Release date: January 2015
Platform: Wii U
Format: Digital (eShop) and physical disk
Those of you who played Super Mario 3D World will be familiar with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker’s (CTTT) game play style from Toad’s levels in that game. Essentially, Nintendo has created a whole new game based on the same mechanics used by the SM3DW levels. The story is simple to the point of being non-existent; after Toad and Toadette find a Star together, a giant bird named Wingo swoops in and steals the star, along with Toadette, who tries to hold onto it. Cue the pint-sized character rushing off on an adventure to save the pink-headed toadstool, while searching for treasure along the way (there is a nice little twist in this narrative part-way through the story, which freshened the story up a bit). Then again, no one really plays Mario games for their story.
For those not familiar with Captain Toad, this game is basically a puzzle-platformer, though unlike in most other platforming games, the playable characters cannot jump or attack. Instead they must rely on sneaking past enemies (they can kill enemies by jumping from a ledge onto the enemy below) or pulling turnips out of the ground and throwing them to kill the baddies. In addition to this, the touch screen and gyroscope of the Wii U GamePad are also used to help Toad navigate through the levels. Some times you will need to move Toad to a wheel and then use the touch screen to rotate the wheel, causing components of the level to rotate, while in other areas you will need to tap directly on certain sections to make them move up or down, left or right etc. Similar to games in the Super Mario series, the objective of each level is to reach the gold star at the end, but along the way you can collect gemstones (each level has 3). It is worth getting as many of these gemstones as you can, because you won’t be able to access some later levels until you have a certain amount of the jewels. You can also tilt or rotate the camera with the GamePad, either by using the right control stick or by moving the GamePad itself.
While this sounds good on paper, the camera and motion controls are one of the main gripes I have with this game. There is no way to turn the motion sensor off, which means that every time you move the GamePad slightly – almost impossible to avoid unless you sit ramrod stiff while playing – the camera moves as well. Also, though you have the option of zooming the camera in and out, you don’t get to choose how much. When zoomed out at its normal position, it is mostly acceptable but sometimes the action seems a bit too far away, while zooming in brings the camera so close to Toad that it is difficult to see much of anything around him. Though this is far from a game-breaking issue, it did get annoying at times. Some levels require the player to blow into the GamePad’s microphone to move fan-driven platforms; this can be tricky as you need to do this while using the directional stick to maneuver Toad onto the platform at the same time, and I don’t really think it added anything to the game play experience.
The levels in CTTT may be small and contained, but they look gorgeous, making exploration a joy. There is also a wide range of level designs; Toad’s adventure will take you through underground mines, midnight libraries, desert castles and other beautiful environments. The variety of puzzle options keeps things interesting and prevents the game (at least the non-boss levels) from feeling stale or repetitive. Toad can also find items like a powered-up pickaxe to smash his way through barriers or a cherry that creates clones of Toad to help him navigate the level. There are a few challenging levels, and the difficulty does ramp up from Episode 2 onwards. However, most of the time it is pretty easy to make it to the star at the end. That being said, getting (or even finding) some of the gems and completing each level’s hidden challenge can be tricky. Without being too spoilery, there are some bonus post-game levels that are REALLY challenging (I’m yet to beat these levels, and I have seen a post on a Facebook Nintendo group of a GamePad that was broken in a fit of rage as a result of one too many failures to beat them 😀 I know, I shouldn’t laugh…).
I was less impressed with the music. Though the levels mostly had different soundtracks which suited the tone of the stage, they started to feel samey very quickly. Much of it was familiar (I recognised several tracks as remixes from level music in other Mario games) but I would have liked a little more variety in the soundtrack. Also (and I’m aware I’m probably in the minority here) I just find Toad’s screechy voice rather annoying.
Boss fights in CTTT are a little different from boss fights in typical platforming games. Instead of attacking the enemies directly, much of the ‘fight’ entails traversing the boss’s domain, until you get to a point where either the environment itself injures/defeats the boss, or the boss launches projectiles at you, which can be thrown back at it. Where the standard levels provided a lot of variety, I felt that the boss fights were a little repetitive. Each focused on one of two bosses (the giant bird and the dragon) and though the layout of the level changed in each encounter with the bosses, the environment used was more or less the same (a volcanic chamber for the dragon and a dark fort or tower for the bird). Since there weren’t many of these fights it wasn’t too big an issue, but it would have been nice to have a little more variety in this area.
I think Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is worth checking out if you like puzzle-platformers, especially if you enjoyed the Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World (speaking of which, people with SM3DW save data on their systems will get a nice surprise), but a few control flaws, lack of any real challenge and repetitive boss fights keep it from being a great game. It’s also quite short (I finished the main game in about 6-7 hours, as I was mostly able to get all the collectibles on my first run through every level) and has limited replayability, and while it is cheaper than most other Wii U games with an RRP of around $60, it still feels a bit over-priced for what you get. I paid $49 for it as a launch-day special and I was happy with that, but I doubt I’d have been willing to pay more.