''Time for adventure!''
Last year's Super Mario 3D World was a game with many highlights, but it lacked much usage for the Wii U GamePad. There was the odd level that used the controller, but it was mostly left untouched in the main game. The shining exceptions were the stages where you controlled Captain Toad. You had to move about on floating puzzle universes and collect green stars to successfully complete a stage. Now these fun and robust challenges get their own game and I got to try a good number of stages recently.
The basics are still the same. You use the left stick to move Captain Toad throughout the environments. The good Captain can't jump, and therefore can't really attack enemies for the most part. Your only means of attack are whatever you can pluck from the ground and throw at your opponents. It is a smart reference to the western version of Super Mario Bros. 2 and one of the key components for survival in the game.
Your goal in every level is clear: You must collect the three shiny gems throughout the stage, with a Power Star waiting at the end to finish it off. Once you complete a stage, you will find out that there is an additional goal attached to every level. This goal is needed to fully complete a stage and they range from collecting a certain amount of coins to finding specific secrets. It keeps you coming back to stages again and again and forms a fun way to keep the player occupied.
Next to the selection of vegetables, there are other items that will aid our friend as well. There is a special pickaxe – which plays this awesome version of the Wrecking Crew music when you pick it up. Captain Toad goes insane, which is similar to the hammer in Smash Bros., and is able to destroy almost everything in his path. Another power-up ties in directly to one of the early stages in the game. The Double Cherry power-up from Super Mario 3D World makes a return and it allows you to multiply Captain Toad. With this power activated, you will have to go through a palace and here a lot of coordination between the two of them is required.
While that was a unique challenge, the game is filled with rather interesting puzzles throughout. You will tap on blocks to move them about, spin platforms around to make new elements pop up and touch buttons to unlock passageways. There is a constant variety in these micro universes that will both challenge and delight you. Specific instances I want to highlight are the minecart levels. Here you have to look down on the Wii U GamePad and move around to find the gems. By throwing turnips, you will be able to collect them and that makes for a completely different experience. Another stage I adored was Sinister Street Signs. With this level, the world is filled with secret passageways and you can only see a few feet in front of you. You will have to traverse carefully and make sure that you don't drop unexpectedly, because there are a whole bunch of enemies below you that want to see you dead.
The more than 70 levels are split up into books of a certain number of pages, and each has its own contained narrative. While I don't want to spoil too much here, there is one thing to note. While you play in the first book as the Captain, the second book will make room for Toadette, and that will be her place to shine. Interestingly, the minecart stage we played at E3 starred Captain Toad. In the actual game however, it takes place in book two and this means that the good sir is nowhere to be found. What this means for future unlocks, we don't know, but it really stuck out while playing this build.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a promising title. While there are still questions of how fresh the game will feel at the end, the early levels are entertaining to play through. They featured smart puzzle design and a ton of variety. Thanks to the unlockable objectives, I wanted to come back to levels and try my luck at fully completing the title. Captain Toad is already out in Japan and will release in North America on December 5 and in Europe on January 2.