Handing over the reigns of such an important franchise to another company is always a risk, but Capcom have done Nintendo proud with Zelda before (the 'Oracle' games on Gameboy Color were generally very well received) and I'm very happy to say they've done the business again with their latest entry into the Zelda collection, 'The Minish Cap'.
The first thing that strikes you on firing up the game is that it's graphically very accomplished. Capcom have squeezed every last drop of visual trickery out of the GBA's fairly modest hardware to deliver a beautiful cartoon world based loosely on the cel-shaded stylings of the Cube's 'Wind Waker'. Although small, the graphics are all very detailed and wonderfully animated, with the smooth scrolling and easy controls negating any problems which may have been caused by the slightly reduced screen area.
The story is standard Zelda fare - Princess Zelda quickly befalls a nasty fate and it's up to young Link to rescue her by investigating the world of the Minish, a race of tiny fairy-like people who live among the inhabitants of Hyrule undetected due to their size. To assist him he quickly acquires a talking hat who provides the rather useful ability to shrink Link down to Minish size at various places on the map, thereby revealing a whole new world for him to explore.
Into the game proper and you're immediately on familiar ground. Towns and villages are separated by monster-inhabited woodland and swamps, and dotted around the world map are the usual viciously complex dungeons, stacked with puzzles that require you to utilise your back-pack full of gadgets to the maximum in order to progress.
Here, Capcom has chosen to diverge from the norm a little. Although a few of the tools Link finds will be familiar to series regulars, there are quite a few brand new items to be collected and stashed away. This injects a breath of fresh air into the dungeon crawling as it's no longer immediately obvious to old-timers that the solution to puzzle X is to use object Y. Combat has also been beefed up a little, with the addition of a 'roll' move and a handful of special sword powers assisting you greatly along the way - especially against the 'tricky but fair' boss battles which appear as usual at the end of each dungeon.
Several ideas from The Wind Waker also make their way over to the handheld Zelda games for the first time. Statue collecting is back and as addictive as ever, and you'll run into Tingle and his extended family fairly early on in the game. In addition to this, there are hundreds of Kinstones to be discovered. These come in a variety of shapes and colours and can be combined with matching stones held by other characters in the game to reveal secrets and power-ups aplenty. For the completist, there are mountains of extras to get through.
A special mention has to go to the sound effects and music. Rather than the bleeps and white noise we usually associate with GBA titles, Capcom have rather nicely provided an excellent, meaty set of sound effects and some truly wonderful tunes - this is one title you will want to play with the headphones turned up.
In all, The Minish Cap is a fantastic game, and one which should be in the collection of any self-respecting GBA owner. Other reviews have marked the game down for being slightly short, but this is one of those titles that's only as short as you want it to be. Yes, the map is a little small (although not nearly as small as you'd initially think) and yes, the main quest isn't as long as in previous games, but there's so much to do and to see outside of the main story you'll be missing at least half of the fun if you don't bother to explore the extras properly. I spent nearly 20 hours playing it through - not exactly my definition of a 'short' game.
People are probably starting to get suspicious that I actually work for Capcom, such is my enthusiasm for their output of late. But when they deliver one of my favourite games this year and (in my opinion) the best Gameboy Advance title to date, who can really argue?
10 / 10