It feels like it’s been a decade since the original release of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker on the often-faulty Wii U. Pegged between Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, Captain Toad had a soft but deserving impact on the home console selling 250,000 copies in its first month and garnering wide critical acclaim. In other words, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was a prime candidate to be picked up for Nintendo Switch: underplayed, accessible, and suited to the hardware.
Lo and behold, Nintendo had just that idea in mind, with a surprise announcement at 2018’s March Nintendo Direct for both Switch and Nintendo 3DS. Adding a few extra stages — dubbed “mini-universes” — and removing a few Wii U exclusive ones, there may not be a ton new to the package. But whenever a title makes a generational leap to a broader audience, there is no better time to re-examine how the game (and its port) fares.
For those entirely out of the loop, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker finds its roots in the Captain Toad mini-game sections of Super Mario 3D World — portions of the game that took away the Super Mario Bros. series iconic platforming and swapped it with isometric puzzle solving. These detours were so beloved and interesting to the game that it inspired its own spin-off, this time with added goals and far more gameplay depth.
The most significant change between The Adventures of Captain Toad and the main title is the game’s obvious focus — the previous 6 mini-games were expanded to 73 mini-universes (separated into 3 chapters), packed in with a dedicated story section about the titular Captain Toad and Toadette as they find resources for Mario to help his journey. With far more latitude to craft unique puzzles and narrative (albeit as shallow as the usual Super Mario Bros. flair), Nintendo EAD can create something close to poetry. It’s satisfying to watch Nintendo stretch the limitations of Captain Toad’s gameplay and what can be done in a 3D isometric puzzle, and nothing ever feels predictable or lazy.
What are those limitations? As mentioned before, Captain Toad entirely lacks standard platforming abilities. While he can run across the surface, climb up ladders, and pluck turnips from the ground, he can’t jump. Instead of breakneck platform navigation, the flavor of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is more competitive and methodical. You will likely spend the first few minutes in each mini-universe poking and prodding (sometimes literally) to see where collectibles may be hidden.
Each mini-universe will require you to reach the end-level Power Star, but there are also three Super Gems ripe for the collecting. Once you finish each level, you can return and complete an optional objective that ranges from sneaking past every Shy Guy or collecting 100 coins in the stage. Also available from the start is the bonus Pixel Toad Hide and Seek missions that ask players to scan each location for a pixelated Toad. These start off leisurely, but later get pretty mischevious in later levels — a nice bonus addition who find the difficulty curve of the game a little basic.
Speaking of difficulty, the game ramps up nicely — Nintendo EAD understands difficulty scaling, and you will never be overly frustrated to complete a level (let alone find all the Super Gems). Going 100% through the game took me roughly ten hours, and I felt that most every mini-universe was a step up from the former one in some capacity or another. This includes the three boss fights packed into the main campaign, which were nice asides to the standard puzzle-solving gameplay (even if they were just disguised puzzles themselves).
Two-player mode exists in the game, but it is barely worth speaking about. If you remember the shoehorned gameplay from Super Mario Galaxy, it is mostly that. The second player can use the motion controller to assist the first player by pausing some enemies or firing turnips. It’s almost more fun to switch off levels between friends than it is to have them play the multiplayer sections.
Apart from the gameplay, both the visuals and the sound design is fitting for the Nintendo Switch port. The game maintains the cute, cartoon style that the Super Mario Bros. series is known for, and the Nintendo Switch never feels compromised in that regard. If you can stomach Captain Toad’s intentionally annoying sound cues, the soundtrack is less robust than other Mario games, but likely much better for the contemplative puzzle-solving setting.
While the game has aged well and will be a perfect fit for the growing Nintendo Switch audience (well over 5M more than the Wii U audience), I’m not without my doubts. First off, while I enjoyed that the re-tooled ending and Super Mario Odyssey levels felt uniquely geared for the Switch, I don’t understand the reason for dropping the Wii U levels. It keeps the Switch version of the game from feeling like a definitive edition, and more like a port. Additionally, I’m surprised that four new levels were all Nintendo considered adding to spice up the equation — it would seem that the Nintendo Switch’s dual Joy-Con set up would be perfect for incorporating co-op Captain Toad/Toadette stages, or maybe a Super Mario Maker creation system. The game doesn’t suffer from missing these things, but it would be easier to argue for the $40 price tag — especially for the Nintendo fans who have already picked it up.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a faithful port of the Wii U puzzle game — one that makes no compromises for the entirely handheld experience. Despite some missed opportunities that Nintendo could have latched onto, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a game that shouldn’t be missed for anyone looking for a relaxed mental challenge.