For as much as Nintendo likes to portray Mario as an “everyman” hero, let’s face facts: He’s not particularly relatable once you get past the protruding paunch. Most of us on the EGM Crew, save reviews editor Ray Carsillo, aren’t Italian. Do any of us get to hobnob with royalty on a regular basis? And have you seen the kind of bank plumbers make these days? Mario clearly isn’t in any tax bracket the average gamer would recognize. (And let’s not even get into all the “supplemental income” he must rake in with his highly questionable “medical practice.”)
Toad, on the other hand, embodies more of what the typical player faces as they make their way through life. He’s short, squat, a servant to the whims of the 1%, and when he was first introduced as a playable character in Super Mario Bros. 2, what was his special power? Not floating on air or leaping over the hills and meadows with spectacular jumps, but plucking vegetables faster than anyone else.
That true everyman appeal was partly why I enjoyed the Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World, which recast the series’ favorite mushroom man(?) as an intrepid, fearlessly naïve explorer in the vein of a plucky, wide-eyed Eagle Scout. Essentially, these six sequences scattered throughout the game challenged players to make it through typical Mario platforming segments without one crucial element: the ability to jump.
As much as I loved the overall experience of Super Mario 3D World and taking on Bowser’s baddies with the wall-climbing abilities of the Cat Suit, the Captain Toad segments were a nice break and an intriguing take on the familiar series trappings—in fact, they might have been my favorite part of the whole game. While acquiring power-ups and stomping foes will always be at the heart of Mario, there’s certainly something to be said for relying on your wits and taking on the role of the underdog.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker expands upon the general concept of those six initial puzzle-platformer courses, with a few subtle changes. Here, instead of collecting five stars per level, the objective is to track down a single one, along with three optional diamonds, which are necessary to unlock later areas. And unlike in Super Mario 3D World, these adventures don’t all take place in simple cube-shaped environments—some levels show complexity worthy of any area Mario and Luigi would confront.
This lends much of Captain Toad more of a platforming vibe than what players saw in his abbreviated previous quests. Essentially, in Super Mario 3D World, you needed to uncover five “goals” to complete a level, while Treasure Tracker is more about ultimately reaching a single destination. It’s not necessarily a change for the worse, but with fewer required elements to discover in each level, a puzzle-heavy focus isn’t felt quite as frequently.
Another departure from Super Mario 3D World? No time limit. Back when New Super Luigi U released last year, one of my main gripes was that its 100-tick timer simply didn’t afford any time to observe, explore, and assess—the whole point of Mario platforming. Thankfully, Captain Toad takes the opposite approach, shedding the countdown timer completely and putting the focus on exploration and experimentation.
At the same time, though, part of the appeal of these levels in Super Mario 3D World was that the game allowed just enough time to feel like there was some sense of urgency without making it overwhelming and forcing the player to rush through everything. That said, since Captain Toad is tackling more than 10 times the levels here than he did in Super Mario 3D World, I worry whether all of them could’ve been as finely tuned as those original six—it’s quite possible they all would’ve devolved into a frantic race against the clock.
Ultimately, a time limit likely would’ve sabotaged the opportunity to explore, and these areas certainly beg to be taken in at a leisurely pace. It’s amazing how much the power of HD has enhanced the familiar worlds of Nintendo, whether it’s Pikmin or Mario Kart, and that trend remains strong here. These standout visuals help Treasure Tracker tell its simple-yet-charming tale remarkably well without much dialogue outside of high-pitched grunting, babbling, and shrieking, and “adventure pals” Captain Toad and Toadette are endearing in a way that Mario and his too-slick cohorts never quite are (even if Toadette does find herself in enemy clutches within mere minutes of starting the game—though, considering Toads aren’t officially gendered, does she actually count as a “damsel in distress”?)
Since the areas are a bit more complex than what you’ll find in Super Mario 3D World, however, the camera can become just as deadly as any Goomba. While rotating the camera in any direction works without a hitch when you’re dealing with a small, cube-shaped world, it gets a lot more complex when that cube leads into a platform that turns into a spiral staircase. When Captain Toad is sprinting for his life against a fire-breathing beastie and rising magma, the last thing you want is to have the camera turn into yet another foe that demands your attention. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often, but I can’t say that every failure in Captain Toad was my own—sometimes, it was definitely the camera’s.
Outside of that, Captain Toad’s biggest issue is that there’s just not enough of it. It’s not that the game lacks for sheer number of levels (there’s more than 70 in all), but the challenge never quite ramps up to what I’d expected or hoped, and even with several different “chapters” to play, the whole thing feels a bit short. I was left wanting more—more puzzles, more challenges, more tests of my skills. Once you complete the main story, just about all that remains is tracking down stray diamonds in order to unlock a few bonus areas that aren’t as enjoyable as the main courses.
The Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World felt like an experiment, but in the end, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker itself feels like another experiment, albeit a much larger one—and one that’s absolutely worth your time if you enjoyed the small taste of what the fungal explorer brought to the table in 3D World.
However, it’s almost as if Nintendo knew they wanted to expand on the concept but didn’t want to take it too far in the fear that players wouldn’t embrace it (or that the whole thing wouldn’t be accessible to all ages and abilities). I know there’s even more potential for Captain Toad than what Nintendo’s shown here, though, and considering it’s the most endearing Nintendo adventure I’ve played since Pikmin 3, I want to see that full promise fulfilled in spectacular fashion.
The (perhaps foolishly) brave fungal explorer makes a welcome return in a full-fledged game inspired by his six bite-sized adventures in Super Mario 3D World. While Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker certainly succeeds brilliantly in most of its puzzle-platforming endeavors, it does feel slightly short in the end, and a fussy camera can sabotage sequences that require quick actions and quick decisions. It's clear the concept has a ton of potential even after this, though, so let's hope this isn't a one-off adventure for our diminutive mushroom hero.
E – Everyone
|Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is available on Wii U. Primary version played was for Wii U. Product was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
A proud Japanese RPG and serial-comma enthusiast, Andrew attended E3 for more than a decade. His least-proud moment? That time in 2004 when, suffering from utter exhaustion, he decided to take a break on the creepy, dilapidated—and possibly cursed—La-Z-Boy at Konami’s Silent Hill booth.