Nintendo are well known for porting games from one system to another, whether it’s preserving their NES and SNES heyday through the now end of line Virtual Console, remaking classic N64 games for 3DS or their current habit of porting Wii U games to help pad out the Switch’s release schedule. One of the surprises in all of this was the announcement of Captain Toad’s port and that it’s not just coming to Switch, but 3DS as well. How does shrinking down a Wii U game to the dramatically less powerful handheld fair?
The scope and scale of Captain Toad’s puzzles make them a great fit for the 3DS system. Inspired by Japanese Hakoniwa box gardens, each level is pleasantly compact, with detail packed into every corner. The levels are stuffed with hidden paths, secret areas, transformations to trigger and enemies to avoid. It’s a simple and charming game, and one of the better spin offs of the Wii U era, spawning from Captain Toad levels tucked away in Super Mario 3D World.
The key to solving each level and reaching the star at the end is getting the proper perspective to peak into the nooks and crannies of each level. You can use three different levels of zoom, from close up on Toad to viewing almost the entire level, which is a tad too titchy on 3DS. Spinning the camera can be done using the shoulder buttons, but if you have a “New” 3DS, you will get much more control using the C-stick that allows you to adjust the camera’s pitch. The camera controls can feel a tad unwieldy at times, but Captain Toad’s a pretty relaxed game, so it’s not that big an issue.
What’s most impressive is how well it runs. The actual game resolution has dropped all the way down to the 3DS’ resolution of 400×240, roughly 1/10th that of the Switch screen and less than 1/20th of the game running at 1080p, but that’s not the whole picture. The 3DS supports its signature autostereoscopic 3D mode, rendering the game twice at ever-so-slightly different camera angles when it’s activated, but it also duplicates the game for the lower screen – I’d suspect this isn’t rendering the game a third time, but more simplistically doubling up. Performance never seems to drop, even during the most ambitious levels, though I would say that the 3D effect adds relatively little to the experience on this occasion.
Of course there’s compromises beyond just the resolution, which goes hand in hand with a lack of anti-aliasing, and you can see the level of detail on some parts of the scenery if you look for it, but instances where it’s actually noticeable are few and far between, and it’s never intrusive. This is impressively true to the original Wii U game.
Doubling up the game on the lower screen initially feels like an odd choice, and I sometimes found myself looking at it instead of the slightly larger top screen on a number of occasions, but it does serve an important purpose in keeping the Wii U gameplay intact. It doesn’t take long before you need to be tapping on and interacting with elements in the game world, whether that’s stunning enemies, shifting blocks and platforms or turning wheels that reorient parts of the level.
Where the 3DS seriously falls down is with the mine cart levels, which require a degree of dexterity to aim and shoot at blocks and enemies. While the “New” side of the 3DS family have the C-stick nubbins, they don’t offer anywhere near the kinds of dexterity that is really needed for more than getting a simple passing grade in these levels. Though it’s off by default, you can turn on the motion sensor for aiming your turnip throwing, but this doesn’t have the same precision as Wii U or Switch and is a bit excessive during regular levels.
To spice up their Wii U ports, Nintendo have tried to find places where they can add content to each game. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze had Funky Kong, and for Captain Toad, Nintendo have made an additional four levels inspired by Super Mario Odyssey. These levels have made the jump to 3DS as well, and can either be unlocked through play or from tapping a Super Mario Wedding amiibo on the NFC sensor.
They’re a relatively short and sweet addition, with two regular levels, a brief mine cart ride and boss battle, covering the breadth of what the main game. The stand out really is the New Donk City level, which magically manages to distill the kingdom from Odyssey. You have the band room, a plaza, a few yellow cabs, and can even drop down into the city sewers. It’s a level that really lit up my face with a smile the first time I saw it.
Porting Captain Toad to 3DS might have been a surprise from Nintendo, but it’s a very pleasant one. There’s naturally some compromises to the game’s looks and the 3DS’s camera controls aren’t always the best, but Captain Toad’s adventure holds up really well on the handheld. If you don’t own a Wii U or Switch, you won’t feel shortchanged by playing on Nintendo’s elder statesman of a handheld.
Consoles tested: New 3DS, New 2DS – Also available for Switch & Wii U