On a whim, I recently picked up The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap after years of it waiting patiently in a protective case in a wooden box in my room with all my other old handheld games. Somehow I had remembered how much I enjoyed playing it the first time, but had no conscious memory of the game itself. It was a 2D Zelda game: There was simple sword combat, puzzle-filled dungeons, you could shrink real tiny to talk with the minish, and you had a hat with a beak named Ezlo. I had no recollection of the dungeon layouts, the puzzles, or many of the game’s secrets. Playing it again now, with so little memory of it, would be like playing it for the first time again.
I am sure you can see where I am going with this. While I cannot claim to have had a magical moment of clarity wherein I recalled the solution to every puzzle, the location of every piece of heart, or the trick to every secret, I have found, while playing The Minish Cap again after so many years, I hardly have to think to get through it. I am sure I played it multiple times, likely even multiple times in a row, knowing my younger self and games, but I went back into it with little-to-no conscious knowledge of the game outside of its simple story. That said, all the puzzles I have solved without a moment of thought or hesitation. All the paths and routes through the world map I have had little trouble finding and all of the enemies and bosses I have known the solution to without the need to experiment.
Now, admittedly, Nintendo is pretty good about making the world map, bosses, and enemies relatively easy to figure out–it is often just a matter of having the right tools–even more so for those who have played many games in the Zelda series. It is part of what makes Big-N games feel so good and polished to play, and perhaps that is all there is to what is going on in my replay of The Minish Cap. After all, it is an exceptionally well constructed game, my only major complaints being the soundtrack, which gets somewhat repetitive and is not as memorable as many other Zelda games’, and that the game does an exceptional job of making sure I never have the right shape of green kinstones on hand when I need them. However, I have always been of the mindset that the 2D Zeldas are more difficult than the 3D ones, or rather feel that way because they are a different kind of game entirely with a different kind of difficulty. Yet, playing it again today, it all feels so automatic, as if it is little more than muscle memory. The kind of muscle memory that never goes away, like riding a bicycle is supposed to be, or swimming, or typing.
I know it happens with games. I only recall having two games when I first got my Nintendo 64 as a kid: Ocarina of Time and Donkey Kong 64, and both of those I have played so many times they truly are ingrained in my body and soul. I hardly need to pay attention when playing either of them anymore, and no amount of remakes of Ocarina of Time has changed that. The difference is that I can consciously recall those two games. I know every step, every block, every button, but not so with The Minish Cap. However, I did enjoy the little Game Boy Advance game, enough to have played it a couple of times and replay it again today, and perhaps that is all that matters for it to have been so committed to my subconscious memory. I loved the game, so even when my mind forgot, my heart never did.