The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap was the only fully original Zelda game released on the Game Boy Advance. It is also one of the better Zeldas, even among a crowded field of games that range from great to amazing. Unfortunately, in the year 2021 there’s no easy way to play it.
The older I get the harder it feels like everything is to find. Growing up in the age of the internet and becoming an adult by the time everyone was carrying around a minicomputer in their pocket, I just sort of assumed that one day everything would be available forever. Not so, dear reader, not even close. The streaming revolution has left behind tons of movies and music, and in the world of games, tracking down “legit” copies of old or obscure classics is notoriously even more of a hassle.
But The Minish Cap is neither obscure nor that old. The 2004 handheld game saw Link discover a talking hat that could shrink him down to the size of an insect, and all manner of weird adventures and fun puzzles ensued. It was one of the few Zeldas developed by Capcom, and one of the earlier ones to be directed by Hidemaro Fujibayashi, who would eventually go on to take over the series, directing Skyward Sword, Breath of the Wild, and Breath of the Wild 2, whenever it finally comes out.
The Minish Cap has something else going for it though: gorgeous pixel graphics. The GBA offered a brief, mini-renaissance in SNES-style pixel art long after home consoles had moved on to polygons. The excellent 3DS original A Link Between Worlds was the closest we ever got to a sequel to A Link To the Past, one of the purest games ever made. The Minish Cap was the second closest.
This is one of the reasons why, in the final leg of the winter doldrums, I’m eager to revisit it. The other is that as it finally begins warming up and spring bulbs begin shooting out of the ground I’m in the mood for a bright, colorful game about exploring bucolic environments as a sylvan child who wears a hat that’s actually a bird who loves to chat with him.
The Minish Cap isn’t on any modern platforms, however. Four years into the Switch’s life and it hasn’t been ported, either as part of a new collection or as part of the console’s existing Switch Online retro library. Nintendo did port The Minish Cap to 3DS, but only for members of its ambassadors program, which gave early 3DS adopters a small catalog of free games to apologize for slashing its price so shortly after launch. It’s not on PC because unlike every other major developer Nintendo doesn’t put its games on PC. Despite the success of the NES and SNES Classics, Nintendo never graced us with a GBA Classic either.
There is one place Nintendo lets you download The Minish Cap: The Wii U Virtual Console. It was added there back in 2014 for the respectable price of $7. Did you buy a Wii U? Me neither. And I’m not about to, even if the year-long pandemic hadn’t pushed prices for the failed hardware through the roof.
I do have my trusty Game Boy Advance SP, but the pandemic seems to have inflated the prices of retro games and consoles across the board. Months of lockdown have driven people to find relief in taking up new hobbies like baking bread, learning instruments, and collecting all sorts of things, from Pokémon cards to Game Boy Advance games. According to the website Price Charting, the average price for a used copy of The Minish Cap shot up 50% over the past year. If you’re lucky you’ll now find it for around $60 on eBay, a site notoriously rife with counterfeit GBA carts. Not a sum that’s going to break the bank, but enough to give me pause when shelling out for a 16-year old game on a passing whim.
There are a ton of other old Nintendo games that I’d love to be able to play, especially from the GBA era, and preferably on my Switch. None of them seem like they’ll make it there anytime soon. I’d love for the company to prove me wrong. It’s The Legend of Zelda’s 35th anniversary after all. Maybe Nintendo already has something planned. But as we saw with the Super Mario Bros. 35th anniversary celebrations, which have Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Super Mario Bros. 35 slated to be launched into Nintendo vault oblivion at the end of this month, a modern re-release of The Minish Cap could well come with its own monkey’s paw-like caveats. Nintendo gonna Nintendo.
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)