In June 2014, during Nintendo’s E3 Digital Event, a short, minute long trailer for Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was tucked between two larger developer interviews for Yoshi’s Woolly World and the much talked about Legend of Zelda for Wii U. Not only was the trailer a bit hidden, it was never verbally acknowledged throughout the course of the 45-minute event. It was a curious trailer, but was the one that stuck with me long after E3. A splinter in my mind.
For those unfamiliar, the origin of Captain Toad is rooted in bonus stages strewn throughout the Super Mario 3D World world map. As players collect stars and progress through the game, Captain Toad stages are unlocked. More from the Super Mario 3D World Wikipedia entry:
Additional Green Stars can be earned in Captain Toad levels, where players control the slow Captain Toad as he navigates puzzle-like stages using the GamePad’s functionality, and Mystery Houses, where players must clear a series of challenges with short time limits.
Not only is Captain Toad slow, he does not have the ability to jump; a staple in the Mushroom Kingdom. The player is forced to keep their wits about them, outsmarting the level design by means of the camera, shifting their perspective over the tiny cube-shaped levels. This imposition of limits is integral to great game design. It makes for gameplay that almost feels foreign amongst the landscape of current shooters and platformers. Strategy becomes the emphasis.
In late August, in an interview with EDGE Magazine, Shigeru Miyamoto made comments about the state of “core” vs. “casual”. The interpretation from Rob Fahey at GamesIndustry.biz hit the nail on the head:
At the same time, though, Nintendo itself has a conception of “casual” and “core” that probably isn’t shared by the majority of sites reporting Miyamoto’s comments. Miyamoto talks not about themes but about enjoyment of challenge as the distinction between the two groups. To him, a supposedly “adult” game full of blood and ripe language could be utterly casual if it spoon-feeds players with dull, linear gameplay. Meanwhile, a brightly coloured Mushroom Kingdom epic could qualify as “core” if it challenges players in the right way. Consequently, Nintendo’s family-friendly IP and the broad appeal of its themes is entirely compatible with a focus on “core games”, to Miyamoto’s mind. What he’s talking about changing is something at the root of design, not the thematic wallpaper of the company’s games; he wants to challenge people, not to force Nintendo’s artists to remove all the primary colours from their Photoshop palettes.
I think this is exactly what we can expect from Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
On top of great level design, the aesthetic design preserves the same gorgeous caliber we’ve seen in Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World. The levels are lush and appear to be brimming with tiny details, animations, humor, and secrets. I will echo my Hail Mario piece and say that “Nintendo is unabashedly gunning for Disney-level aesthetics; a tactic to win over most demographics.”
To add, filling out a Toad with unique characteristics rather than the ambiguous, multi-colored placeholders they have traditionally been known as (see New Super Mario Bros. Wii) brings more definition to the Mushroom Kingdom. And with this new, unique character comes new, unique gameplay. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker shows that Nintendo is looking to explore the depths of the Mushroom Kingdom, and proves that there is more there than just simple platformers. We haven’t seen much of dynamic since the Luigi’s Mansion series; a stand-alone IP centered on a familiar character with unique gameplay and design.
When playing Super Mario 3D World, I race for every Captain Toad level the instant they are unlocked. They are clever, challenging departures from the platforming world Mario inhabits. Something tells me I am not the only one of the few million Super Mario 3D World players to do so. For those unfamiliar with Captain Toad, they will be pleasantly surprised with the over 70 gorgeous, challenging, classic Nintendo designed levels to explore. For those few million that have already had a taste of Captain Toad, you can bet they are itching for more of the playful puzzle mini-game. And assuredly, with Nintendo’s move to DLC (Mario Kart 8) , there will be plenty more to come.