Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Nintendo has never lost the knack of creating digital playgrounds that feel like they could exist in material form – as a former toymaker, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. But while its worlds have always felt solid and tangible on some level, rarely has it crafted something with as much tactility as the dioramas in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Even if they had no other function, these stages would have value as objects to simply admire. Suspended impossibly in an infinite sky, they’re beautifully formed; they’re a little too chunky to be decorative, perhaps, but demonstrate once again that Nintendo applies the same rigour to the construction of its levels as to its robust hardware. If Treasure Tracker’s stages were to suddenly plummet earthwards, you can be sure they’d bounce.
That sensation of physicality is important, because it forms a large part of this game’s appeal. You’ll hear a succession of gentle clicks as you rotate the camera with the right stick. In concert with the gyro sensor, it’s as if you’re turning each stage over in your hands while peering inquisitively around it, even if the permanently enabled tilt function forces you to keep the controller steady at all other times. As such, there is a slight disconnect when playing on the TV screen, but when gazing down instead at the GamePad display, what comes to mind is Fireproof Games’ The Room, since both titles offer a similar feeling of examining a complicated object with many moving parts.
The main difference, of course, is that here you’re in direct control of one of those parts, Captain Toad waddling adorably around as you move the left stick in search of the three gems and single Power Star on each stage. The right analogue stick is just as regularly employed as you shift your viewpoint to keep the Captain in clear sight during perilous situations, or to scrutinise his surroundings from all angles when he’s in a safe place, teasing out routes and secrets that might be obscured from your current perspective.
The story presents a welcome subversion of the Mushroom Kingdom kidnap scenario, too. Toadette may be whisked away at the outset, but only as a result of her bravery, since she courageously clings onto the first Power Star when a giant bird carries it off. And once the first 18-level chapter is over, there’s a neat reversal of roles: Toadette becomes playable, and must rescue the Captain. As an established idea given a fresh twist, it’s in keeping with the design ethos of the game – beside a handful of features, and a sprinkling of new enemies, almost everything here comes from Super Mario 3D World. There are Chargin’ Chucks and Beep Blocks, Clear Pipes and Conkdors, Double Cherries and Flip Panels. The cackling doppelgängers that pursued you in 3D Land and Galaxy 2 are repurposed into Toad-shaped mummified spectres. There’s an art to such thrift, but for the most part these assets are skilfully recycled.
You experience the occasional quiet epiphany, but they never arrive as frequently as you might hope
Few, however, will welcome the return of the platforms activated by blowing into the GamePad mic, not least because there’s no button alternative here. And given the already strong physical connection to the world here, there’s no good excuse for more touchscreen gimmickry, such as when a translucent wheel appears, inviting you to circle your finger to rotate a bridge into position. Rare transitions into firstperson fare better: occasionally you’ll climb into a turnip cannon to break blocks or topple Goomba towers. Gyroscopic aiming is also employed during three on-rails minecart stages. It helps to have a partner watching the TV to spot hidden gems, though as with most levels, two runs should be enough to find everything. And thus we come to perhaps Treasure Tracker’s most significant failing: for long stretches it’s simply too easy. A gentle learning curve is to be expected from the modern Nintendo work, but for an action game, hazards are all too easily avoided. Ambling Shy Guys are quickly lost or taken down by a turnip plucked from the ground, while birds that ground pound when you pass below are too slow to present any real peril. Meanwhile, the puzzle-led stages aren’t quite devious enough. You’ll experience the occasional quiet epiphany, but they never arrive as frequently as you might hope.
Happily, it transpires that EAD Tokyo is playing the long game. The final chapter is the equivalent to 3D World’s late-game blowout, introducing fresh wrinkles and increasing the threat level. One stage forces you to climb to escape a rising tide; another pushes you into a constant sprint down treacherously narrow paths; yet another asks you to plan your advance carefully, lest you be left without a return route. Old bosses return with new tricks, while optional objectives encourage you to reconsider your approach. And one or two stages will leave you confounded, even if it’s only for a short while.
An unfortunate side effect of this shift is that Treasure Tracker loses a little of what made it special in the first place. Whereas at times you can happily ignore the fact that you’ve seen most of these elements before, at others you’re all but playing a Mario game minus a jump button. The inclusion of bonus stages lifted from 3D World – with ladders and pipes to allow the Captain to cross gaps – are a definite misstep, because they only encourage unfavourable comparisons. Conducted at the Captain’s leisurely stroll, they’re oddly dull.
You’re left with a sensation we rarely associate with finishing a Nintendo game: that this a fine idea, but it’s one that’s a touch underdeveloped. There’s much to admire and to enjoy, but we’ve come to expect more from a developer of EAD Tokyo’s calibre. If Captain Toad is to keep on tracking, we hope he has to work harder next time; he has access to plenty of treasures here, but they’re a little too easily unearthed.