“Time for adventure!” You’ll raise an irrepressible smile whenever you start a course in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, the stout explorer’s chirpy enthusiasm for his first solo adventure being inherently infectious. And so it should.
We’ve already learned how the concept, which sees players twist and turn isometric dioramas to uncover their secrets, had been proposed for The Legend of Zelda. But, when Nintendo execs decided against Link being the star, Shigeru Miyamoto greenlit their inclusion in Super Mario 3D World as a mini-game. Still, without a hero, Nintendo EAD Tokyo recalled Super Mario Galaxy’s courageous Toad Brigade Captain – replete with a headlamp and heavy backpack. And so, a new star was born.
Everything about Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is sickeningly adorable, Nintendo’s oft-lauded attention to detail breathing life into a character that makes the most of his opportunity to shine. You’ll squeal as he drifts down slides with his arms raised in excitement, feel sorry for the lone adventurer as he nervously reacts to the pitch black darkness surrounding him, and chuckle when lets out a yawn before taking an unexpected snooze. The same can be said for his treasure-hunting companion Toadette who we later see shivering in the cold, and the way that they puff their cheeks out while holding their breath underwater.
The Mushroom Kingdom’s colourful backdrop is once again the perfect playground for adventure and one that is set in motion when Captain Toad and Toadette’s treasure hunting escapades are cut short. When they discover a Power Star, Wingo – a colossal bird that is a sucker for shiny things – suddenly appears to steal it. Toadette, trying to wrestle the Power Star from Wingo’s clutches, is unexpectedly carried away leaving Captain Toad to set out to rescue her.
With the tale presented in a storybook, Treasure Tracker splits itself between three separate episodes – the pages themselves detailing every course. The challenge has changed since Super Mario 3D World. Gone is the time limit. Gone is the need to collect five Green Stars. And, in their place, we now have a more leisurely approach that will allow you to pore over each course for as long as necessary.
While your main goal in each course is to secure the Power Star, there are also three hidden Super Gems to collect and a secret bonus challenge for you to accomplish. Achieving all three will reward you with a well-earned Crown Stamp, while Super Gems are a necessity to unlock certain courses. Their locations and puzzle solutions aren’t always obvious, and it will often take a careful deduction to seek them all out – you may be able to see them, but how do you get to them.
To do so you’ll use platforms to cross poisonous waters, safely negotiate your way around traps, and hurl turnips to take out patrolling enemies. Taking damage isn’t the end of your adventure though, reducing you to Small Captain Toad with hidden Super Mushrooms placed to revert you to your normal height. That neither Captain Toad or Toadette can jump is the main hurdle, weighed down by their hefty backpacks – relying on gravity and Warp Pipes to whisk them around the inventive puzzles that lay before them.
Power-ups come in the Super Pickaxe, letting you temporarily swing away at nearby enemies and blocks to uncover secrets, and the Double Cherry, which makes a return since appearing in Super Mario 3D World. This will clone Captain Toad, and presents more demanding challenges as you manoeuvre the two characters with synchronised movement!
If you lose five lives on a course you’re yet to tackle, an ‘Assist Pluck Patch’ will appear which, once tugged, lets you collect an Invincibility Mushroom. Lose all your lives, and you will need to complete a special mini-game to jump back into action – although I never reached that point myself!
EAD Tokyo put the Wii U GamePad to work in similar ways to that seen in Super Mario 3D World – blowing on the microphone to raise fan-powered platforms, tapping blocks to shift them, holding certain enemies in place, and revealing invisible Coins. Turnip Cannons and Mine Cart courses also shift you to a first-person perspective where you can use motion control to shift your view or resort to either the Left or Right Stick if you prefer.
Longevity comes not only in securing Crown Stamps but also in bonus courses. As your progress through the adventure, a golden page may slip onto a course that you have already completed – presenting the chance to enjoy a Coin spree. Receiving Crown Stamps on each of an episode’s courses also unlocks target times for you to beat, while a Bonus menu has additional courses awaiting to you – automatically unlocked if you have Super Mario 3D World save data. There’s still the lure of promised amiibo support incoming, even though we’re yet to learn what it is.
For me, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a reminder of why we all fell in love with Nintendo. Bursting with personality from every pixel, this puzzle-offering exemplifies their unique approach to game development in continually exploring new experiences to excite and often surprise their audience. In that they succeed once again, rounding off what has been an amazingly consistent year for their talented teams.