By Will Whitehurst / January 26th, 2015
|Title||Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker|
|Developer||Nintendo EAD Tokyo Group No.2/1-Up Studio|
|Release Date||December 5, 2014 (North America)|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Everyone|
I was skeptical about Super Mario 3D World last year until I finally got the chance to play it. Many seem to forget the Wii U was still trying to gain footing just a year ago, at least until that game became a much-deserved critical darling and, along with The Wonderful 101, started a wave of AAA-exclusives that turned the Wii U into what is arguably this generation’s most innovative platform. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, which takes the adorable namesake levels from Super Mario 3D World and turns them into a full-fledged puzzling adventure, is yet another one of these.
In a world where Mario, Luigi and even Peach have starred in their own platformers, Toad has gotten the short end of the stick. The scrappy little sidekick hasn’t had his own game since the under-appreciated Wario’s Woods came out at the tail end of the NES’s lifespan. Enter Captain Toad, the adventurous alter ego of everyone’s favorite little toadstool, uh, character. After being featured in several Super Mario 3D World levels, he finally gets the spotlight, along with his female counterpart, Toadette. There isn’t much story here ― the game consists mostly of Captain Toad collecting treasure, fighting fearsome enemies and saving Toadette, with the roles being reversed several times throughout the campaign.
So, what sets the adventurous Captain Toad apart from even his regular blue-spotted counterpart in Super Mario 3D World? Short answer: all that equipment he needs for adventuring weighs him down quite a bit. So, he can’t jump. This makes him vulnerable to attacks from even benign Shy Guys (a fact emphasized in several particularly brutal levels), and is, surprisingly, a reason why this game is so great. As Nintendo took one mechanic out, they put several innovative new ones in, and that’s where Treasure Tracker shines brightest.
If you’ve played Super Mario 3D World, you might know how the gameplay works in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, but the game eases you in if you don’t. The game is controlled with the Wii U GamePad, and utilizes every part of the controller one can think of. Players use the left analog stick to move Toad, and either the right analog stick or the gyroscope to control the camera and rotate the stage isometrically. I recommend the right analog stick for more precise control, as the gyroscope can be occasionally frustrating to use, although a few might wish there was some way to turn it off. Certain levels require players to touch blocks or enemies with the GamePad touch screen or blow on the microphone. The isometric camera control adds a new dimension to this game, making it blur the lines between a puzzle game and a platformer.
While the Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World were good, the ones in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker are even better, and Nintendo tweaked the experience just enough to accommodate the larger scale ― and significantly improve the formula in the process. You can now zoom in on the action with the X button, which is a great help in huge levels. Each level now has several things to collect: coins (of course), Super Gems (three are hidden in each level, like Green Stars in Super Mario 3D World), Gold Mushrooms and Stars (which you get at the end). Some levels even require you to use certain items you find, such as keys to open doors or pickaxes, which function in a similar way to hammers in the Mario series.
In order to get a completion mark on a given level, you have to collect all three Super Gems and fill in a required objective. The objective is not given when the player plays a stage for the first time, and one of the many fun things about Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is figuring out what it might be. From finding a Gold Mushroom or collecting a certain number of coins to touching a platform a certain number of times or avoiding Shy Guys, there are numerous objectives to complete. The game does tell you the objective when you clear a stage, adding to its replay value.
These mini-challenges are one example of the sheer variety in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker as a whole. Some stages take cues from Super Mario 3D World, but don’t let that fool you ― this is a different animal, and, for a little guy who can’t jump, Toad sure can do a lot. Killing Shy Guys with turnips has a sort of E-rated Assassin’s Creed vibe to it. Ghost house sections are even more terrifying on a 3D plane. And the boss fights with antagonists Draggadon, a giant enemy dragon, and Wingo, a fearsome purple Big Bird lookalike, are quite exciting indeed.
On the aesthetic side of things, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is adorably beautiful. Super Mario 3D World was good-looking enough, but the art design and visual flair are even more stunning this time around. From the locales themselves and the cinematic interludes where you control Toad as he ventures on, to little things such as him shivering in cold stages or cowering in terror in ghost houses, the amount of visual detail in this game is astounding. I’d venture to say it looks even better than its predecessor at points. The music and sound effects are good, too, although, as one might expect, some of both have been taken straight from Super Mario 3D World. It doesn’t hurt, as that game had fantastic music to begin with, but there could be some more original compositions in this one.
In typical Nintendo fashion (see also Kid Icarus: Uprising and Mario Kart 8), Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker plays the credits after the first episode of about 20 levels, making you think it’s a really short game. It’s still fairly short — one of its major drawbacks — but not as much as you might think. The game consists of three episodes and a bonus episode, each with about 20-26 levels, and 79 levels in all. If you have a Super Mario 3D World save file on your Wii U, you’re in luck―you can access the first four levels of the bonus episode, which are straight out of that game, early. Some of the other bonus levels, such as Coins Galore stages and Mummy-Me Mazes, which consist of a mummified Toad chasing after you, are sporadically unlocked when you clear a certain number of stages. Others, including the Super Mario 3D World and Toad Brigade stages, where you guide the three other Toads in your team to safety, are unlocked by using a certain number of Super Gems and clearing the first three episodes.
The difficulty is about what one would expect from a Mario game: easy for everyone to pick up and play, with the occasional frustrating spikes and numerous unlockables for the hardcore set to find. You still need a certain number of Super Gems to progress through the game, so Nintendo made Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker much more forgiving than previous Mario games in that aspect. If you die, you don’t have to recollect any Super Gems you collected unless you do so on your last life or quit the game early. Granted, some of them are incredibly hard to get, and a few levels are particularly difficult, with the most notable spike occurring at the beginning of Episode 2. Luckily, as with more recent Mario installments, you can use an invincibility power-up after dying more than five times, which is either a blessing or a cop-out depending on what kind of gamer you are.
For $40, you really can’t go wrong with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. It feels like a natural extension of its predecessor, but also transcends the Mario formula into a high-caliber puzzle game. If anything, this game shows that even a character that’s well-liked, but still considered to be the Mario series’ underdog in some circles, can do just as much as the big guys. Aside from some minor difficulty spikes, a finicky gyroscope and a relatively short length (it took me about nine hours to complete the three episodes), Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is just plain fun for both kids and kids at heart. If you love Toad, enjoy the levels in Super Mario 3D World or just need another reason to get a Wii U, this game is for you. Time for adventure!
Review copy acquired by reviewer.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is available on Amazon:
Captain ToadCaptain Toad: Treasure TrackerMarioNintendoNintendo EADSuper Mario 3D WorldtoadToadetteWii U