Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a game no one asked for. There aren’t many out there who thought, “You know what Nintendo should do? They should make a Mario spin-off puzzle game filled with tiny levels where you can’t jump. You would, of course, control the mushroom guy who tells you the princess is in another castle. He’s everybody’s favorite character, after all!” So naturally, despite the odd concept, the team at EAD Tokyo made something absolutely magnificent out of it anyways.
Of course, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker isn’t completely unprecedented. Toad has starred in a puzzle game before via Wario’s Woods. More pertinently, last year’s Super Mario 3D World had several levels just like this. While they were certainly fun, whether an entire game could be made out of the gameplay and concept was questionable. Fortunately, it has been pulled off nigh flawlessly.
You are Captain Toad (or, later, Toadette) on a mission to rescue the other from a giant bird. That’s about as deep as the story gets. The game actually feels like it’s actively making fun of the simplistic stories of Mario games at times. But either way, whether it is meant to be ironic or not, the story is there – as it so often is – just to give some context for your actions in the gameplay, as well as offer up some fun, endearing cutscenes here and there to mix up the pacing every once and a while.
The gameplay is fundamentally quite simple. Your character can walk in any direction, and you can make them speed up slightly by holding A or B. You can control the camera with the right stick and press X to zoom in. You can pick up or interact with objects by pressing A, and you can throw some of them by pushing A again. That’s it. That’s all you can do. But this is, of course, the point. The appealing thing about Treasure Tracker is figuring out how to advance by using your limited abilities.
See, the goal of each level is pretty straightforward. At the end of each level is a star, with three diamonds you can collect on the way. Oftentimes the diamonds are hidden, and how to get to the star and the diamonds is unknown. Your job is to figure it out. To do so, you can rotate the camera fully around the small levels, getting different angles from which to view the world. This is often necessary because the camera does not move on its own accord, so as you proceed through the levels you’ll be moving the camera to keep Toad in sight, and to find hidden passages and objects with which to interact.
Sadly, it can sometimes be somewhat difficult to judge depth; it’s hard to differentiate how far away something is. Normally you can just move the camera so you can see the upcoming situation easier, but in tense conditions that’s pretty much impossible. These occurrences are extremely rare, but it did kill me a few times.
Along the way you will find switches, moving platforms, keys and locked doors, blocks, hammers, and so, so much more. There are plenty of dangers, too. Avoiding enemies and hazards can be tricky, as you can’t jump – your only option is to run away unless you can find a way to take them out, such as by falling on them from a high platform, hitting them with a hammer, or throwing a turnip at them. While we’re on the subject of turnips: you can find turnips buried in the ground. There are many things buried in the ground, actually. From the outside they all look the same, but they could be anything, from turnips to coins to even diamonds. Pressing A allows you to pluck them, but different items take longer to pluck than others, making for some tense situations when trying to pluck as an enemy draws near.
The puzzles are very well done. None are extremely hard, but there’s an “Aha!” moment in most levels where it just starts making sense: suddenly it’s easy to see how two objects go together, or how to access a diamond, or whatever. Again, Captain Toad is rarely challenging, both in figuring things out and in executing plans, but it’s always satisfying and enjoyable to do so – and there are a couple levels throughout that will stump you for a bit.
Coins are used – like any Mario game – to give extra lives. Getting a hundred coins accomplishes this task, as does finding a 1-up mushroom. You start out with three lives. Dying during a level simply resets the level and your coins, but you keep any diamonds you have collected. Losing all your lives and getting a game over loses the diamonds completely. Usually there aren’t any save points during a level, though there are one or two exceptions to this.
With a game that is technically very simple, it could have gotten boring quickly, but the variety on display is magnificent and keeps Treasure Tracker exciting throughout. One moment you’re stealthily sneaking around a Shy Guy, the next you’re riding down a mine cart throwing turnips, then you’re up against a giant dragon before figuring out how to move bullet bills to open up your path, before splitting up into five Toads to advance. No level is the same as another. Obviously, this means that some levels are a lot better than others thanks to vastly different concepts that simply turn out more fun than others, but all are satisfying and fun to play through. There are some bosses scattered throughout the game, and these are probably the absolute best part of the entire experience. They’re exciting and just flat-out fun.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker makes terrific use of the Gamepad. It allows for some ideas that wouldn’t be possible otherwise, without feeling forced or like a cheap gimmick – aside from the mine cart levels, anyways, but those are fun enough that it doesn’t really matter. For the most part, the controller screen just mimics what is on the television, with some levels allowing interactivity through touching the Gamepad screen or blowing into the mic.
The level selection screen is set up like a series of books which you can flip through. Each page on the book has a different level with your stats for that level – the diamonds collected, the most coins you’ve ever gotten in the level, and whether you have completed the extra challenge. Oh, speaking of – there’s an extra challenge on every level. These can be anything, ranging from finding a hidden Golden Mushroom to not taking any damage to killing all of a certain type of enemy. These add a ton of extra replayability.
Normally to advance to the next level, you just need to beat the one before it. Sometimes, however, you need to have a certain amount of diamonds to proceed. Usually it’s not an inordinate amount necessary to keep going; I always had more than enough diamonds to press on when I got to these points. The diamonds do something else, too, though: they unlock bonus levels. I hesitate to spoil these, but there are a lot of them, and they mix up levels in different ways.
All-in-all, there’s actually a ton of content in the game. The over 70 levels in the main game take a while to complete, and they take a lot longer if you want to find all the diamonds in them. You’ve got special challenges to complete in every level, many of which are not easy. And on top of that, there’s a healthy amount of unlockable bonus levels to keep you occupied. Those who worry about the amount of content should not, because there’s more than enough – for forty dollars, anyways.
Visually the game is gorgeous. Living up to the standards of last year’s Super Mario 3D World, it has a great art style, it’s highly polished, and charmingly animated. Of course, many of the assets are borrowed from the aforementioned 3D World, so there’s little that’s new to see aside from the bosses, but it all just looks so delightful, and the characters won’t fail to put a grin on your face. It runs remarkably smooth, too; the frame rate never dipped on me once.
I was somewhat disappointed by the game from a musical perspective, unfortunately. I mean, on its own merits, all the music is pretty good. Made up almost entirely of slightly remixed tracks from 3D World and the rest of the Mario games, of course it sounds nice: it’s classic Mario music! It all fits great with the levels it’s placed in, too. But it’s disappointing to see such a lack of new music, considering this isn’t a Mario game proper; it feels like they could have branched out more and made it feel like its own thing. This is proven on the rare occasion that the game introduces some new music, or remixes an old song in a drastically different way; these are the best tracks in Treasure Tracker, and they make their levels feel more fresh and exciting.
All-in-all, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is fantastic. There’s hardly anything actually wrong with it. Yeah, there aren’t many original songs, and it can be tough to judge depth at times, but those are hardly even problems in the grand scheme of things. The gameplay is a joy, the visuals are gorgeous, polished, and charming, the music is lovely, and there’s a ton of content for a low price. It’s not some mindblowing, revolutionary game, but sometimes all you want is an experience that just makes you happy – and at that job Captain Toad succeeds enormously. It’s hard to score it extremely high due to its simple concept and lack of ambition, but what it tries to do it accomplishes absolutely perfectly. For just forty bucks, anyone who likes to have fun should do themselves a favor: pick up Captain Toad and start hunting for treasure in its delightful world.