A Familiar Gem
Over the last year, people have criticized Nintendo for playing it safe with their franchises. 3-D Mario’s, Smash Bros, Mario Kart, and The Wii Series. These are all games we've come to expect from Nintendo over the years. And while they’re always great. They aren't quite ever that next-leap we hope for in the franchises. Something that makes them perfectly unique and different from their predecessors. Often times when Nintendo does have a new gameplay idea they simply slap an existing character from an established franchise on the box. Games like Luigi’s Mansion or Kirby’s Epic Yarn for example. But those games are still special in their own right. Without Luigi’s Mansion we still wouldn't have any real way to describe Luigi as a character. Nintendo follows this trend with their latest Wii-U release Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. A game that takes a familiar character, and places him in a uniquely designed game, full of potential. But lacking in some areas that keep it from as special as it could have been.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a spin-off game in the vain of 3-D Mario’s, In fact the entire concept of Captain Toad comes from last years release Super Mario 3D: World. The Captain Toad stages were set-up in an almost completely different way than the traditional 3D Mario game layout. For instance at the beginning of each level you are a given complete view of the stage, but not only that you’re also allowed complete control of the camera. This includes zooming in and out of toad himself. Each level would task the player with traversing the stage and collecting a predetermined amount of green stars. Another big change from the traditional Mario platformers, Captain Toad cannot jump, due to the heavy backpack he carries around with him. This means your only means of traversing through the stage with toad is by moving him with the left stick. And the concept in Treasure Tracker has remained relatively the same in set-up. This time around though you are given an end goal within each level. Similar to the design of a traditional plat former. And instead of collecting stars, each stage has three hidden gems. Finding these hidden gems in each level, is really where the challenge lies in these stages. And you will need complete mastery of the camera controls, to accomplish this. Collecting these gems grants you the bonus of extra stages in the bonus content section of the game. And Each stage also has an achievement you can attempt. These achievements range anywhere from don’t take any damage, to collect a certain number of coins, or find the golden mushroom. The biggest problem with these bonus goals, is that you are not allowed to view them unless you have already completed the stage. So it almost guarantees that you will have to play through most stages twice in in order to fully complete it. The gamepad is also used in some levels, but in some cases it’s more of a hindrance, then a compliment. Ideas like making you use the stylus on the gamepad when toad has to turn a handle. Or using the touch block puzzles from 3D world. Their cool ideas, but they mostly just pull you away from the main screen. Not allowing you to always appreciate the visual quality of the game. Not all the gamepad uses seem out-of-place though. The best implementation gamepad in Captain Toad, are easily the first-person mine cart levels. These levels put you in a mine cart where you simply ride down the rails, and use the gamepad gyro aiming to defeat enemies or find hidden secrets throughout the level. It’s not a huge plus to the experience, but it does use the gamepad in a way that doesn't force to look down at the screen constantly while trying to navigate through a level on the TV. It’s the small things like this that eventually add up to show that Captain Toad is lacking some polish and could have done with a bit more time to refine and better implement some ideas the game has.
The saving grace for Captain Toad though is easily, the variety and overall great design of each stage in the game. Captain Toad isn’t going to wow you with a large range of game-play variety. Point A to point B is how the game will always play out. But Captain Toad Makes up for this by giving you an incredible amount of varied stages. For example ‘’Fright Train Flight’’ a stage where Captain Toad will travel across a moving train all while avoiding zombies, Is completely different from something like ‘’Pinball Party’’, which tasks the player with traveling down an actual Pinball game. Or even something like ‘’Pyropuff Peak’’, where you have to climb up inside a volcano and avoid a fire-breathing dragon until you reach the top. It’s stages like these that show what a creative studio, like Nintendo EAD can do with such a simple concept like Captain Toad.
Another Disappointing thing to mention is the boss fights. While ‘’Wingo’’ a giant bird that kidnaps Toad and Toadette throughout the game is wonderful. He and ‘’Draggadon’’ are unfortunately the only two featured boss fights in the game. And it would have been nice to have a bit more variety in boss design. Especially considering how well designed, and detailed these bosses look. This is another area where Captain Toad shows his obvious budget priced short-comings. But it still doesn’t detract from just how well made, the bosses included are. Or pull away from the overall quality the games design.
And When it comes to presentation Captain Toad is no slouch. The game looks beautiful, as it should running on the same engine as Super Mario 3D World. The game runs incredibly smooth, and has a nice colorful and crisp looking art-style. Captain Toad has great animation and has a lot of personality in not only his reactions but also his movements. Listening to him somewhat shriek in terror at falling blocks or listening to him cheer and smile during victory. It all goes towards giving toad a very cautious, yet brave personality. But the games presentation however does have some shortcomings. The first most will notice easily are the reused assets and enemies from the previous 3D Mario games. While the game does feature some new enemies, such as Zombies that follow you relentlessly and slow down at the sight of light. Or birds that patrol back and forth and drop the instant you pass by. Classic Mario enemies like Shy Guys, Piranha Plants, and Goombas are all featured as well. They don’t detract from the experience, but It’s just unfortunate that the games designers didn't go a bit all out with this game. Something as ambitious as Luigi’s Mansion. Which not only had a completely new setting for the character, but also completely new enemies. Excluding Boo’s of course, who are here as well. The music is another mixed bag. It by no means sounds bad, but a lot of it is from 3D World as well. I loved 3D World don’t get me wrong, but it’s just a shame that Toad doesn't quite get the full-fledged treatment, I think his game deserves.
Overall Captain Toad is in many of ways astounding. It took a great concept from Super Mario 3D World, and demonstrated just how much you can expand and develop such a simple, well designed Idea into something really unique and special. But it also is a victim of simply being a budget title, and showing It in a lot of areas. The stages are beautiful and are incredibly varied in design. But It’s just can’t quite get passed Its obvious low-budget shortcomings. Recycled Music, Enemies, A lack of an over world, small amount of bosses, and a somewhat poorly designed achievement system hold back Captain Toad from being a truly special game. But none of these things ruin what is easily one of Nintendo’s best Titles released for the Wii-U. Captain Toad is a game Nintendo fans are going to talk about years from now. And hopefully Nintendo will see as much potential in Captain Toad as I do. And return to this franchise and truly give him treatment he deserves with his own unique world, music, enemies, and characters for us all to enjoy.