Initially conceived as a mini-game for Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker involves having Toad meander through a cuboid level while solving puzzles and hunting down stars. This concept apparently proved popular and it’s now been expanded into its own full game. But with a full $40 price tag, comes full $40 dollar expectations, and unfortunately I don’t feel like this game innovates enough on its concepts or delivers enough to content to meet those standards. As a result, Treasure Tracker feels like a game that is composed of good ideas that just weren’t fully thought through. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly some fun to be had here, and if you absolutely adored those Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World then you’ll have a blast with this; just don’t expect it to be too much more than what you got there.
So normally I take some time to go over the story of a game in my reviews, but there really isn’t much to say here. Toadette gets captured, Toad gives chase, and things proceed to their logical end point; that structure is then mixed up and repeated until the game is over. I wasn’t exactly expecting Chaucer from this game though, so let’s talk its gameplay instead. It’s essentially the same as it was in Super Mario 3D World, you’ll make Toad waddle around a cube based level, which you can then rotate around in order to get a better perspective of the situation; confusion and puzzle solving then ensues. There are some exceptions to this formula, in the form of a couple of rail shooter style levels, but for the most part it’s all built off of that base, with the central goal in each level being to collect the star at the end, as well as three ancillary gems. It’s a fun set-up that banks well upon Toad’s physical deficiencies; he can’t jump, he can’t really run, and his offense capabilities are limited at best. The challenge comes from utilizing your full range of perspective to find every secret and then figuring out how you will maneuver Toad through it all to get at those secrets, mixing platforming and puzzling in an interesting fashion. It remains a very unique concept, and with the addition of further mechanics like the double cherry from Super Mario 3D World and a Donkey Kong style pickaxe power-up, they do manage to expand upon it in some enjoyable and curious ways.
It’s also worth noting that this game makes great use of the Wii U’s gamepad, capitalizing on the many unique features Nintendo built into the device. The camera can be controlled with either the gyroscope sensor or the right stick, there are various platforms that can activated both by tapping the touchscreen and by blowing into the microphone, and all of the first person stuff is shown exclusively on the gamepad while a regular third person view is shown on the TV. Admittedly some of that stuff can feel rather gimmicky at times, but it’s still nice to see those features actually being put to use. In fact as a result of those mechanics being so heavily featured, there are many levels that play best while looking just at the gamepad, making this a fantastic game to play casually while watching TV or something like that.
Unfortunately though it’s not all roses and good uses of the hardware; as I said in the intro paragraph, a lot of the good ideas in this game don’t feel as though they were fully thought out. While the cuboid level structure does make angling the camera a uniquely integral part of the gameplay, the actual camera movement isn’t smooth or responsive enough to really accommodate that and as a result the leading cause of death in this game is a bad case of “Goddamn it, I can’t see where the hell I am!” syndrome. Also while the core concept has been expanded upon, as I detailed above, not enough has really been added to keep things fresh throughout the entirety of this game’s surprisingly short run time. You’ll become acutely familiar with every trick this game has up its sleeve within your first hour of play, and after that it just becomes a matter of the game ramping up the difficulty. Sadly it doesn’t do that in a very intuitive or enjoyable fashion, instead falling back on tiresome cheapo death-traps and easily missed items that you have to then restart the level to get. On that note, the game is in dire need of a “Restart Course” option, as in order to restart any given level you need to go all the way back to the level select menu, which is obviously something of a pain.
Touching back on my comment regarding the game’s short run-time, I made my way through Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker in the space of 4-5 hours. Admittedly I did not go back to get every single gem and complete every level’s special objective (which only make themselves apparent after you’ve finished a level), but I did make an effort to secure as much of that stuff as possible during my main run and the game still felt very brief. There are at least some bonus stages you’ll unlock at the end, which do help to extend things a bit, but despite presenting some new mechanics they’re mainly just retreads of levels from the campaign and oddly reverse engineered levels from Super Mario 3D World (and I don’t mean the Captain Toad levels from that game). While the rather shy amount of content on display here wouldn’t be as much of an issue if this were a $20 downloadable release, as a full retail product it feels somewhat lacking.
Lastly let’s talk about the presentation, which is probably the high point of this game for me. It uses the same engine as Super Mario 3D World and as such it’s similarly beautiful, utilizing the same simplistic but utterly gorgeous art style that acts as a symphony of vibrant colours and smooth design. As I say in the Heads Up video we put together for this game, it’s a look that is very nicely textured, and by that I don’t mean that it has nice ‘textures’ but rather that everything looks as though it has an actual tangible feel to it. There’s also a good variety to the look of the game overall, as it bounces erratically from theme to theme; one moment you’ll be navigating pastel blocks in a nebulous void, and the next you’ll be avoiding Boos in a warm wood-grained haunted mansion. While personally I would have liked a bit more consistency in the level pacing, the large variety of stage themes on display does keep things interesting at the very least. In terms of sound design, Treasure Tracker carries forth much of Super Mario 3D World’s sensibilities, bringing with it a number of relaxing but up-beat instrumental tracks. While it does certainly pack in a few of the expected classic Mario tunes, surprisingly the soundtrack is actually mostly original pieces, which all fit in well with the game’s slow and mellow vibe. Oddly enough, the soundtrack reminded me most of the original Spyro the Dragon games, as it all has a very calm and spaced out but happy feel to it. The only other note I would make about the sound design is that unsurprisingly the game is packed full of Toad’s trademark scratchy squawking voice samples. Whether or not that is a positive attribute will depend on how much you like Toad as a character.
While I certainly appreciate Nintendo making good use of their established tech and pushing it to take their beloved characters and franchises in new directions, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker just doesn’t quite hit the marks it should. The gameplay doesn’t innovate enough to keep the player engaged, the absolutely integral camera movement doesn’t feel quite right, and there isn’t really enough content present to justify the game’s $40 price tag. As such I’m giving Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker a 3 out of 5 stars; while it has the Nintendo hallmarks of quality when it comes presentation, it just doesn’t put forward enough in terms of gameplay.