A tiny Link is not a weak Link.
At Game Stars Live, held at the impressive Excel center in London, there were four Game Boy Advance systems set up to play The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. They were positioned in a small, dark room right next to five GameCube consoles, running Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Unsurprisingly, it was very crowded in that room. It was noisy and hot too, but faced with two of the most anticipated games at the show, I tended to ignore or forget the unpleasant conditions around me. I didn't want to leave at all. I wanted to stay for a long time and discover everything that these two demos have to offer.
As for the latest Zelda adventure, Link starts off in a forest equipped only with his trusty sword. Like in A Link to the Past, pressing the B button lets him do a standard slash, while holding it unleashes a more powerful swing attack. There isn’t much incentive to use this attack at first since the enemies, which resemble giant snails, only withstand one standard hit. Moving further into the forest, however, you meet more challenging foes that hide under the ground only to pop up unexpectedly. A quick barrel roll, accessed by the R button, turns out to be a helpful evasive move in this situation.
After these initial battles, you quickly arrive at a temple. The entrance is far too small to enter in your current form, though. Thus, the main theme is introduced. It is neither concerned with time, masks, or wind, but instead revolves around the concept of size. In other words, Link must alter his size to reach otherwise impassable areas. Fortunately, he finds a magical tree stump further down the road. By jumping onto it, he can shrink to approximately one tenth of his normal size. When running around on the field, you can barely see him, but inside towns or dungeons, the camera zooms in so that he occupies the same space on the screen as usual. Still, Link’s diminutive size is nicely accentuated by the monstrous leaves and flowers he passes by.
The first town you visit is inhabited by the Minish people. These are tiny, friendly creatures that spill out helpful hints. After talking to a few of them, you quickly realize that your next task is to defeat the evil forces that lurk in the temple.
The puzzles in this temple start off fairly simple. Moving statues that block passageways; stepping on switches to open doors; or killing all the enemies in a room to get a key constitute some of the standard puzzles you encounter. Later on, you have to grab a mushroom and pull it towards you, stretching it so much that it catapults you over a pool of water. It feels strangely satisfying and looks rather comical as well. Things get even more complicated once you acquire the magical jar. This item allows you to suck in objects and then shoot them out to hurt enemies. In the case of the weird mushroom-like enemies you can suck off their hats, leaving them as naked as a skeleton. You also need the magical jar to open areas blocked by cobwebs. Overall, the puzzles seem intriguing and intelligent, but not particularly challenging. Figuring out what to do in a certain situation rarely takes longer than a few seconds, and at this point, none of the puzzles incorporate the concept of size, though that may come into play later on.
As far as the game's art direction is concerned, Link himself looks a little cartoony, resembling his appearance in the recent Four Swords games. The graphics are mostly bright and colorful, but a nice fog effect is used to provide a scarier atmosphere in places. Whether this atmosphere is backed up by some dark tunes was, unfortunately, impossible to hear amidst all the noise at the show, but overall, the style represents an intriguing mix of both lightheartedness and gloominess.
At the end of the day, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap certainly feels like a respectable addition to the series, which is no small feat. It boasts an interesting theme, intelligent puzzles, and an art direction that successfully blends together different styles. Perhaps the only thing still needed is an increase in the difficulty level.