Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker Review – A Turnip For The Books

A cute puzzle-platformer, as happy as it is clever.

01

Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo
Format: Wii U
Released: December 5, 2014
Copy supplied by publisher

A happy game is something this market desperately needs to see a lot more of. A totally unpretentious, colorful, cheerful videogame with no overwhelming sense of peril, no miserable characters complaining about their vapid emotional turmoil, and none of this “moral choice” gibberish. Don’t get me wrong, I love a tragic game (This War of Mine just got a ton of praise, after all), but there’s so much seriousness in popular videogames, and so few smiles. A game like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a much needed injection of genuine joy in a perpetually gloomy industry, and its unassuming arrival is a most welcome one.

It’s almost a shame that Captain Toad has a story at all, light though it is. As the titular captain sets off to save Toadette from the clutches of a random asshole bird, the disappointingly trite setup feels out of place in a game that is otherwise about hunting treasure. Indeed, if there was no plot at all, and Toad simply worked his way through each course on a quest for hidden gems and coins, absolutely nothing would have been lost. He’s a tracker of a treasure, after all, and the added motive of rescue seems like a desperate attempt to cling to conformity in a game that really didn’t need it. The role reversal that occurs throughout the game is a fun little diversion, as Toadette and Toad end up taking turns rescuing each other, but overall I gained no extra pleasure from the threadbare attempts at plot, let alone another humdrum rescue mission. The Captain and Toadette are treasure trackers – just let ’em track treasure!

In fairness, the heroes’ cycle of rescue and capture at the talons of Asshole Bird is lightly explored at best, with each level remaining a self-contained quest to collect stuff for no related reason. Treasure Tracker is based on the Captain Toad courses that appear in Super Mario 3D World, a series of puzzle stages that involves rotating the camera around roughly cube-shaped worlds while navigating the fungal explorer through hazards and enemies without Mario’s offensive capabilities. The spirit of these stages is taken and expanded with this standalone game, as players work their way through increasingly complex puzzle-platform challenges in the shoes of a character that cannot jump, and is only very rarely able to combat the Goombas, Shy Guys, and Piranha Plants that stand between him and success.

02

As with Super Mario 3D World, spatial awareness is the key to victory, since players will need to rotate the camera around all four sides of each level, constantly altering the vantage point to get a handle on Toad’s surroundings and possible paths. Doorways, passages, and nooks can be completely obscured from certain angles, and each course has a sense of depth which can only be fully perceived by sizing things up like a glorified snooker player. The overall aim of each course is to get to a golden star by avoiding baddies and solving navigational puzzles, though each map has three hidden gems – many of which will need to be collected, since certain landmark courses are locked until a set amount of them has been claimed. Often, getting the star is the easy part, since some gems are cleverly hidden away, or otherwise require some tricky environmental puzzling to nab.

Captain Toad starts off simple, but in true Nintendo fashion, the central ideas continue to expand and diversify throughout the adventure. Things open with a lot of ladder climbing, dropping from ledges, and throwing the occasional uprooted turnip at encroaching enemies, but before too long, Toad will be navigating moving platforms, using see-saw bridges as improved springboards, and sliding through pipes that have divergent paths and very little time to choose a direction. It’s impressive just how much variety Nintendo has managed to squeeze out of the central idea, with more traditional, slower puzzle levels joined by fast-paced running stages in which Toad is constantly propelled along precarious ledges, or boss “fights” involving dragons that require the player to constantly use cover while scaling a vertical level series of platforms. Even when old ideas are reused (the aforementioned dragon appears multiple times), there’s usually some quirky new spin on the idea. Captain Toad‘s potentially gimmicky brand of puzzling is something that could get old quick, but the consistent mixing of the formula combats it deftly.

04

A number of stages make use of the Wii U GamePad’s extra features, as if it’s 2012 all over again. There are land masses that can be shifted up, down, left or right by touching them on the Pad’s screen, there are platforms that move along tracks when the microphone is blown into, and there are mine cart levels in which the controller is physically moved around to target objects. It’s the kind of tech-demo stuff that’s been around since the Wii U’s launch, and I didn’t find any of it particularly enthralling. Certainly nothing offensive, but I can’t help feeling that, two years into the console’s lifespan, we ought to have moved past random touch and gesture interfaces that exist simply for the sake of existing.

At times, even with the evolving ideas, Captain Toad can get a bit overly familiar. The relatively slow pace of the courses (they’re not on a time limit like they were with Super Mario 3D World) and the limited interaction can and does make for some pretty inventive situations, but there are a good handful of levels that just plod along with nothing fresh to offer. Less interesting levels can be skipped, though you’ll need to maintain a high number of gems to unlock later stages, so there’ll be no breezing past too much of it, and while each course is relatively short, a few are a bit of a slog – especially if you die, and have to do it all over again. Death is a rarity, since this is more of a thinker than a fighter, but it can happen. At least any recovered gems stay recovered.

As well as three episodes consisting of multiple courses each, there is a set of bonus levels based on stages found in Super Mario 3D World. Since Toad can’t butt stomp or throw a punch, these levels involve avoiding trouble while finding unique ways to get around the world. They’re also stuffed to the gills with precious coins, and there’s something immensely gratifying about running through from A to B while nabbing them all and scoring a bunch of extra lives. I actually found myself enjoying the bonuses more than the main game, and I wouldn’t mind an entire title based more about restricted runs of traditional Mario stages.

03

Complaints aside, Captain Toad remains a clever, inventive little puzzle platformer. For every middling course, there’s something more radical waiting to be found. A stage set up like a huge pinball table, with Toad sliding down its surface to collect items, a large tower of platforms set up like the first level of Donkey Kong, and numerous excellent haunted house-themed arenas are all lying in wait, among other smartly designed environments. The beautiful art style of Super Mario 3D World is retained, with character models appearing smoother and prettier than they did in the captain’s previous game appearance. The soundtrack is particularly delightful, though Toad’s screaming and Toadette’s “Oh yeah” piercing my ears at the end of every level could have been done without. I just value my ears, is all, and the inevitable shrieking of the mushroom monsters runs counter to that.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker isn’t going to blow minds with its humble presentation and laid back puzzling, but it’s still got plenty of imagination and some really sagacious architecture in its level structure. There are moments that tread water, but overall this is a smart puzzler that ought to appeal to most folks. You can’t really say fairer than that.

8/10
Great

Plips
Guest
Plips

Hm I didn’t really think I’d be interested but the more I contemplate a slow-paced puzzle platformer, the more I feel like I want to play it.

lukas meza
Guest
lukas meza

this is pure nintendo fun and quality , getting it soon

Dinosir
Guest

Spot on in regards to happy games. It made me absolutely feel justified in my purchase of the Wii U. I’m getting sick of the whole everything sucks setting, caked in a brown color palette frosting. Nintendo has always seemed to ignore that god aweful trend. Plus I’m fairly certain most of their games are running at 60fps which is pretty great. Though I do feel like I’m missing out on a more “cinematic feel” *Cough*. At any rate I’ll be sure to pick this one up.

kytten
Guest
kytten

Ughhhhhh i wish this game had come out on 3ds as well. *sigh* i don’t see any ANY reason other than smaller size and lowering of graphics that would keep this from being a fantastic 3ds game.

zosa
Guest
zosa

it might cause a lot of kids to get nauseated, vertigo is not something nintendo wants kids to get when playing XD

HylianBeard
Guest
HylianBeard

I’ll track YOUR treasure if you catch my drift.

Brilliant review, sweet cheeks.

-Gregor xx

El Alter Ego
Guest

I bought it here in Mexico and the guys from the store called me saying they will deliver it tomorrow, so I’ll be playing a little sooner than expected 🙂

Jesse Stein
Guest
Jesse Stein

It’s official, “Asshole Bird” is now Wingo’s canon name.

…to me, at least.

I was planning on picking this up even without looking at a review prior, but I’m glad that Jim – in particular – put out one for the game, simply because it’s Jim Fucking Sterling Son, obviously.

Ryan Bonner
Guest
Ryan Bonner
I’ve been looking forward to this game since they announced it at E3 (in fact, I’d often felt playing SM3DW that I would have loved it if they made a full game of the Captain Toad levels even before E3) and I’m glad to see that the game is as great as I’d expected it to be. Great review. Can’t wait to pick it up Friday. One thing of note however, “The beautiful art style of Super Mario 3D World is retained, with character models appearing smoother and prettier than they did in the captain’s debut title.” Seems like this… Read more »
Jorge do Luar
Guest
Jorge do Luar

😀

Paul C
Guest
Paul C

Hi Jim, with going independent, did it cross your mind to ditch the scores in your reviews? (Sorry if this was asked before)

Askherserenity
Guest
Askherserenity

Game looks great! I’m still kind of undecided though. Wish it would have had a bit more content. Maybe some stage building/online sharing component? Presentation wise, it looks well worth the 40 dollars but not so sure about the amount content in there. I’m stumped.

Sempero
Guest
Sempero

Even when I’m a big Nintendo fan, for some reason I didn´t trust this game. Glad that Nintendo (once again) proved me wrong.

Snowskeeper
Guest
Snowskeeper

“using see-saw bridges as improved springboards,”

Improvised, I think.

Ffordesoon
Guest

You only think that because you never saw the original springboards. They were shit.

erik
Guest
erik

I don’t think it matters if you got a review copy from the publisher or any other way. I don’t see how that could make you see the actual game any different.. But that’s just me i guess.

dxBIGBOSSxb
Guest
dxBIGBOSSxb

Video games? VIDEO GAMES!? Well Jim, objectively this appears to be a video game, your job here was done in the first sentence, so why add all this nonsense “opinions” and “bias”? I think you like Nintendo “too much” and must stop before I decide to buy Nintendo products and potentially start enjoying myself and that CANNOT be allowed, because the WiiU was designed for children with genetically spliced gorilla hands.

BAH!
Guest
BAH!
Wait, stop. Nintendo supplied you with a review copy of Treasure Trackers? I really would not have expected that. But it is Nintendo, and they’ve got a reputation for not being lying, manipulative dirtbags, so… Also, I would assert that it is the Wii U that is currently carrying the vast majority of the burden in supplying “colorful, fun games”. I’ve been playing The Wonderful 101, and it’s just so silly and self-aware that you can’t not like it. And Bayonetta 2, though a much more “mature” title, is still clearly meant to be fun in the fullest sense of… Read more »
Mighty Supreme Lord Squid
Guest
Mighty Supreme Lord Squid

What a lovely review for a lovely game. And I agree, it would be nice if the industry produced more cheerful games. Most games I’ve bought this year have been quite dark and miserable. I mean, those are compelling too, but I’d like to get more happy games.

Kingtrace
Guest
Kingtrace

Hate to be a nitpicker on an otherwise excellent review, but I think you’ve forgotten to include where you got your copy from.

Greg
Guest
Greg

re: your first paragraph, I often feel like game devs are wearing their inferiority complex on their sleeve. “If we just make our games dark and unpleasant enough, everyone will finally understand that we are creating Serious Art and treat us with the respect we deserve!” Sort of like the 90’s comic scene. There’s a place for that, of course, but it’s also nice to play games that aren’t self-consciously depressing.

Mister Bork
Guest
Mister Bork

Is there any dick gripping in this game? Because I’m looking for a title with some dick gripping

Jason Guarnieri
Guest
Jason Guarnieri

So Jim, if you could refresh my memory, just how sexy is Toad?

Kabwla-TwoLips
Guest
Kabwla-TwoLips

“since the Wii U’s launch, and I didn’t fine any of it particularly enthralling.”

Instead, just normal ‘fines’ were issued.
(Gawd, I’m terrible, get used to it.)

Surun Tunne
Guest
Surun Tunne

Great review, Jim, but please change Super Mario World to Super Mario 3D World.

Paul
Guest
Paul

Another great-looking offering from Nintendo. I am seriously considering breaking my long, long pc-only streak and getting me a Wii-U for the holidays. It’s way cheaper than the competition, and has way more games that I know I would enjoy playing than either the PS4 or the Xbone. Good on Nintendo for staying strong through quality video game design, not overwhelming marketing and webs of lies.

Mandog
Guest
Mandog

Welp, another one I’ll be picking up in the next couple weeks. Great review Jim!

Sergio
Guest

For sure if your a PC gamer I recommend a Wii U. Your PC can play pretty much every great game coming to ps4 or xbone but it can’t play any of the Wii U titles at least not for years to come.

absolutfreak
Guest

I couldn’t be happier with my combination of the PC I built last year and my Wii U. Nintendo has been knocking it out of the park over the last year or so, and more big games that are traditionally console only are appearing on the PC now. It’ll be a while before either the XBone or PS4 build up enough exclusives to get me to pick one up.

J. Keep
Guest

Wii U and PC makes for a great gaming combination. I get PC for all the mainstream dourness, and then my Wii U to colour up my life with some brilliant, pure fun.

Or at least that’s the premise, but this year I’ve mostly just been playing Wii U in my spare time. It’s definitely trumped my big, expensive, water-cooled gaming PC for entertainment hours, starting at about the time of Mario Kart 8’s launch.