Only Nintendo could take the bonus levels from one of their headline titles and carve out a whole game from the concept. Starting life as a pace-changing palette cleanser in Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad’s puzzle-based levels were such a hit with gamers that Nintendo saw fit to commission Treasure Tracker.
With Nintendo EAD Tokyo at the helm – developers of the Mario franchise since the first Galaxy title – Captain Toad is a full bodied entry in the canon. The question is of course whether the game and it’s diminutive star can live up to the incredible quality of those titles featuring the moustachioed plumber.
Toad taking the headline role is in fact a bit of a misnomer, as for half of the game you’ll actually be controlling Toad’s companion Toadette. Beyond sporting pig-tails and being pink, the change of character is from the Ms. Pac-Man school of design, handling exactly the same as her male counterpart despite the change in aesthetic. While the game opens with evil bird Wingo flying off with Toadette clutched in its claws and Toad giving chase, the roles are reversed a number of times during the game, with neither of them seeming to learn from their friend’s recent plight. It’s a welcome nod to equality, though it would have potentially had more impact if Toadette actually controlled differently in some way.
Captain Toad and Toadette are slow. They’ll get a bit of a hustle on if you hold down the action button, but generally speaking they amble about the levels with the air of someone not really built for an intensive life style. This is put down to their over-laden backpacks, but in essence it’s reflective of the stylistic difference between this game and the mainline Mario titles. Toad and Toadette embody the careful approach of an archaeologist or treasure hunter incredibly well, and give off the air of people who are searching for something, and won’t let anything stop them, despite not being suited to the task.
They may be slow, but neither of them is helpless in their expedition, pulling up turnips and hurling them in a style reminiscent of Mario Bros.2, or frightening Boos and other enemies with their headlamps. The most potent weapon is the elusive pick-axe which grants temporary invulnerability as Toad and Toadette manically smash through walls and enemies.
Every level provides three diamond collectibles to find, alongside a power star whose collection completes the area. Each level also has an additional objective, whether that is meeting a set coin tally, beating all the enemies, or finding a hidden golden mushroom. You never know these extra objectives before setting out, though I often found I completed them by accident at first, before becoming more aware of what the game looks for as I progressed. Either way, to fully complete each section often required numerous playthroughs to grab all the collectibles and meet the objective ensuring a solid level of replayibility.
Each level in Captain Toad is a self-contained puzzle, a diorama built to challenge and befuddle the player, and whilst the game starts with a very gentle learning curve, later levels are liable to cause controller-endangering levels of frustration. Fortunately, at no point does any of it feel particularly unfair, as there is always a solution, and very often the mistake is on your end. The only time that that is not the case is when the camera can’t quite keep up with the action. Due to the way the levels are constructed sometimes there is no escaping the fact that your view is obscured by another piece of scenery. You can always move the camera, but it may not provide the view you truly want.
The motion controlled camera feels fluid, and though at first it felt shoe-horned in, for younger players it’s likely a totally natural way of manipulating your viewpoint. For those of us hard-wired into using the right thumbstick the option is there, though it only works alongside the motion controls rather than on its own, which can cause confusion when you accidentally move the gamepad around and unintentionally change the view. It felt like the game could have also benefitted from a third viewpoint beyond the zoomed out standard lens and the super close up secondary one, though the more time spent with the game the less important it became.
The variety of the levels themselves is good, if not great, with living forests and eastern flavoured castles nestling next to more conceptual ones like a maze of transparent pipes set atop two skyscrapers against the night sky. Various areas take in the history of other games in the Mario franchise, from Luigi’s Mansion through to Mario Galaxy, even going so far as to include a Donkey Kong arcade flavoured level with Toad silhouetted in neon. They’re all beautifully put together, and the vibrant graphics are as good as you would expect from the Mario series, presumably using the same engine as 3D World.
Some of the level designs are ingenious puzzles which slot together in a truly incredible way. Others are more straightforward collect-em-ups while a limited few are slightly too unwieldy. The levels that utilise moving blocks by tapping on the touchscreen are sound, though they completely shifted my attention from the television to the GamePad screen, not returning until the end of the level. Of course, the game is immensely playable on the GamePad, and its bite-sized levels really suit a handheld device, with the potential for an outing on the 3DS very clear.
Levels unlock sequentially as you progress, and from time to time you’ll hit a gate with a required number of diamonds which may require you to go back and grab extra ones you missed in earlier levels. Generally speaking I had no problems getting through each gate, but then I’m the kind of person that has to ace each level before moving on.
Interactions are varied, though many have been pulled straight from Super Mario 3D World, such as touch panels and platforms that you move by blowing into the controller’s microphone. Mine cart levels are a highlight and return a few times during the main campaign, turning the game into an on-rails shooter where you aim using the GamePad while your progress can be seen on the television. I recommend sticking with thumbstick aiming for these sections, if only because they allow for much easier access to a wide range of motion.
The key negative that I found in my time with the game was a general sense of over-familiarity, both with the world and characters, and as you progress you see standard enemies, bosses and landscapes returning, albeit in mechanically different forms. It’s testament to the way the levels are constructed though that despite the recycling of certain aspects the game remains a huge amount of fun to play from start to finish, the differing puzzles and loveable heroes pulling you along. It’s a shame in fact that the main campaign is relatively short, though alongside striving for a perfect completion record EAD Tokyo have included some fantastic hidden bonuses to ensure you’ll be coming back for a good while.
Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is a game of small joys, lovingly compiled by master games makers. Smaller in scope than many of the titles in the Mario universe, the focus with which it has been constructed has meant it retains a purity sorely lacking in many modern games.