When Captain Toad was first released on Wii U in 2015 it was lumbered with the bafflingly stupid release date of January 2. Since everyone involved in setting video game release dates seems to work in a permanent state of drunken stupor the game is also in danger of being ignored the second time around, because after months of no major Switch releases it’s coming out on exactly the same day as Octopath Traveler. We’d like to see both games do well, but Captain Toad because he’s just so darn charming.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (NS) – ready for adventure
The genesis of Treasure Tracker was a recurring mini-game in Super Mario 3D World, one of the few major Wii U titles not to have been ported to the Switch yet. It worked a little different from this standalone game (you used to have to collect fives stars and there was a time limit) but the basics are essentially the same.
The game is structured around a large number of small stages, most of which can be beaten in 10 or 15 minutes. The controls and concept are simple enough that it can appeal to literally anyone – from very young kids to surly teens and game-hating grandparents. That’s clearly no accident of design, and even though it all seems entirely effortless we can only imagine the amount of hard graft that went into getting it that way.
Like most Nintendo characters Captain Toad is obsessed with collecting currency, but unfortunately he can’t jump or attack on his own. The levels are therefore primarily puzzle-based, as you help Toad (or Toadette – the two alternate rescuing each other from a giant bird) navigate the isometric style levels and sneak past enemies.
Although we don’t think they’ve ever admitted to it publicly it always seemed obvious that the purpose of Captain Toad is to teach novice gamers how to use the right analogue stick to control the camera. A skill which many people often don’t realise is by far the most off-putting for non-gamers.
As a result, much of the puzzle-solving in Captain Toad revolves (no pun intended) around moving the camera and looking at the stage from different angles, in order to figure out how to get around. Although technically you’re only trying to reach a single star there are also three diamonds to collect, which are used to unlock new sets of stages as you progress. Although even if they weren’t the compulsion to try and get them all is overpowering.
Like all good puzzle games Captain Toad sounds fairly dull on paper but is absolutely mesmerising while you’re playing. It may seem rather shallow to say so but part of this is due to the graphics (and sound), which were gorgeous on the Wii U and still look impressive on the Switch. Surprisingly they also look amazing on the 3DS version, which we’ve also played and is one of the best-looking games on the system – especially as it’s one of the few recent titles to also have a proper 3D effect.
The game’s visual appeal is helped by the constantly changing background themes, from stock ruins to ghost houses, Wild West towns, jungles, caves, moving trains, more abstract Super Mario style levels, and Middle Eastern style architecture that recalls Toad’s origins in Doki Doki Panic. There’s also a number of first person mine cart levels where you get to fire turnips (also a reference to Doki Doki Panic/Super Mario Bros. 2) at enemies, as well as recurring boss battles with a dragon and the aforementioned giant bird.
In many cases the actual puzzles are essentially optical illusions, as you try to figure out how to get around the stage. But you can also often move parts of the stage by pressing the touchscreen or using a wheel to rotate buildings, or sometimes the whole level, around you. This works fine if you’re playing the 3DS version, or if you’re using the Switch in portable mode, but becomes a bit clumsy if you’re playing it on a TV because you have to aim a cursor and press a button.
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There’s no way round the problem, since the game was originally designed with the assumption you’d be using a Wii U GamePad, but this is the one first party Switch title that is definitely better to play in portable mode.
But if you don’t mind that this is just as cleverly and imaginatively designed as a regular Super Mario game, and despite the small size of most levels we’ve sat there enraged at our own stupidity when unable to collect that last diamond. That said though, the game is never really that difficult in terms of reaching the star. We kept expecting the challenge to ramp up at the end, or at least in the post-game content, but it never really does.
It’s important to say that this doesn’t impact on the entertainment value, but it does raise questions about value for money. Getting all the diamonds, and completing the Achievement-like bonus goals on each stage, will take some doing but most people will probably see the majority of the game after a couple of days of non-intense playing. There’s 64 standard levels and 18 bonus ones (four of which are new and based on Super Mario Odyssey) which is fine, but not overly generous.
The original game always gave the impression it had been knocked up quickly in order to fill out the Wii U’s thin release schedule, but whether that’s true or not the end result is classic Nintendo: charming, beautiful, and utterly compelling. And if the major complaint you have at the end of it is that you just want more that’s proof enough that it’s got something right.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
In Short: Utterly charming on (literally) every level, it may not offer much in terms of fast action but this is just as imaginative and engrossing as any Super Mario game.
Pros: A great idea that is elegant in its simplicity, and yet full of variety and clever twists. Lots of unlockable content and hidden secrets. Gorgeous graphics and sound.
Cons: It’s not very long and the difficultly level never quite advances as far as you’d think. Playing on a TV creates some control problems.