Excellent things come in small packages.
The Game Boy Advance has a somewhat unfair reputation as an SNES port house. However, this criticism rings true for fans of handheld Zelda games. And while the Four Swords multiplayer part of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the GBA was fun, it did not replace the want of a new GBA Zelda title to follow the brilliant Zelda Oracles duo for the GBC. That void is now filled. The Legend of Zelda : The Minish Cap is a miniature masterpiece that is more than worthy of the series.
One of the first things you will notice about Minish Cap is that the game is truly gorgeous. Even though the GBA is an aging platform, Minish Cap truly dazzles with its visuals. Backgrounds sport a surprising amount of detail, especially when Link shrinks and views the ground up close, and these fantastic backgrounds show off the artistic flair of the developers. Link himself, his adversaries, and all of his NPC buddies animate fantastically in the best sprite animation on the GBA since Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga. This is arguably the best looking game on the GBA yet.
My ears love this game. The sound quality and musical composition in Minish Cap are a treat. The soundtrack is quite memorable, and some tunes push what is possible on the GBA's sound processor. Sometimes I can't believe it's the GBA making this music. As for other sound effects like character voices and explosions and whatnot are executed without flaw. It is obvious that great care was put into the sound department, and it really shows.
Of course, gameplay is the meat of any Zelda game. Minish Cap does not disappoint here either. The game's core conflict starts when a sorcerer named Vaati turns Princess Zelda into stone. Link gets a hat that makes him small. And I think you probably know what happens next. You go off gallivanting through dungeons in order to save the kingdom and yada yada. Speaking of the dungeons, they are truly well designed. The dungeons left me scratching my head sometimes. Even Zelda veterans should be surprised at some of the tricks Flagship used in creating these dungeons, and especially the boss fights at the end of these dungeons. All of them are utterly creative and truly fun to the core. As an example: There is a lava dragon that you need to flip the spiky shell he sports upside down to poke him. Then you need to walk up his neck to commence the stabbing ritual. Half the fun is sometimes figuring out exactly how to tackle each boss.
In between dungeons are numerous side-quests as well as the usual Zelda treasure hunting that goes with Zelda. You can also fuse Kinstones with NPCs (and some inanimate objects) in order to bring "good luck." In other words, fusing Kinstones will open up some doors in Hyrule Field, make some chests appear, or make other NPCs do stuff. I love the Kinstone idea. It makes seeking out and talking to each NPC worthwhile, even if all they do when you fuse kinstones with them is make a treasure chest appear somewhere. While the world map in Minish Cap may appear a little small compared to other games in the Zelda series, in reality it is quite large given the fact of the Minish Cap itself. There are secrets in the tiniest crack in the ground. You really have to study a place and notice the little details in order to use the Minish Cap effectively. I am really amazed at the amount of content in this game.
There are a few nitpicky gripes I have with Minish Cap, and it really feels like I am stretching to find something bad about it. The R button is now your context sensitive button for reading and talking and such. Although using the A button to do stuff works too, you might destroy a sign or something if you had the sword equipped near one, Happened to me a couple of times. It is nothing you can't get used to. Also, despite the graphics looking fine on the GBA and the DS, on the Game Boy Player the more animated people look a little pixelly when they move about. No biggie really. Nothing so much as to bring down this game.
As usual, the handheld Zelda titles continue their amalgamation of most of the ideas and concepts from the previous games in the Zelda series. And once again, that amalgamation results in a title that is more than the sum of its inspirations. I hope the developers at Flagship are proud of their work, for Minish Cap is truly a treasure.