Mandatory headlamp.

As one of Princess Peach’s most loyal attendants, Toad has been quite used to playing second fiddle in the Mario universe. He first appeared in the NES title Super Mario Bros. as the clueless messenger in each of Bowser’s strongholds, giving you a pat on the back for saving him and directing you to yet “another castle.” In Super Mario Mario Bros. 2 he became a playable character known for his speed and ability to uproot vegetables faster than all his companions. Ever since, he’s served as a supporting character in the slew of Mario titles, with the exception of the Tetris-inspired falling block game Wario’s Woods.

You soon learn to appreciate the Captain’s slow and methodical plod.

Fast forward to 2015, where Super Mario 3D World has become Nintendo’s new flagship platformer. With room for dozens of mini games in the vast 3D World landscapes, a series of short diorama-style courses were created. Knowing that jumping characters like Mario would need much larger levels, Nintendo called upon Captain Toad knowing his heavy backpack would provide the appropriate reason for the character’s reduced mobility.

Aye, Captain

I was initially a bit sceptical when I saw that Nintendo was expanding a mini game into its own spinoff title. The Captain Toad levels were fun and a great way to collaborate with your friends during co-op couch sessions in 3D World, but could this style of game stand on its own two feet? Not an easy task, but if I were to entrust this risky challenge to any developer, it’d be Nintendo.

Dioramas in the sky make for unique level design

Dioramas in the sky make for unique level design.

The gameplay follows the typical model of venturing around the nooks and crannies of levels in search of jewels and coins, with the ultimate goal of reaching a golden star at the end. The inability to jump feels constrictive at first, but you soon learn to appreciate the Captain’s slow and methodical plod. There’s no timer on the regular stages, either, so you have all the time you need to observe motions of the landscape and manipulate the camera for those hard to reach places.

The camera does move with the Gamepad’s motion – a feature that can’t be turned off – but I didn’t find this affected the gameplay at all. The camera gets to where it needs to be 90 percent of the time, but that 10 percent did induce a small amount of frustration. The Gamepad’s screen mirrors the action on the television for most of the game, but occasionally gets used as a targeting device for throwing vegetables during the on-rail stages such as Mine Cart Tunnel Throwdown. Delightful!

Familiar enemies such as the Piranha Creepers make a return, only to be swiftly fired upon

Familiar enemies such as the Piranha Creepers make a return, only to be swiftly fired upon.

Enemies are introduced first as obstructions that can be disposed of with an accurate throw of a turnip, but soon start to scale up to dive-bombing birds and Bowser-style dragon bosses. Without the ability to simply “Mario” them to death with a head stomp, making an area safe requires some thought. Ladders and movable platforms are your new best friends.

Treasure Tracker isn’t the first game to to use the 3D diorama design, but just as Monument Valley achieved on the mobile platforms, Nintendo has managed to create a colorful world accessible to every type of gaming audience. Yes, it’s a puzzle game, and it doesn’t allow the free-roam scampering that made 3D World so enjoyable, but you get 64 bite-size levels plus 15 bonus stages – more than enough to keep you occupied for a dozen hours, even more so if you start looking for all the gems and unlocks.

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Nintendo smartly released the game at a lower price point compared to the other Wii U new releases ($39.99 in the US, and currently £29.99 in the UK), and for that price, Treasure Tracker offers surprisingly good value. Short levels allow a casual drop in experience without the need for a rich background story. Every stage is unique and has its own set of gimmicks and quirks, discovering the solution was all the reward I needed.

Plucky Little Fella

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