Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (2014) Review
I loved every single one of the Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World, but when I heard that Nintendo was going to spin off this series of minigames into a full retail release, I was a bit skeptical. Could a single-screen platforming minigame (where the main character doesn’t even jump) expand into a full retail package? Astonishingly, yes. To my pleasant surprise, Nintendo got an amazing amount of mileage out of this simple concept, and none of Captain Toad’s 70+ levels feel repetitive or boring.
Those who played Super Mario 3D World will be familiar with Captain Toad’s basic concept, as it hasn’t changed much. Princess Peach’s mushroom-topped attendant is dropped into a series of floating 3D platforms, usually no bigger than a single screen, and is then set loose to explore, dodge traps, and eventually make his way to a golden star.
The concept is really as simple as that, but there’s something charming and irresistible about all of Captain Toad’s bite-sized puzzle/exploration levels. Nintendo makes clever use of the Wii U’s unique functions, from the touchscreen to the microphone to the tilt controls, without letting them grow stale or feel gimmicky. In one moment, I was running along a series of falling platforms while being chased by ghosts. I also had to rotate sections of a level with my fingers in order to find the best path to the exit. Another moment had me blowing on the Wii U controller to make platforms rise into the air. Every time I thought Captain Toad had run out of tricks, it would throw something at me I hadn’t seen before. Some of the mechanics – such as moving across platforms timed to the music – were freely lifted from Super Mario 3D World, but they are used to great effect and fit perfectly into Captain Toad’s cute puzzles.
Each level only took me only about five to ten minutes to complete, but I appreciated these bite-sized gameplay sequence that felt free of fluff. Thankfully, there are a few reasons to revisit each level, since they all hold three hidden gems and you’ll need a supply of gems to unlock the latter levels. Added achievement-style challenges also encourage you to master each mission by clearing the course without taking damage, or by defeating all the enemies, or by solving a puzzle by touching the screen only a certain number of times.
The oddest aspect of this title is that, with the all of the ways it uses the Gamepad, it almost feels more like a handheld game. You're constantly touching, tilting, and blowing on the controller, so it's often easier to look directly at the Gamepad’s screen rather than your TV. In fact, some of the levels are actually designed to give you a better perspective from the Wii U controller rather than your TV. This means that Captain Toad is a great game to play in bed or at the dinner table, but I was somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t enjoy playing on my big screen as easily. I also wish the camera was a little smarter; I’m not used to having to micromanage my point of view in this day and age, but Captain Toad’s camera doesn’t shift unless you move it.
Toad doesn’t jump, he doesn’t attack, and he doesn’t make use of any power ups (aside from a short-lived pickaxe) and yet Nintendo extracts more entertainment from this character’s simple gameplay concepts than I thought possible. Mario isn’t featured in this title, but Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker shares the same creative spark that so often fuels games bearing the Mario name.