In a year full of multiplayer Mario Karts and Smash Bros., those of us who prefer Nintendo creations meant to be played solo finally have something new to enjoy.
Well, it's mostly something "new."
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is basically a fresh set of 70 or so levels that expand on the design ideas of the marvelous Captain Toad sections from last fall's Super Mario 3D World. Same development studio: Nintendo's EAD Tokyo. Same platform: Wii U. Same concept: Captain Toad (or Toadette) walk and climb through roughly cube-shaped levels looking for hidden gems and a star that serves as the level goal; they can pluck things out of the ground to throw at enemies, and you can rotate the camera around the playing field to figure out where they need to go, but—this is key—they can't jump.
Watch the following level from the new game and you'll get what the Captain Toad is about. You're seeing me tackle a tricky level for the first time, and you'll see my figuring things out, making some mistakes and getting to the end. What you can't see in the clip is that I'm having a lot of fun, but hopefully it's clear why!
There isn't much more to the game than that. You get several-dozen levels challenging you to puzzle your way through and reach the end. They never take more than a few minutes. They're challenging enough that you'll probably not 100% most of them the first time.
And... that's it?
It's a slight game. Nintendo isn't even selling it for full price (it's going for $40). There may be a bunch of bonus levels, but the whole thing is a quick affair. It's more of a reminder of how skilled EAD Tokyo is at making single-player levels than it is an adventure that you'll get lost in for many hours.
It's a "quality over quantity" thing, but it's also a "cuteness over quantity" thing, I guess. How can you not love Captain Toad?
Even the game's instruction-manual writers seem smitten with the guy...
Captain Toad is such a winning character that I could almost overlook some of the game's design flaws. But I can't. The game's Wii U-ness, for lack of a better term, holds it back. Minecart levels that require you to use the console's GamePad to aim needlessly pull the player's eyes from the TV:
Levels that require you to tap things in the game world via the GamePad's touchscreen feature the same unnecessary problem and again pull player's eyes from the wonderful-looking high-def graphics on their TV only to make them have to play off the lower-res graphics on the GamePad:
Don't even get me started on this!
But, yeah, if you're going to have features in your game that require players to look at—or even blow onto—the version of the game being displayed on their controller, then why make it for TVs? Why not just make the game for 3DS? Or why not provide TV-based options for these gameplay features? Captain Toad's biggest failures are these moments when it pulls the player's attention from their TV. It doesn't add to the experience. It detracts from it.
Played on the Wii U GamePad without a TV, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a polished little game well worth your time and attention. Played as a TV game, it'll occasionally annoy you but will mostly charm you and leave you hungry for Nintendo's next full-scale singleplayer adventure. They... are still going to make those, right?