Nintendo Changed Captain Toad to Avoid Zelda Similarities

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker's original design was a little too Zelda for Shigeru Miyamoto.

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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Nintendo’s upcoming puzzle platformer, was initially more like Legend of Zelda titles in terms of gameplay, according to producer Koichi Hayashida.

In Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, you control Toad or Toadette -- Toad's feminine counterpart -- on their hunt for treasure. Each level is a small 3D box -- what Hiratake described as a diorama or "garden-in-a-box" style stage -- with one major end goal: get to the star at the end. Along the way, Toad can collect gems, coins, and turnips, the latter of which can be used to stun and ward off enemies.

Speaking with GameSpot, Hayashida said that during the early stages of planning Super Mario 3D World, the development team was experimenting with these "garden in a box" levels using characters that had jumping abilities. But having such mobile characters proved difficult when designing smaller levels; an agile character meant there were very few obstacles that provided a meaningful challenge.

"In the early stages of planning for 3D World, we were experimenting with characters who could jump in this diorama garden-in-a-box type 3D stages," Hayashida said. "What we realized was it felt like something you could get inside of a Zelda game. In order to distinguish for [Nintendo designer Shigeru] Miyamoto the difference from that style of gameplay ... [director Shinya] Hiratake actually created some miniature versions of stages at home and brought them to work to show Mr. Miyamoto."

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During days off from work, Hiratake would make clay sculptures illustrating the level designs he had in mind. These visually helped Miyamoto understand the direction Hiratake and his team wanted to take, and allowed them to create gameplay for Super Mario 3D World that was dissimilar to that in the Legend of Zelda games. The team also began scouring the Mario universe for characters with limited physical ability that would have a more challenging time getting through each level.

"When we were thinking about using characters that couldn’t jump inside of a Mario game, we were looking back through the series and realized that Captain Toad, with all of his heavy baggage that he carries around in the Galaxy series, would be a great choice for this," Hayashida said.

So instead of choosing a character first and building levels around him, the Captain Toad team decided what kind of levels they wanted to have and then picked a character who fit the design. Having a character that can jump necessitates larger stages, Hayashida said, so the more handicapped a character is, the smaller levels could be.

"What we soon found out is that when your character can jump, you need to design very large stages," he said. "So our big discovery was that once you introduce the limitation, like Toad not being able to jump, you are able to make very compact level designs. Now, that still did present some other problems -- when faced with a character that can’t jump, enemies seem suddenly stronger, but I think we came up with a number of ways for Toad to deal with that."

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Hiratake explained that Toad can now pluck turnips and throw them at Goombas and Shy Guys -- two of the game's more prominent enemies -- in order to stun or destroy them. In previous Mario games, enemies also tended to run towards the player character once you got too close, but the Captain Toad team also tweaked this behavior. Enemies like Shy Guys will only be able to see to the front and won't react to Captain Toad sneaking up behind him. This adds another layer to each level, giving players the option to stealth all the way through and try to collect items without being seen.

"As it turns out, we were thinking about this kind of gameplay from the very beginning stages of Super Mario 3D World, and we were always hoping for the possibility of turning it into a full standalone game," Hiratake said.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker will launch on December 5, 2014 in North America and January 2, 2015 in Europe.

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