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The yearn for adventure. We’ve all had it, no matter our gender, race, orientation. The lust for treasure, the rush of heroics, the dream of going on a quest transcends all things that keep humanity apart. So what better way to experience the excitement of a grand journey than to do so as a mushroom creature wearing a huge backpack?
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a spinoff of mainline Mario game Super Mario 3D World. 3D World had short (but incredibly sweet) levels starring the Captain on his quest through small and intricate levels to grab coins and green stars. Treasure Tracker adds to his formula by expanding the levels slightly, swapping the green stars for diamonds, and introducing a barebones, standard Nintendo “kidnapping” plot. Captain Toad must traverse levels to reach the power star at the end until he reaches an evil bird’s nest to save Toadette.
Kidnapping in this game happens far too often. Not to spoil too much, but by the third time it happens, you’re not surprised, and it feels less like the cheap heroic push it “should” be and ends up feeling like Nintendo didn’t meet a kidnapping quota this year and Captain Toad was a last minute push to get their Christmas bonus. Getting to play as Toadette for a chapter is nice but she gets kidnapped again right afterwards. Lame.
The rules of Captain Toad are simple, but it allows for the game’s elegant level design to shine. The Captain moves slow, can’t jump, and relies almost entirely on turnips he plucks Super Mario Bros 2 style out of the ground. You often have to dodge enemies instead of fighting them head on, avoiding the gaze of a Shy Guy or pausing the movement of a sidestepping Walleyes with a well timed throw of a veggie.
One small hiccup in Captain Toad is the camera, which always follows the titular hero and can be switched between full-stage and close-up views. Sometimes, large walls surrounding narrow passages can spell doom for Toad if an enemy enters from somewhere you can’t see, and most of my deaths in this game were from not being able to see an obstacle because I was zoomed in to navigate a small path. You’ll remember to be more careful in your next run, but losing a life due to a crowded screen feels janky. Thankfully, it didn’t happen often.
A new powerup called the Super Pickaxe works like the hammer in Donkey Kong (and even plays the same music) which gives you a moment of power before disappearing. Some enemies can be halted by tapping the screen, which makes traversal a bit easier if you have a third arm. Overall each stage is built around singular enemies or concepts, and it never feels stale even though you’re doing similar things in each stage. The creative spirit that drives the best ideas for the mainline Mario games also gave birth to Captain Toad, and it shows.
Captain Toad goes by pretty fast. There are around 65 levels, and if you’re not actively trying to get every diamond and challenge complete, you can clear the game in around five hours, especially if you’re good at puzzles. You’re not informed of what the level’s challenge is until after you’ve finished the stage, and most of them are so easy you’ll have completed it on your first run anyway. Diamonds become very hard to collect in later levels, so if you’re worried about extending your time with the game and want extra difficulty, it’s right there for you.
Collecting diamonds also unlocks some side missions that you may be familiar with already. I had no idea that these levels were in the game, but it adds another 18 stages to the game if you’re committed. With promised Amiibo support next year, I can see the stage count reaching 100, and for 40$, that’s not bad at all.
Treasure Tracker is a solid puzzler with a cute atmosphere and a variety of obstacles that keep you guessing without becoming frustrating or overstaying its welcome. Much like any good adventurer, Captain Toad does what he has to do and books it out of there. He is truly the Indiana Jones of our time.