When I first heard that Captain Toad was getting his own game, I was ecstatic. As a huge fan of his Super Mario 3D World bonus levels, I believed the format had great potential. By utilising a unique character, Nintendo would be able to draw on all the rich elements of the Mario Universe without having to adhere to the platforming standards they’d created – and they didn’t disappoint.
For those unfamiliar, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a puzzle-based platforming game. Featuring Captain Toad and Toadette, your goal is to manoeuvre through maze levels whilst avoiding hazards and enemies. The toads are unable to jump or directly attack, so timely execution is almost as important as carefully planning your route. In addition to your core goal, each level has three hidden gems and a sub objective. Sub objectives range from simple things like avoiding being seen by Shy Guys, to tougher challenges like not taking damage or working to a time limit.
Games in the Mario universe have always had a unique style and charm – it’s part of what makes them so great. Over recent years, there has been a shift away from large open worlds back to smaller, controlled levels, not unlike where the series began. This hasn’t detracted from the gameplay, and if anything has forced level design to be tighter and more perfect than ever before – something that Treasure Tracker encapsulates perfectly. Each level is unique and vibrant, presented like a small toy diorama, which you can rotate, tip, and examine to find the optimal route.
Touchpad controls are used well and, for the most part, don’t feel forced. In fact, there are many interactions that aren’t immediately apparent and can only be learnt by tapping the touchpad. See a shimmer? Tap that area of the screen and watch coins spring into existence. Having trouble getting past that Shy Guy? Give him a quick tap so he becomes disoriented, allowing you to scurry past. There are quite a few non-essential features like this that aren’t explicitly explained, only adding to the sense of discovery that permeates this title.
The only time I had issue with the controls was when trying to navigate enclosed spaces. Poor camera angles coupled with the inability to disable gyro camera control made for a frustrating experience on many occasions. Free visual exploration of levels is part of the charm of Treasure Tracker, but in some instances it actually got in the way of being able to clearly achieve what I wanted.
Drawing on components of the Super Mario universe Treasure Tracker managed to not only look amazing, but provide varying experience via level design and challenge. Across the 80 or so levels, concepts are rarely re-used yet it all adheres to an unwritten rule that makes everything intrinsic and easy to comprehend. That said, Treasure Tracker doesn’t shy away from teaching you how to use new concepts, gradually introducing each and leaving you with a full understanding by the end of every level. Unfortunately, this has the side effect of making much of the experience feel like a tutorial and, subsequently, an incredibly easy game to complete.
A common problem with puzzle games is that once you know the solution to a level, its replay value becomes limited. Treasure Tracker tries to address this with additional challenges/hidden items; however, they’re often just as easy to accomplish, and likely only of real value to completionists. There are a couple of boss levels, bonus/challenge levels, and some first-person shooter levels, but they don’t provide much respite, as they’re comparably simple to complete. There are also bonus levels in Treasure Tracker (accessed via collection of the diamonds), but I didn’t find them particularly interesting. These were linear levels aligned to the Super Mario 3D World campaign and lacked the puzzle elements of the normal levels. In a strange move, access to the bonus levels is unlocked by having a Super Mario 3D World save. This is something I’m sure most Wii U owners will already have, but it feels like a bit of a cheap cross promotion to me – further enforced by the “secret” movie after the credits have completed.
In conclusion, Treasure Tracker is an immaculately presented, original puzzle platformer that’s enjoyable to play. The action-styled gameplay coupled with time-based challenges make for something you can replay and, in true Nintendo style, it’s a visual feast. Music and sound effects perfectly create a distinct atmosphere for each and every level. Unfortunately, the game is incredibly easy and, as a result, feels very short (my first run took me approximately 3-4 hours). All in all, an enjoyable, well presented title that falls short of its potential.