Limelight Feature: Captain Toad
Amongst the titular characters in any successful Nintendo franchise, not many of them could claim lineage to an afterthought; to an asinine mini-game intended to occupy a marginal subsistence in the plot of a much larger Mario title. Treasure Tracker makes the best of its famous friends and propitious associations with the Mario universe in the latest platform-puzzle adventure of Mario Galaxy’s squealing yet intrepid supporting limelight role.
The praises of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker are concentric about a central axis of its deceptive complexity, its mercurial puzzle-based mechanics wrapped up in lurid graphical trappings typical of its progenitor franchise. From my play-through, I’d say that’s largely true. It’s a SAW-esque Gordian’s Knot, a deft gambit into untapped GamePad functionality by the developers at Nintendo – garbed in the quirky cloth of your childhood favorite.
Treasure Tracker is designed with the trademark Nintendo universality in mind. The game is one of very, very few AAA titles from 2014 that don’t require a compendium of patches to enjoy. Gameplay is delightfully simple – a member of what I consider to be a very exclusive club of Wii U releases where GamePad functionality is realized. Levels are dense and require re-visiting to acquire the gems upon which the full accessibility of all its aptly crafted stages is contingent. The aesthetic is clean and simple, having much in common, understandably, with Super Mario 3D World. It’s difficult to find any critique of an art style which has endured so efficaciously and unadulterated across generations.
The issue I have with Treasure Tracker is that it still feels like a mini-game. In all its accessibility and seamless design, what it ostensibly lacks in genuine programmatic short-comings, it still seems like it’s swimming in an over-large pond on the Wii U. Much praise has been heard regarding its replay value – the immersive constant of familiar, appealing ornamentation drawn from the Mario universe. But I found myself thoroughly sated, even underwhelmed, after a single play-through. I feel like – as a mini-game – it meets and exceeds the water mark, but when compared with the likes of the title it’s inspired by, its appeal as a stand-alone title diminishes considerably. The gameplay is impeccable, a nominal candidate for best use of the GamePad – but simplistic. The presentation is flawless – not ambitious. In Nintendo’s pen of games that constantly challenge and exceed boundaries, Treasure Tracker feels oddly stagnant, if not regressive. There is nothing altogether stand-out or overtly memorable about the title itself, despite its facile charms and amiable atmosphere.
You could hardly do better for a light-hearted romp, a puerile introduction to platform-puzzle and abstract problem solving, perhaps as DLC or an extended incarnation through a Mario title, but a stand-alone? Compare it to the torrential downpour of Nintendo A-listers that have been lining store shelves – and more importantly – game drawers, in 2014. Is Treasure Tracker competition for Smash Bros? For Mario Kart? It’s questionable at best that Nintendo should have gambled on a fully fledged adaptation. Perhaps it can cash in on the recent Wii-centric craze, doubtless it would have struggled commercially without the recent console hysteria. The monotony of earth-bound sauntering soon sets in, and armed with only a flashlight, the occasional pick-axe and a pack overflowing with grand amounts of seemingly not a lot, there isn’t much diversification or momentum as the virtually non-existent plot drags out.
Don’t get me wrong, I adored Treasure Tracker as a mini-game, as a component of a highly oiled platforming machine in its own right. I feel like it would have been more fulfilling autonomously with more locomotive eccentricity and possibly a more ambitious casting allowing for specific character attributes to augment the abbreviated power-up list. It’s going to have to get that pick-axe out and dig a little deeper if it wants to gain any permanency as a sapling amongst the shadows of towering hardwood in Nintendo’s First Party forest.