Time for adventure! UPDATE: Now with a video review!
The Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World were an absolute delight to play. The clever, small puzzles proved to be just as engaging as the main game. I was secretly hoping that they would put out a DLC pack for the game, solely focusing on those Captain Toad levels, but it never came to be. During Nintendo’s E3 Digital Event this year, they unveiled the trailer for Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and despite some concern that a retail game made up entirely of Captain Toad levels would lose its luster, I was immediately on-board. Now that I’ve completed the game, I’m happy to say that those concerns can be put to rest.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a puzzle-platformer where you control our titular hero, as well as Toadette, as they explore over 70 different levels in search of treasure. What set these levels apart in Super Mario 3D World was that they were mostly one giant cube in which you have to manipulate the camera in order to find your way around the environment and collect five Green Stars. Toad cannot jump, and there are plenty of hidden passages, platforms, and items that are only visible by carefully manipulating the camera, which makes for some very tricky and clever level design.
Despite some changes, Treasure Tracker manages to surpass the Captain Toad levels from 3D World by a longshot. Instead of collecting Green Stars, your goal this time is simply to get to the end of the stage and collect the Power Star. Each stage also has three Super Gems to collect, which you’ll need to unlock later levels in the game. Once the level is complete, the game encourages you to play through it again with a special challenge, which range from sneaking past all the enemies, moving obstacles a specific number of times, and more. While the levels are still small and compact, they are a big step up in size and complexity from the 3D World levels, due to some clever design choices and additions, such as the new ability to pick turnips and throw them at enemies a la Super Mario Bros. 2, and the Super Pickax item, which allows you to break through bricks blocking your path or hiding Super Gems. Careful camera manipulation, of course, makes the game feel like an actual treasure hunt, and completing a level with everything collected is extremely satisfying.
Treasure Tracker also makes some clever, if occasionally annoying, use of the GamePad as well. The game features Off-TV Play by default, but you can also use the touch screen to move certain platforms. Thankfully, it never feels like these actions interrupt the flow of the game, as you’re rarely vulnerable while doing so. I can’t say the same about the game’s motion controls, however. In addition to the right analog stick, you can also manipulate the camera using the GamePad’s gyroscope. Unfortunately, you cannot turn this feature off, which is predictably annoying. Combined with another new feature, however, it becomes frustrating: the game also forces you to blow into the microphone to move certain platforms, so when you inevitably move the GamePad towards your face to blow into the mic, the camera angle moves along with it. This caused me to lose a few too many lives, forcing me to play the game in certain positions.
Another slight disappointment is the game’s presentation. Treasure Tracker is $20 cheaper than almost every retail game at launch, and it shows. The main menu is very basic, and there’s a lot of recycled music and assets from Super Mario 3D World. Despite the stage select being presented via storybook, there’s not really much of a story to speak of in this game. Wingo, the game’s main antagonist, kidnaps a Power Star along with Toadette (or Toad later on in the game), and it’s up to you to find both of them. They recycle this scene a few times, along with Toad/Toadette sitting by a campfire as they see Wingo fly off in the distance. While I know that story has never been Nintendo’s strong suit, it still is disappointing to see such wasted story potential when they have so many characters, locations, and personalities to work with.
Despite these issues, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is an incredibly charming game. Getting from beginning to end should take you just under six hours, but if you want to collect every single Super Gem and complete each stage’s special challenge, it’ll last you way longer. In addition, there are also quite a few bonus levels if you have save data from Super Mario 3D World on your system. If you manage to track down this game, you’ll have a real treasure on your hands.