Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a delightful pleasantry. It's a simple game that's not too short and too long, nor too difficult or too easy. It's a "middle of the road" type of game that's not ambitious enough to gain traction through word of mouth, but is an excellent experience for anyone that enjoys perspective puzzles. Speaking as one of those people, I had a gay old time spelunking with the miniature mushroom man and his fungi crew, the colorful visuals and cheerful atmosphere worth the price of admission alone. While I wasn't challenged by the puzzles as much as I usually prefer to be (barring one notable endgame exception), Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker still managed to charm me in its own humble little way.
Like many others, I was a bit surprised that Nintendo EAD Tokyo would go about creating a full-fledged experience from what seemed to be a suitable one-off minigame in Super Mario 3D World. I really enjoyed the Captain Toad segments that were in there but I wasn't begging for more of them. Well, that is, until Treasure Tracker was revealed during E3 2014 and I realized, "hey, you know what, I would play more of those levels." It took me a bit of time to get around to playing it (I didn't own a copy until this year), but it was just the thing I needed between the more grueling endeavors of surviving Nioh and Resident Evil VII.
Far and away the most wonderful aspect about Captain Toad is how homely the levels feel. Among my most cherished toys when I was a kid were the Mighty Max playsets, miniature stages that could unfold in the palm of your hand. My passion for those teeny toys signaled the start of my preference for tight and condensed spaces, whether it be in my art, Doom maps, or even my own room. Because of this, I personally saw Captain Toad as a collection of aesthetic wonderlands, each floating block its own quaint adventure to embark on. I utterly love the diorama-style presentation of each stage, the player constantly needing to rotate the camera to uncover secret coins and hideaways. Even if the puzzles in a particular stage were fairly boring, I nevertheless enjoyed looking around the area and soaking in its simplistic architecture, getting lost in the look and feel of each bite-sized world.
It might seem like there's not a whole lot you can do with a character that can't jump or use abilities, but Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker has a surprising amount of variety embedded in it stages. For some you'll need to fiddle with the Wii U pad to move blocky platforms or rotate structures, while in others you'll have to speed across crumbling bridges or maneuver clones through a maze. In all honesty the gimmicks here aren't too different from those in Super Mario 3D World—a hefty majority of them are ripped straight from there—but the lack of special suits and a jump button change how you interact with these systems, slowing down the gameplay so that it becomes more cerebral than reflexive. This makes the game feel different even though you've already jumped across beep blocks and traveled through translucent pipes; Treasure Tracker takes the familiar and introduces it to you all over again with great success.
For me, the game is at its most compelling in the smaller stages where the camera remains static on the y-axis. Having the ability to see the entire play area and being tasked with completing it through mainly camera manipulation speaks wonders of the level design, showing how efficient Nintendo is at managing their real estate. Levels like "Pop-up Prairie", "Windup Stairs", "Up 'n' Down Terrace", "Double Cherry Spires", and "Trick-Track Hall" were among my favorites for their excellent use of space—had I been eight years old, I would've undoubtedly fantasized about physically owning a playset of them. On the other hand, Captain Toad awkwardly stumbles whenever it forces the player to engage in more physically demanding & timed tasks, given that the plucky little fellow isn't as satisfying as Mario to control. The turnip-tossing on-rails sections and the "Mummy-Me Maze" were among the worst offenders, neither of which play to the game's strengths (The "Mummy-Me Maze" would be alright if the darn mummy had a constant walk speed).
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is like a breath of fresh air—it doesn't really do anything substantial, but it sure feels nice. It contains that timeless, inimitable Nintendo polish that makes the game look and feel so fantastically splendid, designed for both children and adults in mind. I'm not head over heels for the game, but I can't deny that I was in a happy mood whenever I played it. And you know what? I bet that's all Nintendo was aiming for.
Images obtained from: target.com, cultofmac.com, gamespot.com, technobuffalo.com