Without question, the Captain Toad segments in Super Mario 3D World were one of the game’s unparalleled highlights. In lieu of the classic Mario platforming, these segments dropped players into thoughtful puzzle sequences that could be mistaken as a stand-alone game mixed with the regular levels. It’s no surprise that on occasions the Captain would be praised more so than World’s four main stars. It was even less a surprise come E3 last year during their Digital Event when Nintendo announced Captain Toad would be its own stand-alone title under the sub-heading, Treasure Tracker. The game is certainly not one of brisk contrast or even deviation from 3D World’s root mechanics. This still, when it comes down to it, belongs to the Mario franchise. The question is whether or not this spin-off is in fact worth warranting the expansion to fully-fledged game, but furthermore whether it justifies that all-important investment of time and money.
One of the earliest surprises about Treasure Tracker (and given this is a Mario game, its very existence and pure concept is a surprise and is quite the brow-raiser) is its assumption that those who are playing know already of Toad’s brief ventures. The moment you’re led beyond the initial title card on boot-up, the game seems to just begin; no prolonged cutscene, no meandering through tutorials, no sense of dreaded hand-holding like the game is assuming this is your very first attempt at playing a game or any game for that matter. You’re simply left to get on with it; navigate the brief square of territory – of which the player will, by the end, get to master use of both left and right control sticks, the latter of which controls the camera angle that circumnavigates the level – and only then do we get anything that remotely resembles a game opening. Further to that, the game makes all the right calls in not flinging tutorial messages at you left, right and centre in the early phases. There are occasional hints in-game, but they are kindly placed and not so obvious to those so eagerly locked into getting the pint-sized explorer to the next star.
Levels are simple in nature; navigate Captain Toad to the star without getting hit by baddies. But the player is already at a disadvantage – especially during enemy encounters – since the title character can neither jump nor fight back. It’s a case of careful planning and well-executed timing – take two hits, and the Captain loses a life. Mushrooms pop up from time to time, but unlike 3D world, players can’t rely on blocks. Puzzles are the centre-piece; survival is key, but stands secondary. Each of the game’s twenty main levels come with optional challenges which consist of collecting three gems and a hidden objective that only appears after the player completes the level for the first time. While these challenges add replay value to each level, the fact that they only pop up on repeat plays is frustrating – appearing to attempt to validate replays rather than offer them. The tasks themselves aren’t even mind-melting; find the golden mushroom; collect x amount of coins; don’t get hit; et cetera. In most cases, those who explore every nook and cranny will likely stumble across and meet the demand without even realizing it.
And many will want to do so when they see the game’s gorgeous worlds. Treasure Tracker’s art-style replicates 3D World’s and it shows in the best of ways. From lush tropical surroundings, to dusty canyons, to snow-covered steam trains, Treasure Tracker meticulously follows 3D World’s art direction to eye-opening effect. Lighting also makes a stellar return in the sunlight reflecting off the water’s surface, the fiery radiance of lava, and so much more; another example of the Wii U’s graphical capabilities pushed to their limit to achieve truly magnificent results. The game performs just as well to warrant this admiration – the game sustaining a constant 60fps while handling a fair amount of enemy activity without any glaring frame-rate drops. These aren’t vast open Worlds or sprawling hubs, so hardware demand won’t be high, but it doesn’t take away from the charm and sense of liveliness these environments hold.
If there’s one element that may put players off from the experience, it would have to be the Gamepad’s gyroscopic and motion controls. In the minecart levels, players are tasked with hitting specific objects by throwing vegetables at them. Thankfully the game lets players choose between manual and motion controls – the latter often resulting in the gyro messing up or mistaking movement to the point players can often miss their targets and have to redo the level. In comparison, the touch interface adds pleasant, optional controls during levels, though turning the storybook pages to choose and navigate levels can be awkward and fiddly But the main criticism, and one that hangs over the entirety of Treasure Tracker like a bad odor, is its Recommended Retail Price. At the time of writing this review, the game is priced at £34.99 – a mere £5 less than the standard price for a game a decade ago – and given it took me a shade over 7 hours to get 100%, after beating the game the price seems too high for what content is offered. There is an additional mode that unlocks levels from 3D World should you have saved data of the game on your system, but this is a mere bonus.
Overall, the steep price tag doesn’t take away from how pleasing Treasure Tracker is. It’s neither a difficult game nor a heavily-invested one. It’s meant for late nights on the Gamepad rather than an entire weekend on the main TV. It has the hallmarks of an eShop exclusive as well as the majesty and extravagance of Nintendo’s main ‘AAA’ titles. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker isn’t a vast entry, but it is very much knowledgeable of its intended limits. This title does great on what it wants to showcase and maintains hold on its players’ knack for adventure, much like the titular character himself. I loved the Captain’s brief moment in the spotlight, and in this game, Toad is given enough room to shine. As an ensemble of ideas, aesthetics, deliveries and charm, Treasure Tracker stands tall on its own pedestal.