Nobody does charm quite like Nintendo. They have an inimitable way of creating products that are capable of enticing all ages, whether it’s through rock solid gameplay or their trademark bold, bright aesthetic. Captain Toad Treasure Tracker has charm in spades, and right from the outset you can’t help but be drawn in by it.
Captain Toad originally started life as a series of levels in Super Mario 3D World, and served to break up Mario’s adventure with their slower puzzle based format. The formula was so successful that Nintendo saw fit to turn it into a full game in its own right with Treasure Tracker being the result. His introduction in the manual is fantastic, having gained the rank of Captain as leader of the Toad Brigade in Super Mario Galaxy, he now travels the world in search of treasures.
His in-game abilities are presented well too, with his inability to jump due to his over-laiden backpack, whilst his special headlamp is capable of revealing hidden treasures as well as scaring some enemies. He might not be able to jump, but neither is he completely helpless, being able to pull up turnips from the ground that he can throw at enemies and if you’re particularly lucky you may also find the super pick-axe, which sends Toad on a time-limited rampage swinging his pick-axe at enemies and scenery alike.
The opening sequence has no dialogue, but seeing Toad and his main squeeze Toadette exploring for stars together while you learn a few basic controls immediately creates joy, which in turn is shattered as a giant evil bird called Wingo swoops down upon the pair, stealing the star and kidnapping Toadette. Frankly, Toad’s stubby outstretched arm as his partner is carried away is nearly as heartbreaking as the opening of Pixar’s ‘Up’ (nearly), but there’s no time for wallowing in a Nintendo title as Toad immediately sets out on a journey to rescue Toadette, of course while finding some treasures along the way.
Each level is a self-contained puzzle, and the player is tasked with traversing the landscape while manipulating the environment in order to solve that puzzle. Each level has three main collectibles; firstly the Mario series staple golden coins, then three diamond pick-ups, and finally the star whose collection completes the level. Each level also has an additional objective, which stretch from reaching a specified coin goal, through to finding a special pick-up or completing a level without being seen by any enemies. Unlike the Captain Toad levels in 3D Land, there are no time limits imposed on the player, giving you the freedom to explore and work out how to successfully complete the level, of which there are more than seventy in the game.
The first level, with its diorama-esque presentation, immediately shows the thought that has gone into the design process, and despite its diminutive size requires consistent manipulation of the camera to unlock hidden routes and areas. The camera’s movement can be controlled by both the right thumb-stick, as well as the gamepad’s accelerometer, though it’s safe to say that the motion controls seem shoe-horned in, at least on early impressions, and seemingly can’t be turned off. As you advance through the game, levels expand both horizontally and vertically, with increasing complexity to boot. The different collectibles and objectives in each level promote repeated playthroughs in order to achieve a 100% completion mark and gain a stamp, and I found myself doing this from the outset.
Each level has its own style, from grassy maze gardens and lava pits to eastern flavoured castles, and differing dynamics to accompany all of them. Many of the levels have a fresh interaction to them, rather than merely repeating the same tricks over and over, whether it’s collapsing scenery or perhaps a mine-cart level that turns the game into an on-rails shooter with you flinging turnips at blocks and enemies. Some of the dynamics are taken from the Mario series as well, such as the character multiplying cherries that allow you to work through sections while controlling two Toads.
The Wii U’s unique capabilities are put to use too, with various levels using touch dynamics to shift blocks or rotate sections of scenery and gain access to new areas. It is, of course, made abundantly clear that this is a full entry in the Mario universe, with many of the series’ enemies such as Shy Guys and Boos crossing over into this game, with a few new ones such as Flaptor, a pouncing owl, appearing as well.
Most of the levels offer an excellent level of complexity despite the charming façade, and you can gain a real sense of achievement when finding a missing diamond, or realising that you’ve opened the route to the star. Some of the challenges are exactly that – a challenge – and it’s pleasing to see that Nintendo have managed to maintain the welcoming dynamics of the Mario series, as well as the advanced level of play that keeps seasoned gamers engaged. It all makes for an engrossing and unique entry in the puzzle genre.
The key question of course is how well Treasure Tracker’s mechanic will play out across the entirety of a game, as opposed to its use in 3D Land as a way of breaking up the action. Certainly from my time with the first couple of chapters the signs are very positive, with each level having enough variation to maintain the player’s interest, and the collectibles and objectives ensuring a solid amount of replayibility as they look to fully complete each section. It does, of course, also benefit from Nintendo’s wonderful presentation, rock solid performance and a well loved character as well, and that should certainly see it attract a number of fans come its release in January.