Ask people to name their favourite Zelda games and they'll invariably rattle off console titles. Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker. The handheld Zelda games, most of which are excellent, are often left off the list, which is a little unfair.
From the old Oracle games through to the most recent Link Between Worlds, both Nintendo (and Capcom in this instance) have put out some of the best Zelda games around, regardless of which platform they've appeared on.
If you've played some/most/all of them, then you've had some good times. But let's say you haven't played any. Where should you start?
With Minish Cap. No, really. Why?
- It is beautiful. Ever since the DS, and Nintendo's move to a more polygonal style on its handheld games, the company's Zelda games have looked a little, well, gross. Link Between Worlds improved on this, but it still doesn't match Minish Cap's more cohesive design, vibrant colours and Toon Link art style.
- The cap itself is one of the series' best gimmicks. More than just an excuse to give you a narrator and navigator, it also let you shrink in size, transforming the design of levels and making for some great puzzles.
- The soundtrack is awesome.
- It's not a sequel, or prequel, nor does it require knowledge of a 1991 SNES game to get all the jokes. Minish Cap stands alone, so you can play it without feeling like you're missing something.
- Minish Cap is easy, and it's short. Hardcore purists will scream at both of those things, but this is a handheld game, so it should be short and easy. Keeping it brief also helps the pacing, avoiding the bloat and boring patches you encounter in most other Zelda games.
- Most importantly, I think it's the quintessential Zelda experience. The last traditional Zelda game. By the time of Minish Cap's release in 2004, console Zeldas had already started messing with everything from 3D visuals to an open-world design. And later handheld releases would start tinkering with how you got your gear and accessed weapons (and don't get me started on trains).
Minish Cap wasn't just the last old-school Zelda game, it was also the best. It cut the fat, upped the cute and tightened everything from the combat to the puzzles. It straddles the core design of earlier games and the (not always successful) inventiveness of newer titles and looks fantastic while doing it.
If you're only going to get/play one Zelda game on a handheld, make it this one (it's available on the eShop).
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