Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is an underdog story. The adorable and unlikely heroes Toad and Toadette must search for one another while collecting gold stars and bundles of shiny treasure, but they’re fatally lacking the mobility of their fellow Mushroom Kingdom companions; in fact, they can’t even jump. The odds are very much stacked against the pair of shroom-headed heroes, but they prove to be quite the crafty explorers.
As a spinoff of Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is blessed to share the same beautiful visuals as its parent game. Metals gleam, textures pop, lights bloom gloriously wherever you look and the animations are always effortlessly smooth. This is truly a gorgeous game, once again displaying the amazing potential of the Wii U and Nintendo’s keen eye for detail.
While the Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World took place on a variety of puzzle cubes, Treasure Tracker branches out in some wonderful ways. Many of these new locales and formats introduce new and exciting changes in gameplay, like the turnip-throwing minecart levels or the Toads’ epic encounters with towering bosses. But regardless of the format, each stage retains the brilliant creativity Nintendo is known for. Many of Super Mario 3D World’s mechanics, elements and enemies make a welcome return here, but often find themselves deployed in entirely fresh circumstances. Not one level throughout Treasure Tracker feels derivative or uninspired, and frankly that’s astounding.
In order to navigate these concentrated puzzle packages, you’ll have to constantly manipulate the camera. This is primarily done with the right joystick, but for some reason Nintendo also mapped these controls to the gamepad’s gyro censor, a feature that unfortunately can’t be disabled. It’s rarely an issue, but it’s annoying that a twitch of the wrist is all it takes to skew your view at a crucial moment. Camera rotation is a central mechanic in Treasure Tracker, as the levels are designed to utilize all three dimensions of view. The game loves to play with perspective, and you’ll find all sorts of secret nooks and crannies when you look at things from a new angle.
Many times these alternate paths are essential to progression, but in other less obvious instances they’ll reveal hidden treasure to add to your trove. Along with a gold star, each level houses three hidden gems, which serve a similar purpose to the giant coins or green stars of Mario games past, and unlock more stages as you progress. As such, it’s in your best interest to approach each level with a fine-toothed comb, always on the lookout for the next hidden tunnel or pipe.
Of course, this extra effort is far from taxing, and you’ll likely find yourself doing it naturally thanks to the sheer wonder of the level design. Nintendo’s sense of style is utterly unique and Treasure Tracker’s puzzle and level design is so constantly creative that you’ll want to explore every last inch of the magical stages. Not many developers could pull off a platformer like this, but Nintendo has gone above and beyond anyone’s expectations and produced a maelstrom of clever ideas.
The game even manages to implement the GamePad in interesting ways without feeling tacked on or unnecessary. Actions like using the touch screen and blowing into the mic to move platforms return from Super Mario 3D World, but you can also stop enemies in their tracks by holding them on the GamePad screen and uncover secrets by touching various elements of the environment. These features are thankfully used sparingly, and succeed in bringing a dash of extra variety and creativity from time to time.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is never too difficult an experience, but it is always a pleasurable one. It constantly invokes the pure elation only Nintendo seems capable of producing, and gradually introduces more complex puzzles as you progress. Instead of a devoted puzzle game, it’s more of a cerebral adventure; you’re still traveling from one point to another, but the path is rarely laid out flat for you to follow. This balance between challenge and fun is bolstered enormously by the irresistibly cute Toads, who are nothing short of adorable.
That’s the real secret of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker: charm. The game seems to have the inexplicable ability to bring a smile to whoever grabs the controller, and it’s really all thanks to those titular Toads. Both Toad and Toadette seem completely out of place amongst the enemies and hazards that litter the levels, but with your careful guidance and a bit of bravery they ultimately turn out to be just as heroic as any mustachioed plumber. Bits of personality like cowering in terror or yelping in surprise emphasize their vulnerability, endearing the characters to you as you overcome larger and more dangerous challenges.
Nintendo didn’t have to make Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. It could have retired the concept after Super Mario 3D World, leaving the world with a brief but brilliant taste of its potential. Instead, the Japanese company challenged itself to produce a platformer unlike anything it had ever attempted before, without sacrificing the quality or quantity fans have come to expect. Treasure Tracker boasts over 70 unique levels, which means there are hundreds of gems to collect and tons of challenges to complete, and gives you all the Captain Toad action you need, at least for now.
The beauty of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is that it never fails to be cute, clever and ever so slightly challenging all at once. It’s absolutely clinical in its design from start to finish, boasting some of the most creative levels Nintendo has ever produced. It borrows the best elements of modern Mario games and combines them with fresh puzzles and boatloads of charm, a formula that ultimately produces an extremely competent standalone title. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a delightful experience, and acts as a reminder that sometimes a simple change of perspective is all you need to succeed.