Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker flew somewhat under the radar among Nintendo’s more high profile releases this fall. With all of the Pokemon, Smash Bros and Amiibos, Captain Toad comes off as something of an afterthought. Still, a lot of care clearly went into the games creation. Much like Super Mario 3D World last year, Captain Toad just bursts with joy, creativity and fun. Captain Toad is like an indie game, with a simple core concept blown up into a full game, which has been given the full Nintendo polish. It may be a small game, but it is nearly perfect in its smallness.
The Captain Toad stages were highlights even amidst the whole game highlight that was Super Mario 3D World. Playing as Captain Toad in a Mario style game was an interesting challenge. He has none of Mario’s athletic moves, thanks the weight of his backpack the little guy can’t even jump. Instead of hopping and bopping their way through the levels, players had to move carefully and study their surroundings. The player’s abilities are pared down to running and picking plants. Each stage is a little puzzle that the player must solve. With Treasure Tracker, the simple concept of those stages is explored to its fullest extent. The core never breaks down, but it is pushed. The game adds power ups, including 3D World’s Cherry doubler. There are touch screen blocks to move and wind-blown platforms and the majority of Mario’s usual baddies to fight. With Captain Toad’s limited skills, even a simple enemy like the lowly Goomba poses a threat.
Stages start out simple, to beat if not to get all the gems and complete the extra challenge, but before long the game starts to show its teeth. Players must learn how to exploit Toad’s capabilities they will die, repeatedly. The few bosses the game throws in, really only two bosses repeated a few times, are wonderful, tense challenges. While the game looks childish, it soon provides a moderate challenge.
What really sets this game apart is the wealth of detail is shows. It looks great, like 3D World, but there are so many little touches that really make this game memorable. Like the bed in the train level. If Captain Toad stops on it, he will lay down to take a nap until the player moves again. At one point the two toads, Toadette is a big part of the game, are in a minecart that is rocketing down a hill. Captain Toad covers his eyes while Toadette throws her hands in the air in joy. There is a stage in the later part of the game where you ride a dragon. While Toad sits on its head and cheers, the player controls the dragon taking out hordes and enemies and tons of blocks. There is no threat, no danger or puzzle. It is just a victory romp, pure joy. Near the end the game also tosses up a few stages that are homages to other Mario games. The whole game is just a delight.
One neat trick is the story. It starts on pretty well worn footing, with Toadette being kidnapped and Captain Toad setting out to rescue her. After a dozen or so stages through, they flip the script and it is then Toadette setting out to rescue the Captain. After a section like that, the two are split up and looking for each other, alternating every handful of stages. It doesn’t really matter which one is used, they both play identically. It paints a picture of two mostly competent adventurers who are in slightly over their heads. Another big draw to the story is that there is no real incentive to their quest other than adventure. Yes, they are both trying to rescue the other at times, but they got “kidnapped” by going after stars in the first place. It is less a kidnapping that an unfortunate fall. The big bad bird takes the Toads away because they won’t let go of their prize that was stolen.
The whole game is adorable like that. In gameplay, it feels like an indie game, like VVVVVV, built around a single concept and just going all the way with that. But there was clearly a level of money put into this game that most indies can’t match. Instead of simplistic, if possibly stylish graphics, Captain Toad looks as good as or better than Nintendo’s biggest offerings. It is also a unique look into the Mushroom Kingdom. Rarely does Nintendo give a glimpse without the plumber around and most of those are about the other plumber. This is a chance to see the world through other eyes, and it helps make Mario look all the better. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker may be a somewhat simple game, but it combines simply perfected play mechanics with loads and loads of sheer charm make it a winner.