6.8
Score

Pros

  • Looks great on 3DS
  • Twisting levels on the touchscreen is satisfying
  • It's a Wii U game on 3DS

Cons

  • Level design is repetitive
  • Toad is annoying
  • Removed 3D World levels
  • Control feels imprecise at times
  • Pixel Toad makes the worst sound

Like Trading Dollars for Quarters

Though Captain Toad originally got his start in the Wii’s Super Mario Galaxy, it wasn’t until Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U that he had something to do. In specifically designed Captain Toad levels, players could walk around little isometric areas, solve puzzles, avoid enemies, and collect stars. What made these levels unique, other than the fact that Toad couldn’t jump, was the way each level was meant to be twisted and turned like a real life model, allowing players to see obstacles at all angles. Based on the popularity of these levels, a full game was subsequently made, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker first released in 2014.

Earlier this year, Nintendo announced that Treasure Tracker would escape the demise of the Wii U and find a new home on the Switch and 3DS. This idea piqued my curiosity. Though I never played the game on Wii U, everything I heard made it seem like a fun, carefree adventure I’d be into. Plus, there’s just something special about how Nintendo ports Wii U games like Treasure Tracker and Yoshi’s Wooly World to the 3DS despite how much older and underpowered that hardware is. I was intrigued by how Treasure Tracker might survive the transition – how the 3DS touch screen would be used to twist the level around, and how the visuals would hold up.

On that last point, I think the 3DS version does an admirable job of replicating the clean, smooth look of the art style. In a literal sense it doesn’t look as good as the HD versions, but it doesn’t matter. The size of the screens make the design sharper than it looks, and only screenshots will really show how dated it is. For the 3DS, which can’t even run the Unreal 3 Engine, this is the best praise you can give.

I just wish all the resources and attention paid to put this game on an older system was spent on a game I had more fun with. There isn’t much about Treasure Tracker that grabs me. Some things are cool, other things are dull, and I’m left nonplussed and vaguely annoyed overall. Like I’m waiting in traffic on the way home from work. 

To see New Donk City on 3DS feels perversely wonderful.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that everything will appeal to every person, and that’s okay. That’s a fact that’s as natural as the way we all wear different clothes and pursue different interests. What surprises me though, as someone who would call themselves a casual fan of Mario games, is just how “meh” or average I feel the game is. It’s fine. It’s a thing that exists. I played through it, and followed the story of Toad and Toadette – their trials with the Wingo bird, their constant separation, and their quest for more Power Stars. I beat the thing. I checked out the bonus levels. My interest throughout wavered like a needle, bouncing between positive and negative, without ever quite landing on the zero mark in the middle. In the end, the negative outweighs the positive, but only by a slight, slight amount.

The level design is one issue that stuck with me. Conceptually, I think there are a lot of fun and unique ideas this game can take advantage of, but it only uses a handful for the over seventy levels of content. For every unique moment, like when Toad is used as a pinball to get around one level, he’s also stuck battling Wingo in a recurring boss fight that uses the “climb the tower as lava slowly rises below you” formula three times. Even if I take a step back and just admit “yeah, this is a game for kids,” I still find myself saying, “but that doesn’t excuse the lack of variety.”

Touchscreen controls to turn levers are a little wonky.

Perhaps I’m just biased because I dislike Toad himself. He’s okay as an assistant in Super Mario Odyssey because he helps you find stars (the new levels based on Odyssey are pretty cool), but on his own, he’s annoying. I had to stop playing the bonus mode that opens after you beat a level where you go back in to find a hidden Pixel Toad, because the noise the Pixel Toad would emit annoyed me so much, I was ready to destroy the cartridge. Toad is fine in small doses, but maybe he should think about handing the job off Toadette next time a starring role comes up. She’s pretty cool.

The rest of the music and sound design is fine, if standard for a Mario game. The controls work alright, though sometimes the weighted way Toad moves has nothing on Mario’s relative freedom of movement. I also liked the neat way the action plays out exactly the same on both screens, giving you a moment to refresh your perspective when you look from one to the other. However, with the level design as boring as it is, it’s hard to maintain the sense of wonderment and adventure the game wants you to feel.

There’s a lot of content, including Amiibo support and optional objectives, to entice you to revisit levels. If I had more fun playing the game I’m sure I’d want to go back and keep collecting gems and stars, but Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is overall a perfectly average experience I’ll forget sooner rather than later. It’s white bread. It’s like if you have two dollars as a kid and your friend has eight quarters, and you make a trade because in your mind, eight is larger than two. Nothing of value was actually gained or lost, but now your pocket is heavier and you feel annoyed when you figure out how dumb the trade actually was.

Trading my hours for the time I took to complete the game was annoying in moments, but for the most part painless. Yet, “painless” is a word that describes a lot of things people do in life, like waiting in line or updating a computer. It’s an adjective, not a compliment. There’s some neat stuff here, like the visuals and gameplay, but the level design and the way Captain Toad just is as a character didn’t do it for me. Plenty of people will like this game, I’m just not one of them.

-6.8/10

Captain Toad launching into the sky is everything that’s great about modern gaming.

If you want to contact the writer, you can email Dominic at dcichocki@tiltingwindmillstudios.com, or message him on Twitter.

This review was conducted using a retail copy of the game I bought for the 3DS. It is also available on the Switch, and was originally released on the Wii U.