Leave it to Nintendo to take something like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and create a game out of a humble but clever minigame. You could consider it a Mario game of sorts, but after playing for an hour or so you’ll quickly realize that this could be more than a direct spin-off meant to compliment the good Captain’s isometric adventures first seen in Super Mario 3D World.
For anybody who’s acknowledged gaming as pop-culture, Toad is the mushroom-headed servant who’s mostly helpless in the face of Bowser’s Koopa Troop when Princess Peach gets kidnapped. As time passed though, he’s taken to the go-kart wheel and played some board games, but now he’s finally come into his own – not perfectly so but still enough to wholeheartedly warrant the experience.
Admittedly, the premise is fairly simple. During your expeditions with Toadette a giant raven dives in and kidnaps her (or Toad later in the game) setting the wheels in motion for the game and star gathering. It certainly takes a liberal amount of influence from 3D world with a catchy soundtrack and locations such as midnight trains, highlands, lava pits, and the quintessential ghost houses; the entire world of Captain Toad is also crafted with the same immaculate style, it’s mostly carryover material, but that doesn’t make it any less gorgeous.
As for the gameplay, each stage is designed like a diorama that isn’t particularly strenuous and daunting in scale, but brings some variety with an occasional double cherry or pickax power-up to mix up the challenge here and there. The puzzles are pretty simple as Captain Toad plods around from point A to point B for much of the game, with exploration of every nook and cranny of confined spaces engaging in its own right. In fact, you’ll eventually have to take your time in order to think things through the later puzzles as most area don’t look like much at first glance, and inevitably backtrack as diamond collecting becomes necessary to unlock more stages (also known as storybook pages).
Treasure Tracker is certainly a headgame of sorts, with stages that are deceptively simple in nature, and an open camera that encourages you to look at the contained three-dimension environment in every possible angle and conceivable perspective. With a lot things not in plain sight it’s a potential boon that keeps the idea of discovery fresh but also gets confusing when the surroundings obscure where Captain Toad is, especially if a stage is built upon numerous layers, or enemies like Bullet Bills or Shy-Guys that can’t be seen until it’s too late.
You often can’t avoid this problem even with the ability to zoom in on your intrepid explorer, and occasionally the Wii U Gamepad itself can turn against you too. The basic controls are simple enough but the complimentary gyroscopic camera controls often act on their own and get in way when inadvertently tilted during play – a real annoyance for those without steady hands.
The length of the game is another complaint even if there are over 50 stages to crack (excluding some revisited areas taken straight out of 3D World), most of which are very short and can be breezed through in less than two minutes time. But if you rush the first time through you’ll have to tediously backtrack or the challenges might be far too easy altogether when everything is done correctly, which isn’t an ideal alternative either. Quite frankly, it’s going to be a matter of opposing opinions for what $40 gets you here.
Regardless, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a puzzle-action brainteaser that’s an experiment turned into a properly good game. The approach is primary but the execution will attract anyone curious enough to try it, at least for a few stages, where long-term replay value and sloppy camera work will weed out the less committed. But there is some fun to be had, especially if you were thoroughly charmed before.