As far as the current trend of re-releasing games goes, Nintendo seems best suited in bringing across a number of Wii U titles to its much more successful Nintendo Switch platform. We saw this out of the gate with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which has maintained its pole position as the console’s best racer, and arguably its best online experience, even over Splatoon, but more recently we’ve been handed a mildly updated version of a little puzzle-platformer in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. And despite its bubbly and cutesy presentation, the tail end of the game is a challenging and thoughtful experience where lateral thinking and classic Nintendo game-design coalesce to really offer up a rewarding experience.
Of course, this is nothing new. The Super Mario games have always had this sheen and colour pallette and it’s largely what Nintendo is known for, from an aesthetic sense. And if you're okay to look past that (because why wouldn’t you be?) then you’re in for a game that is forgiving in the right kind of way, but equally challenging in many others -- especially if you’re a completionist.
Essentially, this is just three ‘Episodes’ of grueling puzzle design where each puzzle is presented to you as standalone, bite-sized 3D ‘cut-outs’ of the larger Mushroom Kingdom. Within these confines exists a single star Toad and later, Toadette, must collect to complete the level. And doing this is the easiest part of the game. The more difficult side rears its head with each level’s three hidden gems, enemies and enemy impediments, coins and other expertly hidden bonus challenges. So, while you can power through the game’s extensive puzzle manifest, doing so with a 100% completion record is actually quite hard.
Moreover, the game slowly scales the deeper you get in, and by the time you hit the second episode, each level presents a relatively complex mini-world from a level-design perspective, matched in wits by how you move these stubby little characters through. And this part is the clincher: Toad and Toadette can’t jump. They can’t run and they certainly can’t backflip, triple-jump or shoot fireballs from their hand. In essence, this is design built around antithesis Mario norms, from a gameplay perspective. You still have enemies to beat, but now you need to use the environment to get the better of them. You have to reach higher points of the level, but this requires finding a way to get higher, or lower, without the ability to jump. And enemies can only be beaten through throwing level-finite radishes. At least I think they’re radishes.
Frustratingly, Nintendo’s insistence on including waggle with everything they release in-house has not waned, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker still utilises a pointer, at least, for some level interaction by the player. This can get tedious if you tend to play Switch as I do with my Pro Controller and just adds an overall level of too many tools for the limited concept of design presented here. In all honesty, it just doesn’t fit, is a bigger distraction than it is a help and in the modern landscape of ubiquitous gaming, it’s just an antiquated design idea.
Additionally, the new release does have some modern love in the form of levels lifted from Super Mario Odyssey, and while they’re more than welcome they also kind of represent a larger issue with this re-release. With Mario Kart 8, Super Mario Odyssey and the very fun Mario Tennis: Aces -- all of which include many Toad moments, Nintendo could have added in even an entire other Episode filled to the brim with new challenges and design concepts. The handful of Odyssey levels we do get are more a tease than anything else and just having more would have been great from a new buy-in perspective.
The best thing, however, on that flipside is that my son was two-years old when the original game released on Wii U, and with that doorstop long gone, and his continual growth as a dominant gamer, he’s been thoroughly enjoying Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The lateral thinking involved with the more advanced puzzles gets his brain working and it’s just enjoyable to see a younger generation still learning to play games by Nintendo’s rules; rules that have governed our medium for more than 20 years and rules I hope never go away. We just need more, Nintendo. And more often, please.
What we liked
An ever-escalating challenge with fun and fantastic level-design
The flipped Nintendo movement script with barely manageable Toad and Toadette is brilliant
Not an overly unforgiving experience
Co-op with a friend or your kids is pretty fun
What we didn't like
Might not appeal to some based on its overall presentation
Not nearly enough added into this 're-release'
The continual requirement for some form of waggle or motion-control