A brand new 2D Zelda is always a cause for celebration, even if it doesn't come from Nintendo. No, once again the responsibility for 2D Zelda has fallen to Capcom and much like their previous attempts, this one is rather good.
It won't make a difference to those new to the GameBoy Zelda scene, but fans will be happy to know that this is the first original Zelda game on the format(s) to take place in Hyrule. And as a result, it's also the first to actually feature Princess Zelda. But no Triforce! No, instead we are introduced to the Lightforce, a power said to grant the wishes of the beholder.
But anyway, a mysterious Swordsman by the name of Vaati has just won the Sword Fighting Championship, foolishly held in Hyrule Castle, as part of the Picori Festival, a festival marking the triumphant defeat of evil via the aid of the Picori: the Minish people. Of course this mysterious swordsman has ulterior motives, the motives of any Zelda villain: megalomania. And with this in mind he turns Zelda to stone - as you do - and sets off on his mad quest to find the Lightforce. Oh, and this all coincides with the 100 year cycle of the Picori magic door to the land of the Picori.
The gimmick then? Every Zelda has one and it usually gives a focus to the gameplay. As you may have guessed, it's the Minish Cap. Using this wonderful device/person you can become micro-sized, allowing for exploration of areas that a regular sized link wouldn't be able to visit. As you'd expect, it's implemented very well indeed and every time you see somewhere to shrink you'll know that there'll be a very rewarding reason to do so, be it story progression or simply heaps of rupees. Having said that, it's a feature that you can't help feeling could have been expanded yet further. It's primarily used as a means to an end, allowing you to speak to the Minish people, to obtain objectives or items and the like. I can't help but feel that the shrunken Link mode should have been more free-roaming. You're seriously limited to where you can go when minish. You can't go in certain houses, and you can't travel certain paths. In fact, some times it feels like it's simply there as a puzzle mode. Become Minish here to achieve A, etc.
And that's the gimmick. Or is it? No actually, there's another one: Kinstones. Whereas usually not plot driving like Minish action, you'll need to obtain Kinstones to obtain rewards. These are all the standard Zelda fare, such as pieces of heart, larger quivers and special items. Again, it's all nicely implemented and you'll find yourself trying to trade with everyone, via an excellently mapped tap of the L button. A white little cloud appears over the would-be-trader's head, displaying what sort of gift you'll receive should you match the right Kinstone. This allows you to mix and match when trading, should you be low on Kinstones at the time. Why trade and get a few Rupees, when someone else is thinking of something special?
I did say that Kinstones aren't used for plot progression, but that's a lie. They are, but to a very limited degree. Occasionally you'll have to trade with a wall or a door to progress. Yes, in the mad world of Zelda you do come to expect these things, as insane as trading with a door or wall might be. Especially when they get the same thought bubbles as normal people...
The first thing that hits you about this Zelda game is that the overworld is small, much smaller than any other Zelda game. Perhaps that's a slight exaggeration, but the overworld certainly isn't as large as the most recent Zelda games, including the Oracle games. This was initially quite worrying; a short Zelda game in line with Nintendo's apparent new policy of shorter games. There is no need to worry however, although the world may be small, it's bristling with life. There is also a great emphasis on exploring the world repeatedly, as in all Zelda games, to ensure that you've got that piece of heart you couldn't reach before, or to trade with the person (or wall) with the funny shaped Kinstone that you've just found.
At first glance it also appears that there are only four dungeons. Any hardened Zelda player will immediately be disappointed by this, but again, as the adventure unfolds there are actually around six, which offer a fair amount of exploring. It isn't the magnitude of Ocarina of Time, or Link to the Past, but it'll still keep you occupied for a good while.
However, there isn't really a difficult dungeon amongst them. Sure, there are a couple that'll test your patience, but there aren't any that are genuinely difficult. The same can be said of the bosses at the end of the dungeons. Once you've discovered their weakness, they're no more a threat than a kitten with a ball of wool. The one exception would be the last boss, who will cause some tantrums, but having said that, you'd certainly hope for a difficult last boss.
And that's all there really is to a Zelda game. Apart from one last important thing: The items. Items and Zelda games go hand in hand and will usually result in much fun. Thankfully, the Minish Cap doesn't disappoint on this front, providing brand new items, as well as interesting takes on old items. 'Interesting takes' you say? That's right, and one of the nicest upgrades comes in the form of the Mole Mitts. Whereas Digging in Zelda game's has previously been pretty limited, giving you a spade that you could make little holes in the ground with, the Mole Mitts allow Link to burrow through whole sections, allowing for digging based puzzles and secrets to be had. The multi-sword also makes an appearance, allowing Link to divide and conquer as in other Zelda games. Speaking of the sword, there is also a rather excellent little subplot regarding sword mastering, that'll see Link's sword power increase dramatically. This little sequence will often see you trailing off from the main quest just to see what the next power-up is. It's wonderfully diverting.
The Minish Cap is a great new addition to the already excellent Zelda brand. It could be seen as a bit on the short side, with its easy dungeons and small overworld, but the time spent playing will most certainly be fun. This comes highly recommended.