Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker Review

Am I the only one to notice that Nintendo seems ashamed of the WiiU? Trying to ride the wave of success the Wii enjoyed, it was unable to crack 14 million units sold over its lifespan. Compared often to the Gamecube as a bridge console, it was weakened by a minuscule library. To be fair, there were some big hits, with Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, and even Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. However, nearly every hit the WiiU had has been remastered or re-released, diminishing its importance in history. This time, it’s Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker that finds its way  ported to the Switch.

A puzzle platformer, Captain Toad started off as a side mission in Super Mario 3D World, eventually getting a standalone release on the WiiU. Unable to jump, it was the level designs that stands out, as Captain Toad waddles his way across obstacles to reach a star.  Each map is small and contained, resulting in bite sized levels.

One of the strengths of the game are the levels, which have been built meticulously, and tested extensively. Though at base value, each level only takes minute or two to complete, they’re packed with secrets and well-executed puzzles that add more content. The extra content encourages multiple trips back for those looking to 100% each level. Every map contains three diamonds that are hidden off the main path, sometimes even locked out after progressing the main puzzle, promoting thorough and careful exploration.  

Adding to these challenges are a level specific task, such as collecting X number of coins or not killing any enemies. These often are counter to the expected play style of the map, adding a bit of extra challenge. Finally, after completion of a level, you can unlock a Where’s Waldo styled test, having to hunt down a small pixelated toad icon on the level. The challenge also grows at a solid pace, allowing for a clear progression that doesn’t feel discouraging.

While adventuring through the levels, Captain Toad starts to integrate touch based puzzles. One thankful change is the removal of the blowing challenges that originally used the microphone on the WiiU pad. Spinning, or tapping certain elements remain, allowing you to interact with the map. This addition is welcome in terms of design, but has its flaws. While good for mixing up and crafting stronger trials, having to put your hand in front of the screen in handheld mode breaks the flow of the game. This could be rectified by playing docked mode, but the game itself lends more to being a game you play out and about in small doses.

The story of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is fairly standard, yet very well executed. Captain Toad and Toadette are adventuring around the map, and successfully find a star. However, a giant crow named Wingo grabs said star, and Toadette grabs on trying to save it, resulting in her being carried away. Captain Toad sets off on a journey to save her, making his way to Wingo’s roost.

Had the game concluded here, the title would have remained a decent experience that would be fun yet short. But Captain Toad is not just this, with multiple chapters, or books, each holding a large group of levels. I was genuinely shocked at how expansive the story was. There are clear reused aspects, as in book two while playing as Toadette, a shot for shot remake of a scene plays out, just with a different background.

Visually, the game meets the standard of a Mario title. The colors chosen are all bright and vibrant, even in gloomier areas, and items stand out. Every level feels cohesively designed, and part of the same overall world. Each map has a strong aesthetic that shifts from one level to the next. This creates the appearance of a journey, something the game clearly wanted to make you feel.

Controls to view the map can be a bit of a toss up, however. While spinning the camera fully around the map works well in theory, Captain Toad suffers when it builds challenges behind other objects. Having to stop and turn the camera to continue progression inhibits the game’s designs. Reverting to a pulled out camera at both start of level, and when interacting with touch screen elements can also make it difficult to place your characters depth on the map. It’s not a game killer, but an issue that crops up more than it should.

The strongest part of Captain Toad is the boss battles. While in normal Mario titles you physically battle the bad guy, Captain Toad and Toadette are adventurers, not fighters. Instead, the bosses are threatening, tense puzzles, that may require the occasional onion be tossed at said boss. One standout is Draggadon, a dragon trying to take you down. An intense trek up the rocky terrain while fire is being shot at you results in one of the best paced levels in the game. Moving from rock to rock, avoiding the attacks and booking it to the next safe area does a great job at highlighting the non-violent aspect of the game, while still invoking that fight-or-flight adrenaline rush so many games grant you.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is not just a good game, it’s a great game. The port to the Switch was brilliantly executed, taking full advantage of the console's portability. While I could not recommend it for Switch owners more, the fact it’s only $40 means you’re getting a top quality game at a much better price. Do yourself a favor, and join Captain Toad and Toadette on this adventure. The journey you’ll take is definitely worth it.