One of the unfortunate outcomes from the Wii U's disappointing popularity is that many of its better titles were overlooked. For every landmark "Zelda" and "Mario" game, there was a "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze" that failed to gain traction with a wider fan base.
"Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker" falls in the category of the missed gems. The 2014 title was a spinoff based on some standout levels in "Super Mario 3D World." Players took on the role of the eponymous hero who doesn't have the gymnastics of Mario but has the gusto and smarts to explore the outer reaches of the world. The game was a revamped take on the puzzle genre.
Thankfully, with the breakout success of the Nintendo Switch, players have a chance to rediscover a great game. The re-release of "Captain Toad" includes the classic campaign complete with three episodes and an updated bonus-stage section that feature levels inspired by "Super Mario Odyssey."
Despite being an older title,"Captain Toad" holds up well on the Switch. That's because the game never relied much on graphical pizzazz. The genius behind the project lies in its simple premise and inventive level design.
As Captain Toad or Toadette, players have to maneuver the hero across a level trying to grab a Power Star somewhere in the stage. Of course, nothing is ever straightforward as Toad has to avoid obstacles, manipulate the environment and toss turnips at foes to proceed. The concept is comparable to classics like "The Adventures of Lolo" or more recently "Portal," albeit with a heavy Nintendo touch.
The levels are intricate puzzle boxes and force players to move the camera in order to find a hidden passageway or spot a diamond hidden behind a wall. The design is the star of the game as the developers at Nintendo EAD Tokyo incorporate switches, moving platforms and power-ups in their elaborate layouts.
Thankfully, the levels aren't just one note. The studio brings in a diversity of ideas forcing Toad or Toadette to be stealthy in one stage, sneaking by Shy Guys. In other stages, one of the heroes will jump in a mine cart and players will go into a rail shooter-type level where they fire turnips at blocks and foes along the way.
Elsewhere, some stages have delightful motifs. "Retro Ramp-up" is an ode to the original "Donkey Kong," while "Razzle-Dazzle Slider" mimics a pinball machine in which Toadette is the ball. The puzzles aren't too difficult and often require a combination of careful control and forethought. The game doesn't punish players too harshly for making mistakes and it allows some trial and error as they explore how a level works.
Sadly, "Captain Toad's" 64-stage main campaign doesn't have clear themes to it, but it has a simple narrative, in which a giant bird named Wingo steals stars and kidnaps either Captain Toad or Toadette. Whatever hero is left behind has to venture through several levels before reaching a climactic boss fight atop a tower. In between, players encounter minibosses involving a Draggadon that require planning and patience as they avoid a fiery breath and dash to cover.
Most of the levels were exquisitely designed. The only stages I hated were the "Drop-Road Dash" and "Magma Road Marathon"; both rely on boost pads that send Toad dashing along precariously narrow paths. Unlike most levels, these required a precise touch and quick reflexes. Both were exercises in frustration, but players can pass over them.
These are small quibbles for a game that does so much with a simple premise. Even after players finish the campaign and bonus levels, they'll find diamonds to collect (there are three per stage.) and specific side tasks to complete. Lastly, there's a Pixel Toad hiding in each level and players have to spot it, "Where's Waldo" style.
All of this makes "Captain Toad" a treasure, one that more players can appreciate thanks to its re-release on the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS.
'CAPTAIN TOAD: TREASURE TRACKER'
3 1/2 stars
Platform: Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS
Rating: Everyone ___
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