[Review] Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Posted on December 4, 2014 by Austin(@NE_Austin) in Features, Reviews, Wii U
Hello everyone, this is our review of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker for the Wii U. I wrote it and spoke the words and edited it, so if you have any problems with it I’m the person to blame. Enjoy! Approximate transcript after the break.
Nintendo has peculiar history when it comes to attaching their characters to various franchises; in terms of personality, what did Mario have that made him the quintessential Kart Racer? What did Fox McCloud have that made him a better choice for Dinosaur Planet than Link? These character-franchise connections are often kind of tenuous at best, but we live with them; character choices are rarely consequential in Nintendo games, so we take whatever window dressing they decide on because, well, it’s not about the window dressing really.
With Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, the link between character and game style is much more apparent: It’s generally a relaxed and considerate kind of game, with plenty of aesthetic creases and gameplay wrinkles to explore; a game whose fundamental premise is not exactly ideal for adventuring, lead by a character who’s not exactly ideal for adventuring. In many ways, it feels like this was a game meant for the slow-rolling Toads.
Treasure Tracker is deceptively monotone in presentation, so trailers and gameplay footage give the sense that it’s fairly one-note throughout the entire experience. This isn’t the case, and in fact there’s a tremendous amount of variety blanketing levels that all fundamentally use the same system of mechanics. It’s like a modern Mario game in that respect.
The main portion of Captain Toad Treasure Tracker was lifted from last year’s Super Mario 3D World, but the execution here has taken many of those levels from simple distractions into observation-driven, house-cleaning pseudo-puzzles. The direct evolution of what we saw in 3D World– basically linear levels laid out in a square– still aren’t really puzzling, even though they mask themselves as such; they’re more about being thorough in your observations than thinking through anything tricky, and even levels with designs that begin to resemble more traditional puzzles can almost entirely be “solved” by continuously walking to the closest shiny object until the level ends.
This full-game version does take the element of obstruction to another level, though. There’s more of an effort made to squirrel things away at odd angles to tempt you into looking around the entire level before making decisions, which is a welcome choice that we’ll talk about more later.
This focus on observation over enigma means that the main part of Captain Toad feels more akin to cleaning a really nice house while listening to really nice music than playing Tetris or Picross, and the intricate doll-house-like designs make for a fun game of “Where haven’t I cleaned yet? Oh! Over there!” that continues until you get the star. It sounds boring on paper, but watch it in action and it’s clear why the game’s polish and intricacy brings out the desire to collect and explore.
Of course, there are other types of levels as well: A handful of action-focused and stealth-focused levels lean more directly into excitement, and they provide a great sense of contrast with the pleasant and laidback “observation” levels that line the game.
You’re introduced to the “stealthy” levels first. These levels are more linear than what you’ll find in much of the rest of Treasure Tracker, but the game’s adaptable camera and wide-angle view mean some of those observational mechanics from the doll-house levels trickle in. Things will be behind walls you can’t see from one angle, or they’ll have a movement pattern that is only visible for a brief moment at certain other angles– things like that. So planning your moves is at least slightly multidimensional in that aspect, and having to deal with the generally unmaneuverable Captain Toad means there’s little room for error. These levels are are among my favorites in the game, but they are relatively rare– aside from the minecart levels they’re the rarest level genre here.
Oh right, the minecart levels.
The minecart levels are a bit strange. Primarily, they serve a role of pacing to help the game feel segmented so it has the feeling of length, but in their own right they’re pretty hit or miss. In one sense– that is, the sense of “I am sitting in a computer chair and swivelling around and shooting at things with the gyroscope controls”– they’re a ton of fun and you can feel the core of what was being brought forward. Unfortunately, using the gyroscopic controls without sitting in a swivelling chair is nearly impossible because you can’t spin 360 degrees on a couch, so you revert to using the thumbsticks for broad aiming and the gyro for tighter adjustments. This works and it allows you to complete the level, but that visceral reaction doesn’t bubble up because the levels are very simple and the camera moves very slowly. In this situation, they’re more chapter markers than fun levels.
I mentioned briefly twice now how Captain Toad’s entire premise is built on the obstruction of your vision. This is weird: it’s not fun to have things blocking your vision when you’re trying to move around in a 3D space, and yet they built the whole game– or at least a lot of it– on this idea. So how does that end up panning out?
Well, they do a few smart things to help turn what is a momentary frustration into a more interesting mechanic if you’re willing to settle into it. Firstly, they rarely put you in situations that call for you to explore with the camera while dealing with enemies. Those two actions: Dodging hazards and looking around the level– are kept very separate for most of the game, which is a smart call if you’re trying to make a game with this kind of stoic camera control.
Secondly, they build levels early on that teach you to stop, breathe, and look around. Many people are going to have the tendency to want to zoom in on Toad and focus on him as the focal point for the action, but doing this proves consistently frustrating as levels are constantly putting walls between you and him. Instead, you learn quickly to relax, back the camera out, and think of the entire level as the focus instead of your character. It’s off-putting for those of us that are used to playing games with on our character being the point around which the camera rotates, but the pleasant Captain wants nothing to do with that tradition!
The last smart thing they do is allow infinite time to complete any level. This, more clearly than anything, is a sign that you’re meant to slow down and take your time. Look at the level, figure out your plan, figure out where you’re going to move the camera, and then execute. Treasure Tracker, at the very least, has a strong sense of place and drive, and its mechanics are correctly designed around that, even if they do lean a bit idiosyncratic at times.
The only real complaint in this whole venture comes through its forced Gamepad usage. As has become standard in many games, Captain Toad nags the player to tilt, touch, and blow all over the Gamepad to move blocks and rotate the camera, and for the most part these things aren’t fun, but they don’t really get in the way. There are a few baffling cases of the contrary though:
Action levels– which are the one type we haven’t discussed– harken to platforming tropes more than puzzle tropes, but with the fun addition of Toad being completely unable to jump. Most of what you end up doing, then, is dodging enemies and timing your movements. These levels are as quickly paced as the game gets, and appropriately they opt against obstructing your vision and requiring quick camera movements out of the slow and clunky camera. However:
The game’s camera is controlled with the right thumbstick and the gyroscope simultaneously, and there’s no way to disable one or the other. The gyroscope is nigh completely useless on the dollhouse levels because requiring a full 360 spin out of you if you want to look around the whole level, so the thumbstick becomes your primary method of control. On the action levels, you don’t need to move the camera very much at all, relatively speaking, but in general the gamepad is going to be in jiggling a bit as you scramble to maneuver toad through lava plumes and around goombas. This means that, at times, the gyroscope causes the whole screen to wobble. It’s a weird oversight in such a well-thought-out game, but one that does prove only mildly annoying throughout the adventure.
Beyond that, you have to give a nod to the overall presentation of the game. Not only do they give Toad a hugely lovable personality using a lot of the same techniques present in Luigi’s Mansion– animations and sounds– but they tie the whole thing together with a surprisingly thorough story-book presentation, complete with charming chapter art and the occasional cinematic. It almost makes it perplexing that individual level aesthetics don’t follow any sort of consistent theme as the adventure progresses– sure, they’re all abstract floating cubes, but if you’re going to create a narrative thread, why not organize the levels to give them some sort of aesthetic cohesion as well? It’s weird when the story tells you you’re going up a mountain, but the levels are a mix of clockwork toys, beachfronts, and space boxes.
It’s odd, but it’s hard to let it really bother you when Toad does stuff like this at various intervals. (toad sleeping)
With all of this put together, you end up with a game that’s well paced– alternating between level styles at just the right times– charming out the chimney, full of enough content to keep you busy for a while, and enjoyable enough such that even the backtracking segments to gather gems is actually seen as a positive. It’s a game that will tickle you in relatively short bursts with levels that are satisfying in a variety of ways, and that’s enough to consider Captain Toad’s first outing not only successful, but positively peculiar.
If you’re into the idea of being the shepherd of your own mini-adventure and find the whimsy of Nintendo enough to put a smile on your face, there’s nothing standing in your way of enjoying Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. It won’t give you a guttural sense of pride or accomplishment– it’s too easy for that– but it will make you smile and tickle that obsessive collector inside you like Super Mario 3D World before it.
The question of whether it’s worth $40 is pretty much put to rest within the first few levels: With all its style and pleasantry, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker proves itself as yet another worthwhile Nintendo idea helmed by another adorable Nintendo character.