Super Mario 3D World was great for a lot of reasons. On top of representing the very best in Mario platformers, it added a whole lot of new ideas that all clicked. One of those new ideas was a mini-game that put players in the role of an intrepid explorer named Captain Toad. His mini-game proved to be so engaging, Nintendo spun him off into his own standalone adventure called Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Shacknews recently had the opportunity to check out three stages of Captain Toad's new journey, taking a peek into how Nintendo plans to transition his efforts from mini-game to full-blown retail release.
Treasure Tracker will be familiar territory for anyone that has played the Captain Toad missions in SM3DW. For those that have not, the object is for Captain Toad to traverse various isometric stages and collect an end-level star to complete each one. In this case, there are three episodes to play through, each with 18 stages. Captain Toad is a bit of a weakling and can't hold his own the way a certain, more-famous plumber can. So the idea is to solve puzzles while avoiding various obstacles and enemies that seek to cause trouble. The camera can be rotated to help keep the focus on Toad, which becomes one of the game's primary mechanics, since Toad can walk to just about any point on the map, including areas in the background. The camera will not follow him and must be controlled manually by the player.
Captain Toad can also be described as "a Mario game without Mario." Many of the standard Mario motifs are present, from the enemy selection to some of the level themes from recent Mario games. Donut lifts, P Switches, POW Blocks, and the like are all present in this game. However, Toad must use and get around some of these aspects in different ways, since he can't run or jump. It offers a new wrinkle on the standard Mario formula by having players play Mario-style stages from a different perspective.
A prime example of this includes Drop Road Dash, from the first batch of stages. The stage is filled with donut lifts and dash platforms, which should be familiar to fans of previous Mario games. Biddybuds also like to make pests of themselves, though Toad can defend himself by picking up vegetables (a la Super Mario Bros. 2) and tossing them at his foes. Just like 3D World, the stage is filled with diamonds, coins, and other bonuses. Among them is a special golden ticket, which Nintendo is staying quiet about. More details on this item are expected soon.
Next up was Drift-Along Canyon from the second episode, notable for putting players in the role of Toadette. This stage sees her rafting down an acid lake, with Hammer Bros. and homing Bullet Bills making nuisances of themselves along the way. In addition to defending herself with vegetables, Toadette also came across a Super Pick Axe power-up, which allowed her to pick vegetables at a rapid speed for a brief period.
Finally, it was time to check out Beat Block Plaza from the third episode. This furthers the idea of 'Mario without Mario' by having Toad run through the rhythm platform sequences from Super Mario 3D World. Platforms will appear and disappear to the rhythm of the background music, requiring Toad to exercise timing when approaching or climbing onto each platform. Complicating matters is a Fire Bro., who is a few stories above Toad, hurling down fireballs. Even if Toad manages to reach him, disposing of a Fire Bro. isn't quite as easy here as it is in a standard Mario game.
Treasure Tracker will also include a challenge system, similar to what Square Enix did with Hitman: GO earlier this year. Each stage will task Toad or Toadette with completing three optional challenges that up the difficulty level a tad. The aforementioned Drop Road Dash, for example, challenged players to reach the end without killing any enemies. Challenges are a tad forgiving, since they don't have to all be completed at once. It's also forgiving when it comes to the optional diamonds, since Toad won't have to re-collect them if he dies at any point in the level, making sacrifice a viable tactic.
That's about as forgiving as Treasure Tracker will get, because the levels do not have mid-level checkpoints. Given the deliberate pace certain levels practice, this can be a bit hard to swallow for some. There's real potential for some cheap deaths in this game and the lack of checkpoints may leave some players seeing red.
Those looking for more of the same Captain Toad goodness from Super Mario 3D World will get exactly what they're craving with Treasure Tracker. Nintendo may have also stumbled onto a legitimately good puzzle game that stands out on its own merits. Captain Toad may utilize a lot of the Mario formula, but it uses it effectively and gives it enough of a twist to feel like a totally new experience.
There's more to dig up with Captain Toad, as this is just a small taste of what's to come. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is set to release on Wii U on December 5.