When you played the delightfully puzzling Captain Toad stages in Super Mario 3D World you just knew they were going to be expanded into a full game. After all, how could they not? The Captain Toad stages were an incredibly fun and exceedingly clever series of stages that tasked you with collecting stars as Toad, whose diminutive stature prevented him from jumping, running, or really doing a whole lot of anything. Every cube-shaped stage involved solving a series of puzzles and getting to the goal and among the best parts of 3D World. So as you can imagine, when I got to go hands-on with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker earlier this year I was incredibly excited and did not walk away disappointed.
Captain Toad is obviously not your typical Mario game. It’s a slower, more methodical game that requires planning and forethought. The ultimate goal is to reach the star and move onto the next stage, but along the way there’s three diamonds to collect, which you’ll obviously need to do if you’re going for full completion. Now, getting to the star, at least in the demo levels I played, wasn’t so difficult. It mostly involved following the obvious path and avoiding the enemies. The real challenge came from collecting all the diamonds on a given stage, which would often have me backtracking along different paths and solving some fiendish puzzles to figure out how to get to them. For example, one level I played involved several spinning wheels that could carry Toad to different paths. There was one path that was obvious and would lead you to the star, but if you stayed on the wheel just a little longer it would pass by a hidden door which would bring you to a previously inaccessible part of the level. From here it was a matter of moving between alcoves carved into the wall before the floor opened up and dumped you into the water, forcing you to climb up the level again.
Part of the way the puzzles work is that you can’t see everything right off the block. The game is played in an isometric view, but the camera can be rotated to nearly any angle at any time. A lot of the puzzle solving comes from the camera movement, and many times you’ll find yourself faced with a wall with seemingly no way to pass it, but turning the camera just the right way will reveal and previously unseen pathway. This is actually part of what makes Captain Toad such a joy to play; Nothing is so difficult as to seem impossible, and with a little patience you’ll find yourself figuring out the puzzles and feeling damn proud of yourself for doing so. Another way to feel proud of yourself is by defeating enemies. The little mushroom captain may not be able to jump, but what he can do is fall, and one of the levels I played featured a ledge that Toad could walk off of and (hopefully) fall onto the head the head of a goomba to crush him, allowing safe passage across his guarded patch of grass. Getting up this ledge is a miniature puzzle in itself, and the way all the pathways intertwine ends up making the stages feel much larger than they look.
I also played one level that was a bit more open than the others. It was beach themed, and a majority of it was underwater bar a small wooden bridge along the surface (take a look at the screenshot above). This stage involved moving along the bridge and falling off it at the correct points to access different parts of the ocean floor, as well as using pipes to get from once section to another. The major challenge here was avoiding the avoiding the enemies and finding ways around them to the diamonds. This stage actually involved a little more quick thinking than the others.
There were a few other features that I got to experience, as well. In a way that harkens back to Super Mario Bros. 2, Toad can pull plants from the ground that will contain either a coin or a turnip. Turnips can be thrown at enemies to defeat them, but are often limited in number so you have to aim carefully. In many cases there are more turnips than enemies, so it becomes a puzzle to figure out which enemies to defeat and which to leave in order to proceed. Another feature used the Gamepad’s touchscreen in a similar manner to that of 3D World. Touching crystal blocks will cause them to move and will lift Toad so that he can reach higher platforms of reveal a hidden door behind them. Toad is also able to break into a run to avoid enemies, and can take two hits before he dies and has to start the stage again.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is one of the most obvious ideas for a Mario spinoff in years, and also one of the best. It’s undeniably charming and exercises that puzzle-solving part of your brain. Perhaps more importantly, Captain Toad exemplifies the style of game that Nintendo strives to create; It’s pure fun from the moment you pick up the controller and you can’t help but smile. Whether it’s the little flourishes on Toad’s animation when he grabs a diamond or the cheery music or the intricate, layered design of the levels, every part of Captain Toad feels very carefully designed and is in all honesty one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in years.