going inside people's houses to discovery secrets and avoiding their pets. It's not used all the time (only two of the games dungeons require you to shrink in order to explore them), but it is used enough to make it standout when it is used, but also doesn't overstay its welcome like some ideas in Zelda could be. It all comes together and really makes for an overall wonderful experince.
In case it wasn't obvious at this point, I absolutely love The Minish Cap. It's not my all time favorite Zelda, but it is definetly in my top five and is up there with some of my favorite GBA games, due to its great gameplay elements and graphics. But was I the only one who felt that way? Spoilers: I was not.
So to the surpise of absolutley nobody, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap did incredibly well. The game sold 97,000 copies in its opening week alone, sold 680,000 copies in the US by August 2006, and had made $21 million dollars here. The game was nominated for numerous awards, and got a ton of positive reviews, though some outlets like Eurogamer did criticize the game for being too short, which personally I never understood since it was a handheld game, and back then they weren't known for being super long games to complete, due to them being portable. The Kinestones, which are used in game to unlock treasures and secrets, was also criticzed for being under cooked, and the game overall was considered too easy, which again I feel is kind of like grasping a straws since it's fair to say that not everyone who owns a GBA would be familar with the series, so having a game that can get them into Zelda isn't necssarily a bad thing (neither is a game being easy, but that's a story for another day).
When it comes to the rest of the Zelda series, the game's impact is kind of mixed. Sadly, the Minish never showed up in a game ever again, though they were planned to be in Breath of the Wild at one point, and like most villains not named Ganon or Ganondorf, Vaati was barely seen or mentioned again; hell he didn't even become playable in Hyrule Warriors! And that game had the villain from A Link Between Worlds that no one remembers off the top of their head! When it came to the game's story however, things fared a little better. It was the origin of the Four Swords, which meant it was a prequel to Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures, meaning that not only is it canon, but after fan speculation confirming it was so, it was officially revealed in Hyrule Historia that it was the oldest game to take place in the timeline until Skyward Sword was released. And I have to say, that's actually kind of cool when you consider that this wasn't a game officially made by Nintendo.
And yet, despite all of this, why doesn't anyone talk about this game anymore? Honestly, after playing it and thinking about, I think I have the answer: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is basically a Zelda game that you have played before. A solid, well put together Zelda game with an interesting hook, but a Zelda game nontheless, complete with all its trappings. To change topics a bit, but something a lot of people don't remember is that as early as Twilight Princess, people were starting to get a little tired with the formula of Zelda games, wanting things to change up and not stick to the same old formula, and you can see that with a lot of reviews of future Zelda games. This is why when games like A Link Between Worlds changed the formula to let you do the dungeons in any order, or when Breath of the Wild came along and made it a Elder Scrolls game, you saw a lot of people, myself included, latch onto them and hold them in high regard (well, for the latter anyway; I thought A Link Between Worlds was okay). Suddenly, it was possible for the series to try new things, to experiment with the formula, and to move away from puzzles where you had to push boxes around. And for a series that's been kicking for 35 years now, that's a much needed realization to have. Is that Minsh Cap's fault? Of course not, but I can see why in a post Breath of the Wild world why so many people have scoffed or turned away from some of the older games in recent years.
You know despite my last paragraph, I'm going to say yes to both questions. It is absolutely worth your time and should get more love, especially in this day and age.
Sure, it's not as flashy as other games, and you can breeze through it in a day if you know what your doing, but The Minish Cap is a fantastic game that is every bit worth your time. It's well paced, it's bright colorful, and unlike other 2D Zelda games, I didn't feel drained or exhausted while playing it. This is still to this day my favorite 2D Zelda, and I am glad that I played through it again. If you're one of those people who isn't a fan of the new direction the series is going in, and you haven't played it, you owe to yourself to play The Minish Cap. The only thing small about this game is the system is played on.
Well, and the Minish. And the graphics. And some of the dungeons. But you get the idea. Play Minish Cap.