Review: Captain Toad Treasure Tracker (**** stars)

WiiU_CaptainToadTreasureTrackerCaptain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a weird spin-off from Super Mario 3D World starring Toad and Toadette in their own game. However, aligning that with a Mario release of any kind, other than as an expansion of minigames in 3D World, is a bit of a mistake; this is a pure puzzle game with a modern graphical sheen, almost baffling in its simplicity. You walk around tiny levels with multiple levels finding gems (which you do need to unlock levels) and treasure. To end the level, you need to find a way to the star, but that would end your run of the game rather quickly! The point, really, is to figure out how to obtain all the various objects in the stage, complete any optional objectives (which the game reveals after clearing it once), and wracking your brain for the solution.

Many of those brain teasers involve the camera controls. At its most basic, Treasure Tracker requires the player to use the camera to look around, and figure out how to get all the stuff. In this case, “stuff” is equal to three gems, and probably a lot of coins. Nintendo EAD Tokyo does a fantastic job hiding these gems in the most unlikely of places, and you’ll need the 360 degree camera to find out where they hid that stuff! The camera’s not tied to Toad or Toadette; rather, you can freely rotate the camera around the stage to chart your course to the goal. It can be pretty contemplative, with the occassional feat of reflex-based challenge thrown in for good measure (we’ll get into that later). There’s no hard time limit (unless you want to beat the hidden developer time limits), so take your time and collect things.

Of course, there are active hazards around many of the levels. You’re slow and can’t dodge hazards very well, so you need to plan your moves in many places. Enemies wander around, and you can often take a stealthy approach around them; that seems encouraged, given the limited offensive moves you can make. Toad can pick up plants from the ground (in a nod to Super Mario Bros. 2) to throw turnips, or land on foes, but that’s about the extent of your options. Toad’s headlamp can also shine on ghosts and undead creatures, but that acts more as a stopgap until they respawn (as the undead are wont to do). Avoidance is usually the better solution, unlike in a Mario game. Did I mention you can’t jump, and Toad’s dash feels like a very slow sprint at best? Clearly, this is a puzzle game through and through.

Captain Toad WaterMost every level has a neat gimmick, and while some of them use the GamePad, its use is fairly intuitive and helpful. Mine cart stages make you use the GamePad screen to gather items by hitting them with root vegetables; that also goes with the cannons, which allow you to pelt anything in range for the purpose of puzzle solving (and much cartoon violence). You need to blow into the GamePad microphone to make certain platforms rise, and also touch certain platforms to make them move accordingly. You never really need to use the gyroscopic movement to control the camera, which is as much a relief as I’ve had with a game of this type! The right analog stick still controls most of the aiming for the turret/minecart sections, so it tends to work.

I hate to spoil some of the interesting stages on display, but some of them bear mentioning. I like the Donkey Kong “retro” level, which replaces the ubiquitous hammer with a mine pick – perfect for Toad. Most of the levels involving the Double Cherry, which clones Toad multiple times (up to 4 on screen at once) require a bit of thinking to complete, since you can’t really control them separately. Quite honestly, though, I really love the abstract ones that take place in space; there’s a lovely Space Mountain, Mario Galaxy-esque vibe where you just simply figure out how to arrange the platforms (moved by tapping those blocks on the GamePad) to get to the gems and the star. The moments where puzzle solving lies at the fore, whether platforms or obstacles being in the way, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is at its best. The difficulty curve is almost perfectly gradual, to the point where new concepts blend with old in exciting new ways.

CaptToad04Where Captain Toad fails lies in any segments that requires precision movements and/or fast reflexes. Toad and Toadette both were clearly not designed for the fast paced rigor of running past obstacles on narrow ledges, but some stages force such a feat upon you. Given the freedom of the camera angle, it can sometimes be difficult to see where, exactly, you’re going or how close you are to falling to your doom. The game provides a “zoom in” button that does exactly what it says, but this removes your general field of view from possible threats outside of your line of sight. Neither angle is ideal all the time, so you’ll need to switch a lot. This isn’t a game breaking problem, of course, but it’s annoying to walk just a little too far off a ledge and die because you simply didn’t see it.

The other problem lies in any segment which involves fast movement and boost pads. It sounds stupid – what am I, playing Mario Kart? – but that’s exactly what it is. Toad runs past it, he runs for a long time and can’t slow down. Several segments require this thing, and the camera isn’t really designed well to keep up with it. I suppose the bosses (of which they re-use both of them 2/3 times each) also fit into this, given that their attacks and time limitations often make for a lot of waiting. They aren’t very interesting because they’re just like normal puzzle stages, only with constant attacks and threats instead. The controls just don’t work all that well in a tense environment, and they don’t throw this onto you nearly enough to justify the presence of fast sections other than for variety.

Captain-Toad

It also reveals the budget of the game, but I digress.

Even so, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker continues to be a relentlessly consistent puzzle experience, full of enough charm and Nintendo polish that just about anybody could enjoy it. It’s not perfect by any means, but what is, really? As a spinoff of a minigame from a mainline Mario product, it came out much better than it had any right to be.

20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.

Ecclesiastes 7

Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best or try to make the best possible games, but that takes time and effort. New intellectual property, or offshoots, take time to get off the ground, and Captain Toad Treasure Tracker absolutely deserves a higher budget sequel with co-operative play. What’s here is unbelievably solid stuff that taps into a kind of light-hearted, NES style fun that I desperately needed. Despite its faults, Toad’s first real foray into a solo game remains worthy of your time and money.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.