The Legend of Zelda is the pinnacle of adventure gaming. It’s a series that’s been going strong for decades and is one of Nintendo’s biggest money makers.
This entry is going to look at two of the games that were released for the Game Boy Advance; Link To The Past and Minish Cap. (Well, technically there were four if you count the original Zelda and Zelda II released on GBA as part of the NES Classics series).
I decided to play through them both and find out which is the better of the two.
What’s the point of comparing the games, you ask?
Well, I’m planning on making top ten lists of games for all the Nintendo handhelds that I’ve owned over the years and I’m planning on putting a Zelda title on the GBA list.
So, why don’t I just put both of them on the list?
I’ve watched a lot of top tens on Youtube and I think the more interesting lists are the ones that keep it to one game per franchise. Besides, even if I did put both of them on the list, I’d still have to do this to decide which one goes higher.
Aside from that, it gives me an excuse to play through them again and just make this comparison for a bit of harmless fun.
I’m going to compare them in five categories. Best 3 out of 5 wins. Let the battle commence!
Round 1: Graphics
In Minish Cap, the backgrounds are a lot more detailed. The character sprites are very detailed and the animation is better. There's more vibrant colour pallet in the backgrounds.
When you shrink down, the giant leaves and nuts look amazing. They really emphasise the size difference. In the first dungeon, there's also a spinning barrel that has a great
3D effect to it.
Link to the Past also showed off impressive graphics for SNES standards, but Minish Cap just looks a bit better. Link To The Past was only 16-bit, but Minish Cap is 32-bit.
Now, the GBA port does include the Four Swords sub-game that features the same graphics as Minish Cap, but you can only play it with friends and a link cable. So chances are you're going to be looking at Link To The Past’s 16-Bit more than Four Swords’ 32-bit.
Best Graphics: Minish Cap
Round 2: Sound
Minish cap features most of the background music from Link To The Past, as well as some great music of its own. I love the bouncy upbeat theme of Hyrule castle town. The music in Minish woods reminded me of the first Rayman game on the Sega Saturn for some reason.
I also love the bouncy music of Minish village.
Link To The Past has some classic music to it, but I like the remixes Minish Cap offers better. Minish Cap definitely has more musical variety.
Best Sounds: Minish Cap
Round 3: Length
Minish Cap: In every Zelda game, most of the game revolves around solving puzzles in dungeons to acquire treasures, or “Plot coupons” that are needed to unlock the final dungeon. In Minish Cap, Link is after the four elements needed to repair to Picori blade. One of the elements is actually taken from its dungeon and put in a fifth. That felt so cheap when I found out the element was gone. It felt like an excuse to throw in another dungeon to artificially lengthen the game. You finish that dungeon and feel like it's just been a big waste of time.
Link To The Past: In this game, you actually have two sets of plot coupons. First, the
three medals needed to unlock the Master Sword, and then you go to the dark word to rescue the seven maidens. That's a grand total of ten plot coupons.
So as you can imagine, that's a lot of dungeons to get through. So when it comes to
game length, you really get your money's worth with this title.
Best Length: Link to the Past
Round 4: Best Items
Both games had the usual weapons for the Zelda series, the bombs, the bow & arrow, the boomerang, the lantern, the Pegasus boots and the ocarina. But they also each had items not available in the other.
Minish Cap: You items sheet has a total of twelve slots. This includes the sword, the shield and the Pegasus boots. In Link To The Past, you always have the sword and shield equipped by default. The items unique to this game are the Cane of Pacci, which flips certain items and enemies over and the Gust Jar that sucks things in and blows them out again. It's needed for sailing on certain lily pads. There's also the Mole Mitts that let you dig through specific rocks. These three items aren’t bad, but they're only useful for certain situations.
One advantage Minish Cap has over Link To The Past is that the boomerang gets upgraded to the Magic Boomerang that you can steer briefly when you throw it, but it's not especially game breaking. Of course, there are the Tiger Scrolls that let Link perform special moves, but in Link To The Past you could do three of them anyway, without needing any great sensei teaching you how to do them. The peril beam is basically letting you use the sword beam when you have one heart left and the rock breaker just lets you use your sword to break the pots with. Since you can just lift and throw them anyway, it's not really useful, except for saving a small amount of time lifting them. The only really good one is the Great Spin Attack, which is several spin attacks done continuously.
Link To The Past: The item sheet here has TWENTY FOUR slots for items and this doesn't include the sword, shield, boots or gloves. Those are all assigned to different lists, so Link To The Past gives you a lot more items to play around with. This game features the Hookshot, Ice Rod, Fire Rod, Hammer, Magic Powder, Invisibility Cloak and the medallions that let you use full screen magic attacks. So yeah. This Link has quite the arsenal. One thing that’s literally pretty cool is that you can freeze enemies with the ice rod and the ether medallion, then pick them up and throw them into each other like in Mario Bros 2.
In Minish Cap, it is fun to use the Roc’s Cape to jump over enemies and their projectiles, but you can’t beat getting out Link To The Past’s Bombos medallion and nuking the entire screen!
So in terms of both quality and quantity, the items round goes to Link To The Past.
Round 5: Frustration to Fun Ratio
Every gamer you play exists in a delicate balance of frustration and fun. A game can be boring if its too easy, but if its too difficult you’ll just get angry and won’t enjoy playing the game, as is the case with original Ninja Gaiden trilogy for the NES. Along with difficulty there are other irritations.
Minish Cap: Ezlo constantly interrupting the game to state the obvious. He tells you how to defeat an enemy right after you beat one for the first time. That might have come in handy BEFORE I figured it out on my own! Or telling me that falling into Lava is a bad idea. No shit Sherlock...
Due to the game's world being smaller, the over world map also relies too heavily on a single linier path, which is just frustration to navigate. You’ll be trying to make your way from Hyrule Castle Town to the Minish Woods, but then the carpenters get the way and won’t move until later. Don’t you just hate it when you have to stop for useless road works? There's also this part of Crenel mountain, where you need to backtrack all the way to the base of the mountain to get Crenel hot spring water, to pour on a plant, even though normal water worked fine on the blue ones. So, Elzo will interrupt the game to tell you how to beat an enemy that you've already defeated, but he won't tell you that the seeds are colour coded for what specific water they need? The whole backtracking gimmick just seems like a cheep way to artificially lengthen the game.
Link To The Past: You have to rely on a Magic Meter. You have a good number of items that need Magic, and they all come into play in the last dungeon.
Also, the biggest frustration is cheap difficulty. When you first start the dark world dungeons, enemies do much more damage than before. It gets really frustrating in the Swamp palace; you have fast enemies coming for you and projectiles flying in every direction. It's the last thing you need when you're trying to solve a block puzzle! Everything that touches you takes away two hearts. You know that annoying beeping sound that plays when you’re low on hearts? Well, you’d better get used to it, because in the Dark World dungeons, you’re going to hear it a lot. You'll spend more time looking at the game over screen than actually making any progress.
The Skull Woods temple has these hands that keep grabbing you and taking you back to the entrance. There's so many of those that I was temped to make a mean spirited comment about the level designer and his own hand.
In temples, the game gets REALLY stingy with the health items. It'll give me stuff like arrows when my quiver is full, but no hearts when I need them.
Challenge is a good thing, but there’s a difference between fair challenge and just plain cheap.
There are armour upgrades, but you only get them late in the game. By the time I found the blue tunic, which doubles Link's defence, I had four of the seven maidens already.
So when it comes to frustration vs. fun, both games make me want to rage quit and throw the cartridges against the wall!
But instead of doing that, I went for a cup of coffee and gave myself time to cool off. Having thought about it with a clear mind, I was able to make my decision.
In the end, I decided to give the point to Link To The Past. Because while both games have a frustration factor, Link To The Past's frustration comes in late in the game. It is difficult, but there are optional items to make it easier. In Minish Cap, the annoying stuff is there from the start.
So in the end, Link To The Past wins. But that’s not to say that Minish Cap is bad. It’s not as good as Link To The Past, but it’s still a fun game. The presentation clearly had a lot of work put into it. It also has a heavier emphasis on story than its SNES-born predecessor. You know how people gush over Link and Zelda having an actual relationship in Skyward Sword (albeit the cliché anime childhood friend thing)? Well, it’s basically a carbon copy of their relationship in Minish Cap.
Well, now that I’ve picked a Zelda game for my Top Ten GBA games list, I’m ready to start it! Check back next time and I’ll be talking about more nerdy stuff!