Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker for the Nintendo Wii U is the perfect expression of Nintendo's current place in the videogame market. Cheap, efficient, and oozing with top-notch loving polish, it provides a breath of fresh air amongst the offerings provided elsewhere in the mainstream gaming space.
The game is based on the levels starring the same character from 2013's Super Mario 3D World, and its conceit is generally the same: players manipulate the extremely flexible in-game camera to find treasures and collectables hidden around the game's levels. In 3D World, these levels were treated as a change-of-pace minigame to allow players to progress more easily in the main game. They rewarded a different kind of thought process than the main action-based courses which form the foundation of classic Mario gameplay.
Toad is every bit as laid-back and calming as those levels... at least for a while. After allowing the player some time to acclimate to its basics and soak in the cutesy atmosphere, later courses really start to lay it on thick with the challenge. Thankfully, the pacing is just right; a graph of the game's difficulty would form a nice, full curve and stop just short of "overwhelming".
The good Captain never stops throwing new things at you for the duration of its main campaign. In true Mario series fashion, each level offers either an entirely new mechanic to play with or a playfully fresh twist on previously-established material. Each idea is given just enough time in the limelight to satisfyingly express itself without overstaying its welcome. Nintendo's EAD studio has spent decades perfecting the art of iterative design, and that mastery shines through here.
Speaking of shining, the stellar graphics from 3D World make their journey to Toad fully in-tact. Every character is lovingly modeled and animated, and every aspect of the puzzle-box environments pops colorfully off the screen. These crisp, clear visuals are more than just fancy window-dressing; they're an essential component to the puzzle-solving gameplay. Being able to tell at-a-glance what any object is and how it operates goes a long way toward keeping the chaos of later levels from becoming unmanageable.
Unfortunately, the same can often not be said of the camera, which tarnishes the easy-to-see philosophy established by the visuals. By default, the camera is pulled out quite far to allow the player to rotate it around the entirety of the cubic courses. The camera does not adjust itself at all in most zones, so controlling the camera essentially becomes half of the "action" taken by the player. In most cases, this works just fine, but there are many times while playing that I would find myself simply unable to get a good view of the action within unconfined areas. In a few cases, this even lead to death when an off-screen enemy decided to bum-rush my heroic mushroom friend while I was futzing about with the camera.
But aside from that frustrating blemish, there isn't a whole lot of fault to find with the overall experience. Some may balk at the length--a reasonably skilled player probably won't take more than 8-10 hours to blast through the campaign--but a plethora of extra challenges introduced to the levels later on will help to fill the bellies of those hungry for more. Upon clearing most boards, I would find myself immediately leaping back in to find hidden treasures I'd missed and complete the additional objectives. Besides, the budget pricing helps lessen the blow of a lot of the game's extra content coming from recycling the same levels. There's even a handful of retooled levels from Super Mario 3D World available to those who have a save file from that game on their systems.
Captain Toad certainly isn't for everyone. Those who absolutely require constant high-octane action in their games will probably find its plodding "find all the diamonds" gameplay to be quite a bore. But those looking for a quiet, thoughtful, adorable adventure through colorful, lively landscapes should feel right at home on Toad's wild ride.
Whitey Score: 8.5/10