Review: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Ready for adventure!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 12/12/2014 12:00 3 Comments     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Brilliant hybrid of puzzle and platformer gameplay; Wonderful presentation; Tons to discover and unlock; Fun boss battles; Challenging but fair
Poison Mushroom for...
Gyro camera controls can annoy, can't be shut off; Lack of boss variety

The history of how Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker came to exist is incredibly fascinating. The game’s director, Shinya Hiratake, had initially conceptualized the game with Link as its star. Since the gameplay was meant to center around a character who couldn’t jump, Link, who jumps very rarely in his adventures, would have been a perfect fit. Nintendo ultimately passed on the idea, but it wasn’t forgotten. When it came time to develop Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo opted to take Hiratake’s vision and implement it as a series of sub-levels starring Captain Toad from the Super Mario Galaxy games. The sub-levels were such a resounding success, Nintendo decided to finally let Hiratake develop his concept into an entire standalone title– a title that is easily right up there with the best games on Wii U.

The basic gameplay of Captain Toad is the same as it was in 3D World. Each stage takes place on a self-contained, small world, where Toad must recover a Power Star. Using the right analogue stick on the GamePad (which is the only controller that can be used to play the game), players pivot the camera around each stage, which are essentially over-sized dioramas, in order to guide Captain Toad to the Power Star. I’ll note here that my only complaint about the camera controls was the inability to turn off the gyro sensor, which can cause some unintentional shifts of the player’s viewing angle. It’s easily compensated for, but it should have been able to be switched off. Going back to the gameplay, while the foundation was laid for this game in 3D World, Captain Toad is much more elaborate and varied than those handful of stages. First, hidden around each of these worlds are three Super Gems, which must be accumulated in order to proceed through the game. The presence of the gems adds an extra layer of challenge to each stage, as some are pretty deviously squirreled away, making rounding them all up a great goal for seasoned players.

Further establishing Captain Toad‘s identity is the secret Challenge objective in each stage. It’s not revealed until after completing a stage for the first time (but can be completed if the player happens to inadvertently accomplish it on a first playthrough), and is also different for each stage. Challenges can be as simple as collecting a certain number of coins, or as head-scratching as having to find a hidden Golden Mushroom (worth 50 coins!). Like with the Super Gems, Challenges give pro players yet another test of their skills. If the Power Star, three Super Gems, and Challenge are all found and completed, a special Crown Stamp is awarded. Get enough of those, and well… let’s just say, get a lot of Crown Stamps. It’s worth it, especially if you’re a fan of the Toad Brigade.

Now, the real question for some people out there is: what is Captain Toad? What kind of game is it? Well, if you haven’t had the chance to play the Captain Toad stages in 3D World, as I described above, the game is all about guiding the eponymous hero through three dimensional dioramas. What makes Captain Toad even more special, though, is that he can’t jump! Captain Toad’s backpack, which is nearly as big as him, is stuffed to the brim with adventure gear (according to the game’s hilarious digital manual– how I wish this manual was printed), preventing the little guy from getting any air time. That might sound too limiting, but the result are stages that play out more like a puzzle game in the vein of Crashmo and Pushmo, fusing traditional puzzler and platforming elements into an irresistible package. It’s actually very reminiscent of the mobile game Monument Valley, which also utilizes an isometric view and similar gameplay (totally check out Monument Valley if you have a smart device, by the way!).

Captain Toad has a number of ways to work with his environment. He pulls turnips from Pluck Patches, flinging them at Shy Guys and Goombas, and snags Super Pickaxes to break through bricks and foes alike. His headlamp, which can be turned on and off, reveals secrets in the environment, but also tips him off more easily to baddies on watch. Stages offer a number of different environment types and a variety of ways to interact with them. Pull Switches reveal new pillars and paths, while Spinwheels let Captain Toad rotate entire chunks of each stage. To shake things up, there are even some first-person mine cart segments! The sheer range of things to do in every stage is wonderful. I was also very impressed with how Nintendo was able to set the pace so much slower than a typical Mario game, yet not once did it ever feel like the action was dragging. Of course, I have to mention Toadette. It was awesome to finally be able to play as her in a real adventure like this, and she’s the absolute equal of Captain Toad. The game has a smooth difficulty curve, and makes its first significant bump when Toadette arrives– because she’s tough like that!

Captain Toad is running off of the same game engine as 3D World, but wow, does it look even better than that already gorgeous game. Despite the more diminutive scope of the stages in Captain Toad, from the lighting to the intricacies of each diorama, I couldn’t spend enough time staring at it all. Nintendo continues to demonstrate that it can somehow do more with much less than its competitors. The presentation is brilliant, by the way. The game plays out over a series of three Episodes, each contained within giant photo albums. Yes, the stages are arranged to look as though the player is flipping through the duo’s vacation pics. It’s such a cute and appropriate touch. The music is reminiscent of typical Mario fanfare, but the Captain Toad theme melody is weaved in to make the soundtrack more particular to this character and his world. For a spinoff, this sure looks and feels like a AAA title. Incredible production values.

The boss battles in Captain Toad are some of the highlights of the whole game. Clever, tricky but fair, and visual spectacles abound in all of them. The only problem? There are only two bosses in the whole game. One is the large and evil main villain, Wingo, the other is Draggadon, a dragon who lives in a massive lava pit. Don’t get me wrong, they’re superbly designed characters, and every encounter with them is memorable, but with only two to choose from (ignoring a color swap for one of them), I felt like Nintendo held back in this one department. Considering this is more a puzzle game than platformer, I can see why the focus might not have been so much on the bosses versus everything else, but still, variety is the spice of life. Speaking of life, for those who get into trouble enough in stages with enemies, the game will bestow a special Invincibility Mushroom to help them through. Just another way that Captain Toad keeps its gameplay approachable to all.

My favorite surprise, though, was booting up the game for a second time and discovering that because I had 3D World save data on my system, I had access to special stages in Captain Toad! I honestly don’t remember hearing anything about this unlockable prior to playing, but I was thrilled at the extra content. Especially because the stages were so fun. Entire levels from 3D World have been taken and modified so that Captain Toad can traverse them. Getting through those old stages without the benefit of jumping breathed new life into all of them. Captain Toad also makes an effort to tie its narrative into 3D World‘s, something that had me smiling when I finally got to see how. It’s just the best kind of fan service, and really the sort of thing that no one does as well as Nintendo, if at all.

Nintendo fans should just be giddy with excitement this holiday season. Smash Bros. (both versions!), Mario Kart 8 and its DLC, Pokémon, Amiibo, and all the other great titles both physical and digital are now joined with this utter gem. I hope that what I’ve written here is enough to compel everyone reading to go give it a shot, because I really, really want to play more of this. It’s cerebral, it’s funny, it’s adorable, it’s challenging, it’s the reason I play video games. I feel absolutely spoiled by the wealth of great titles I’ve played this year, and when it comes time to pick my number one for 2014, Captain Toad is going to be a front runner.

3 Responses to “Review: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

  • 66 points
    haruhi4 says...

    yeah but 40 dollars to just 6 hours of gameplay? I think nintendo is killing us with this price. I was going to buy it just to play as toadette(she is my favorite), but with this price and this game length, i don´t think i can.

  • 1288 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    It’s more than six hours of gameplay, especially if someone is going for collecting everything. And the quality of the game is so topnotch, I actually was shocked Nintendo only wanted $40 for the thing. Believe me, if length was any sort of thing to consider or be concerned with, I would have pointed it out (see my Xeodrifter review when it drops), but I personally thought the length of Captain Toad was totally acceptable.

  • 66 points
    haruhi4 says...

    what is the game length, then? It´s a very important topic since i won´t be spending 40,00 dollars on short games ._.

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