The Legend of Zelda for Handhelds – The Minish Cap for GBA, Phantom Hourglass for DS

Transporting the venerable Legend of Zelda franchise to the portable realm was something Nintendo was adept at by the early 2000s. Both the original Gameboy and Gameboy Color saw the release of well regarded Zelda franchise entries so it made perfect sense for Nintendo to release a Zelda game for the Gameboy Advance in 2005. Capcom/Flagship’s “The Minish Cap” would be that 100% original entry after Nintendo kicked off the GBA launch in 2002 by offering gamers another chance to play the SNES classic, “A Link to the Past”, with the bonus multi-player Four Swords adventure tied-in.

“The Minish Cap” feels, sounds, and looks a lot like “A Link to the Past” in many ways, which is a good thing when considering how amazing that game was in 1992. Anyone familiar with that title will feel at home in the “talk to every character, break every pot, cut every blade of grass” approach that you must also take in “Minish Cap”. “Minish Cap” also utilizes the puzzle solving gameplay elements that is common in the series combined with action/adventure elements gamers recognize from the series and apply it to a new story.

The plot involves Link and Zelda, who has been turned to stone by the evil Vaati and Link’s quest to retrieve and forge the pieces of the broken Picori Blade. The unique aspect of “The Minish Cap” that most will remember the game for is the act of shrinking Link down to insect size, so he can communicate with the Minish creatures that have assisted humans, unbeknownst to them, for generations before Link. Since the Minish, or Picori, can only be seen by children, Link is chosen for this adventure as well as his close  friendship with the petrified princess. Link traverses overworld areas to advance the plot while the dungeons are the meat and potatoes of the game, just like they are with other Zelda titles. The quality and depth of the game’s dungeons can make or break a Zelda game and “The Minish Cap’s” dungeons are nicely done, if a bit on the small side. “The Minish Cap” offers enough new gameplay elements and items to keep players interested while treading overly familiar ground. The approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” that Nintendo took with this entry indicates it’s a pretty middle of the road title but still a very respectable game.

After Nintendo shifted focus from the Gameboy Advance to the DS, they began working on another handheld Zelda adventure, this one titled “The Phantom Hourglass”. Unlike “Minish Cap”, “Phantom Hourglass” was developed by Nintendo themselves, released in 2007, and utilized the same cel-shaded graphics that were found on the earlier Gamecube title, “The Windwaker”. “Phantom Hourglass” is a direct sequel to “The Windwaker”, so the use of the same animation style for both makes perfect sense.

Since “The Phantom Hourglass” was developed specifically for the Nintendo DS, of course the system’s touchscreen and built in microphone were going to be utilized to the maximum potential. The DS’s upper screen is used as map and inventory while the lower screen is used for gameplay. You can use the DS stylus to make notes on the map screen once it’s pulled down to the lower screen or it came be used to draw a path for your boomerang, all pretty cool additions to the standard Zelda gameplay. Nintendo wanted the DS’s stylus to be such an integral part of the gameplay that it is even used to attack enemies and move Link around the overworld environments.

Link moves about in the Great Sea and explores various islands and the caves within them in order to find the Ghost Ship where his friend Tetra is stranded. The game also features one-on-one multiplayer battle modes that can be done locally or online. These battles don’t advance the plot and are a secondary to the primary game, so they do not need to be played unless you choose to.

Both of these Zelda games are nice additions to the handheld realm and do what Zelda games do very well, even if much of the gameplay starts to feel a bit samey. “Phantom Hourglass” is the most unique of the two thanks to Nintendo’s insistence on utilizing the DS stylus for the majority of the gameplay, which some players may be turned off by. Either way, you can’t go wrong by adding these two games to your handheld library.

Currently in my collection:

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap – game, manual, box

The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass – game, manual, case

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