It is absolutely time for adventure.
I know a lot of gamers out there who would claim that Toad has and always will be the sidekick to every little adventure Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and even Bowser go out on. They may say that Toad should stay at home, peacefully resting in the castle watching the big screen TV or taking in some sun on the roof with Yoshi. Why is he jumping around in Super Mario 3D World? Does Toadette get a crown and her own castle too? Does Toad need to jot down directions because you know this hypothetical princess isn’t going to be in the first one you clear.
Thankfully, in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker Toadette hits the road for adventure too. She and Toad will head into a storybook of sorts, though this Wii U exclusive game doesn’t simply rest on what you’d expect from a Mario title and instead asks us to consider a 3D space too whimsical for just one thumb. Maneuvering each analog stick allows you to find items and then direct Toad before ultimately reaching a level goal. As endearing as Toad and Toadette prove within seconds of starting the game, I couldn’t help but feel like our hero needs to empty the pack in order to give us more speed and immediate satisfaction.
Treasure Tracker opens into a series of dioramas. You probably remember these cardboard box constructions from grade school, replete with sparkles, a lot of glue, construction paper, and perhaps an appropriate LEGO figure. Toad’s world manages to soak in vivid color, Mario design sensibilities, and a means of teasing your eyes into a level that may otherwise feel like an obscured puzzle or even a Rubik’s Cube at its most frustrating.
Luckily, the game doesn’t approach that feeling at all, especially for younger gamers or someone with enough sense not to replay a level just to grab a spare diamond or a higher coin score if the rest of the game lay ahead. I found that Captain Toad focuses on design far more than it does mechanical inputs factoring the speed or distance necessary to clear a jump like you’d think of in Mario games. Rather, the camera itself captures a sense of play by enabling the visual navigation of Toad’s space, as opposed to, say, what Toad needs to do to complete a level.
Take one Toadette level for example, particularly an early level in her storybook which asks you to navigate a series of slides. These slides may not offer a way of getting Toadette back to the top, so you have to actually consider the order you take each slide and doing that means looking around before moving. I am absolutely guilty of this in nearly all video games that allow you to control the character before you can exactly comprehend what every button does. Years ago, this was the difference between run and jump, but the face buttons on the Wii U GamePad don’t actually do anything in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
You navigate menus with them, but Toad and Toadette will largely only need directional input from the left thumbstick and that in and of itself proves the game’s greatest asset and perhaps its biggest weakness. For one, I don’t like games where I feel like I’m about to break a controller in an effort to get the character on the screen to move any faster. If holding the B button down makes Toad run faster, it won’t make a difference and may actually cost you time from level to level given that you could mess up a puzzle or lose a life.
Consider a water level where Toad has to raise platforms and enemies alike with separate switches. These are nothing like the Water Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time—thankfully Captain Toad’s camera controls make these spacial reasoning puzzles easy—but something like that notorious confusion exists throughout this game. Consider for a second that Captain Toad’s ultimate goal is to collect stars and coins, but do so while trying to keep all the other Mario games out of your mind. How would a gamer collect stars and coins if not for jumping around or bouncing on enemies?
You could call this game shallow, but Nintendo has smartly delivered it to digital and retail at a $39.99 price point (which definitively raises the grade if you care for value). Lots of gamers may call the Super Mario 3D World engine and graphical effects dated a full year later, but everything in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker looks cute, colorful, and hugely engaging on a base level. Think well beyond the Call of Duty games and the sports titles that dot yearly release lists. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is like the guy chiseling away at the presidential facades on Mount Rushmore, miles away and dedicated as hell.
During the holiday season, I’d normally say that Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker will get lost in the shuffle, but it should be on your list for a new Wii U owner or for yourself. While Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Mario Kart will prove far more engaging experiences either alone or in multiplayer, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a classic game on a piece of hardware that feels newer and newer with age. (Wait, how does that work?)
Playing the game with motion controls on the Wii U GamePad may not keep up with your quickly growing ability to solve the visual puzzles, but special minecart and coin-collecting levels break up the action and make it easy to clear entire chapters in a single sitting. Do what you can to try Captain Toad if you can’t get the image here, but it helps if you set your mind towards adventure as our hero has. A game that challenges the mind like Treasure Tracker doesn’t come around all that often and for that the Wii U console carves out another experience with childlike wonder as the objective, rather than the aesthetic.
Code provided by publisher. Review exclusive to Nintendo Wii U.