Aside from Splatoon, the possible first step in the life of a brand new Nintendo franchise, no other E3 announcement made by the company caused as much surprise as Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The goofy and adventurous character was introduced on the original Super Mario Galaxy as a comic relief whose bravery got him into trouble all around the universe. Although he was one of the most beloved and remarkable side-characters found on that pair of platforming masterpieces, it was hard to imagine he would eventually star in his own game.
When Super Mario 3D World arrived, Nintendo acknowledged his popularity by creating a handful of stages on which the fearless captain set out to find treasure. Those efforts took place in cubic environments that needed to be flipped around so that players could find ways to navigate through the maze-like maps. Those levels ended up working as pleasant puzzle-focused breaks from the platforming and coming off as light-hearted bonus stages that were greatly creative and widely entertaining.
Due to the brilliant simplicity embedded in those brief challenges, a character that had charm gained utility. Fans started claiming for downloadable content centered around that gameplay style, and some went as far as suggesting Nintendo should work on a full digital game packed with a bunch of those inventive levels.
It is unknown whether Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker only came to be due to the positive response it received from the fanbase, or if the Big N already had such a project in its backlog just waiting to be greenlit in case the public opinion feel in love with the levels contained in Super Mario 3D World. Regardless of the cause, one thing is for sure: the consequence – the game’s development – was certainly influenced in some way by the overwhelming feedback and pleas from the fans.
Surprisingly, though, upon the announcement of a title that was neither downloadable content nor a package of levels released as an e-shop exclusive, but a full-blown retail game, some began to question if the game’s substance could sustain such a large release. In a world filled with sixty-dollar ten-hour shooters that regurgitate the same themes, ideas, worlds, and color palettes, a creative concept that is bound to explore some very unexpected terrain during the course of its adventure is cast into doubt.
The gameplay that backs up Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is indeed blatantly limited. Carrying a backpack of gigantic proportions, the main character cannot jump. Nor is he able to perform any acrobatic jumps and moves one would expected to find in a game that blends platforming and puzzle. He is not a resourceful explorer, and players must guide him through gauntlets with a limited set of alternatives.
However, such strong limitations should not be seen as some sort of weakness that will stop the title from maturing into a great full game. They are, in fact, its most intriguing quality, and if the glorious track record of Nintendo EAD is to be taken into account, then the developers will know how to take advantage of it.
Humanity’s brightest ideas come to be in difficult scenarios on which adverse conditions must be surpassed. Necessity is the mother of the finest creations. In a smaller scope, the same can be said about videogames and the teams that produce them. Games that have wider scopes, while great, exist inside one grand sandbox where anything can be achieved without much effort, whereas those that gravitate around strict rules rely on major design breakthroughs in order to deliver a good experience.
Those are exactly the conditions under which Nintendo seems to thrive. Their games rely on imagination rather than brute force; a direct effect of the fact the company started its electronic run during a time of very limited hardware power.
Mario runs and jumps; Donkey Kong’s set of skills is equally limited; Fox and his team hop into airwings and blast it all away; Yoshi eats his enemies and turns them into eggs; Kirby swallows foes in order to steal their powers; and Olimar’s powers only go as far as his pikmin can take him. And within the tight confines of each of those characters’ abilities, Nintendo is able to pull off magnificent games of double-digit length that keep surprising players all the way through.
The key to that chest of gaming goodness is one: creative design. And inside its clever simplicity, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker looks just like the type of game that will foster imaginative solutions and tricks in its developers.
In a few months, we will watch those seeds blossom right in front of our eyes, and Nintendo will have another excellent franchise under its power.