Within a narrow scope and bound by a character of limited skills, Nintendo is able to work creatively and come up with a set of levels of impressive intelligence and variety
Captain Toad is one fearless fellow. Part of a race that displays an incredible ineptitude to either partake in grand quests or deal with bad guys, the little mushroom man is further hindered by the fact he, like any experienced treasure hunter, carries a backpack of overpowering weight. Yet, regardless of being unable to run very fast, jump, or beat enemies directly, he presses forward magnificently powered by his love for adventuring and shiny loot. Armed with nothing but his unshakable determination, he must make his way through over sixty levels that come together to form an adventure of uncanny charm and brilliant design.
The character is not precisely new. Before deservedly starring on his own game, he had been an adorable minor character on the Super Mario Galaxy saga and then proceeded to become playable on a handful of diorama-like levels that could be twisted and turned by the player on Super Mario 3D World. As it turns out, those stages were far more than a deviation from the standard gameplay found on that title; they were one of its finest and most original ideas, naturally pushing fans to claim for more.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is the materialization of those wishes in the best possible way; not as an extra pack of levels or as a downloadable software, but as a full-fledged retail treat that is worth the price of admission. Nintendo listened to the cravings of their fanbase and delivered with style; Captain Toad seems to be here to stay.
The game is centered around relatively small scenarios that often feature a glimmering star in plain view. In order to get to it, though, players will have to maneuver the titular character through a series of puzzles or traps that can only be cleared by spinning the level around and exploring the numerous hidden tunnels and rooms the different perspectives will reveal.
In that sense, Captain Toad’s limitations fit the overall gameplay like a glove, for instead of working as a fast-paced experience, Treasure Tracker is actually a unique mixture of environmental puzzle solving and platforming that requires patience, reasoning, and calculation. It perfectly channels the meticulousness the work of an explorer requires and the rewarding satisfaction that comes with every new discovery.
The structural simplicity of the game’s levels are not exclusively beneficial to its gameplay; they also do wonders for its graphics. Treasure Tracker will go down as one of Nintendo’s most adorable games ever, and much of that is related to the attention to detail that artists were able to put into the software. Not only does it highlight one of the company’s cutest heroes, but it also does so with animation of such unbelievable fluidity that it adds an incredible level of cuddliness to the product. Captain Toad is intrepid in a lovely way.
Besides the riddles and exploration themselves, much of the game’s demand for planning also comes from the enemies. Captain Toad is only able to defeat those by either throwing turnips or finding a way to fall right on top of them, meaning that the opportunities to do so are limited, which forces players to map out their moves and either slowly rid themselves of the baddies or opt for a bolder approach of sneaking around and treating foes like just another obstacle that must avoided.
Within that narrow scope, and bound by a character that can only walk and throw items, Nintendo was able to work creatively to come up with a set of levels of impressive variety. By pulling settings from various parts of the Mushroom Kingdom universe, Captain Toad will face challenges that present different gameplay ideas that work beautifully within the confines of its cubic structure, like exploring ghost mansions with doors that lead to unknown places or dark corridors that are lightly illuminated by his trusty lantern, having to move platforms around by touching the Gamepad’s screen, and much more.
Smartly, even though it always keeps its perspective-centered puzzles as the body around which everything gravitates, the game sometimes takes a few interesting detours from its original formula. For starters, not all levels are completely cubic; some of them are actually big enough not to entirely fit on the screen. Secondly, a couple of mine-cart stages, where a gorgeously cinematic view of the action is shown on the TV while players must focus on the Gamepad where they see the world through Toad’s eyes and madly shoot turnips at everything in sight are undeniably fun.
Finally, a few action-centered chapters, that either have the good captain epically going through a gauntlet of enemies or rushing through tight platforms will add a surprising rush of adrenaline to the mix. The downside of the latter, though, is that neither the game’s controls nor its camera system were made for the kind of platforming precision and fast reaction speed demands, therefore making those levels slightly frustrating. The damage, however, is minor, as there are only two of those among the game’s sixty-four stages.
The highlight of those departures are, undeniably, the bosses. It is worth noting that, disappointingly so, there are only two of them, which are fought three times each during the adventure on progressively complex levels. However, trying to survive a barrage of attacks while solving puzzles and shifting the stage’s view to look for alternate paths is a thrilling blast, and it is an aspect of the game that should have been more developed, as its unique gameplay paves the way to many inventive clashes.
Even when it comes to bosses, getting to the star at the end of every stage is not very hard, but to those looking for an extra kick, Treasure Tracker has plenty to offer: all levels have three hidden diamonds that can only be located after a great deal of exploration and puzzle-solving has been devoted; and a challenge of deeply varied nature to be cleared. Those challenges include engaging and reasonably attainable tasks like beating the level without taking damage, collecting a certain amount of coins, not being spotted by any enemies, among others.
Although it is delightful to go after those, two problems stop them from being as great as they could have been: the game mysteriously lacks a “Retry” button on its menu, which means that – whenever players notice they will fail to achieve a certain goal – they have to retread all the way to the “Select Stage” screen and choose the stage once more; and, in what comes off as a cheap tactic to force gamers to replay most levels, all challenges are only shown after the stage has been beat once.
Doing those two extras is enough to unlock a bonus set of stages, but to those looking for insane degrees of difficulty Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker comes through on its time trials, whose target speed is frequently that of beating the stage while performing with utter perfection; a complete delight to speedrunners.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker might not execute all of its tricks flawlessly, but one thing is for sure: it is the full expansion of one of the most refreshing gameplay ideas Nintendo has had in recent years. Although its potential does not materialize to its fullest, it succeeds in entertaining and working within the scope of its concepts to deliver constantly amusing stages. It is a light-hearted experience that offers fun for all ages and gaming backgrounds while creating yet another iconic hero to be put under the Big N’s belt.