Cap­tain Toad: Trea­sure Tracker

Wii U

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher/de­vel­oper Nin­tendo (EAD Tokyo) For­mat Wii U Re­lease Out now (JP, US), Jan 2 (EU)

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.

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