Nintendo proves in its latest puzzle game that small ideas from a bigger game can translate well into a full-bodied release.
Back last year when the excellent Super Mario 3D World was released for the WiiU, amongst its typical Mario platforming levels there were occasional bonus levels involving the mysterious figure of Captain Toad, basically the familiar mushroom character in a miners hat. These micro levels saw you playing as the titular Toad, navigating our favourite funghi around a rotatable blocky one-screen world to reach the goal. The schtick for these levels? You cannot jump.
Fast forward a year and these mini-games have been expanded into a full package and for those after a puzzle game that is both fun, challenging and cute in equal measure, then ‘Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker’ will tick those boxes.
Set over three episodes containing 18, 18 and 28 levels respectively – the layout makes one wonder if it was originally to be three separate estore collections – Treasure Tracker lets you play as either Captain Toad or Toadette depending on the level you’re playing and who has been kidnapped by Wingo, the game’s main final boss, in a nod for a more gender-balanced set-up. Each level presents you with a one-screen map containing platforms, enemies and rewards, with the goal being to reach the star at the end. On the way are coins to collect and, on most levels, three gems. Using the Gamepad motion sensor, right analog stick or shoulder buttons to rotate the world depending on your preference, you move Toad or Toadette around using the left analog stick, using the touch screen to freeze enemies, uncover coins or trigger platforms depending on where you are in the game. Each level also has a special mission to complete, often based around coin collection or finding a secret golden mushroom, which you can discover after getting the star on the level, but you might stumble across it on first play.
Treasure Tracker is a joy to play. Visually it’s very similar to its parent game – and the brilliant music that never tires is mostly lifted from the original – but the cartoon-like graphics are a joy to watch. The characterisations of Toad and Toadette, both in-game and in the cut scenes, are gloriously funny and cute in equal measure, and it’s a smile-inducing experience to navigate them around the platforms. The controls are perfect for the game – only the later ‘Toad Brigade’ levels with the more precise movement required prove frustrating – with the cameras only occasionally proving tricky to use on the faster paced levels or when you have to use the touch screen for platform movement and try not to move the viewing angle too much. Annoyingly the motion control movement of the camera cannot be switched off.
For those wanting a challenge Treasure Tracker has a surprising amount of content. Outside of the stars and three gems in each level – and the bonus challenge – there is a coin run log and best time for each level to encourage speed runs and full exploration for those wanting to get the most out of the game, alongside a considerable number of bonus levels, some unlocked as you gather gems – which are also required for revealing some later levels too –with others unlocked as you progress through the game, or have a save of Super Mario 3D World registered on your WiiU.
These bonus levels throw more and more obstacles in your way from out-running an Egyptian mummy toad chasing you (like the Shadow Mario challenges from the Wii’s Galaxy games) to collecting and guiding three fellow Toads to the star without them getting killed by enemies (“Toad Brigade”) to re-playing key 3D World levels without the ability to jump. These bonus levels also have extra bonuses to complete as well, and some of these later ones – and key ones in episode three – will challenge even the best players. Plus, some of the challenges like the ‘Mummy Me’ alongside special coin runs will appear randomly, like the bonus levels of Super Mario Bros. 3, across the game to treat you to bonus lives and also more coin collecting and high-score beating.
There are even some special rarer levels scattered around as well in a game that constantly throws new ideas at you on standard levels, keeping the game fresh, including mine cart levels involving Baldrick-friendly turnip firing using the GamePad as the crosshairs (a technique repeated in some levels with cannons), stealth-based sections and dragon-battles, which will get your pulse racing with their challenge, both styles breaking up the regular levels well. There are also some familiar scenarios for fans of 3D World too with recognisable enemies turning up and concepts such as blocks disappearing and re-appearing with the music. There are also plenty of other ideas used in the game which I won’t spoil here, including a great level taking you back to the mid-1980s arcades.
Players who find the pace a bit too hard going, though, will get a special invincible flower if you fail levels too many times, like the special assist that has appeared in some of the recent Mario and Donkey Kong games, but mostly it’s a game with a gentle, steady progression that shouldn’t cause too much impromptu swear words towards the console.
Ignore the reviews that say this game is a small package that will see you complete it within six hours. I’ve completed all three episodes – and found all the secrets – plus completed all the bonus levels that have appeared, with just a couple of extra challenges incomplete and that has pushed me over the sixteen hour mark. With some coin runs and speed run improvements available to me if I wish, plus some pages in the bonus screen – each episode in a game is shown within a hefty hardback book design – still with a mysterious padlock on them, I still have some adventuring left. Yes, if you rush through the game with just what you need to progress, then it may be a frustratingly short experience. But play it properly and there is content-a-plenty.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker won’t win over any cynical players but I found it a fun, graphically strong, challenging game that kept a smile on my face for much of its running time. Mostly the game can be played at a gentle pace but as the game reaches its end the relaxation disappears to be replaced by attacking mummys, non-stop running sections, fire-breathing dragons, disappearing platforms and sections against the clock, and other palm-sweating challenges that you’d expect from the post-Bowser levels of a traditional Mario game.
There are a few missing touches. The lack of a central score area to find out what levels are incomplete or how your coins or times compare is a shame, as is the lack of any sort of internet scoreboard to compare yourself with other players. More levels wouldn’t go a miss too, but that’s me being greedy now I’ve completed the game as I want more, as there’s plenty of content here to get yourself immersed in and there’s some limited replayability for those wanting to better their speed runs and coin collections. Plus, the game has promised Amiibo support later so that will hopefully bring new challenges.
The game could also have done with a better storyline. I know it’s scraping the barrel to criticise a Mario spin-off for its plot, but the identikit developments of episodes one, two and three feel lazy and some varied end bosses would have been better than the same bird-boss three times, even if the preceding levels are different.
Overall Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a charming treat from start to finish, like a living cartoon crossed with a puzzle game, and in a holiday period that has given me time to dedicate to the WiiU, it’s been this game that has brought me back to the television rather than Mario Kart 8 or the latest entry in the Super Smash Bros franchise. And that must say something.
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