Throughout Mario’s many adventures, he has encountered many allies and enemies, but if there’s one character who usually stands out as being one of the most unfortunate, it’s Toad.  Small, scared, and helpless, Toad usually serves as nothing more than fodder for the Koopalings.  Sure, Toad has had playable roles in the Mario Kart and New Super Mario Bros. series, but it’s obvious that Toad is constantly drawing the short-end of the stick when it comes to heroics.

All of that is about to change.  Toad is finally ready to star in his very first solo outing in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.  Captain Toad may not be a perfect game, but I’m proud to report that Toad’s adventure is addictive, fun, and worthy of standing beside Mario’s legacy.

The premise in Captain Toad is quite simple.  While searching for treasure, a giant black bird, known as Wingo, swoops in and kidnaps Toadette, leaving players with the quest of reuniting Toad with his female companion.  Players take control of Toad (and Toadette, in some levels) as he navigates through three-dimensional puzzles, collecting treasure while continuing to search for Toadette.  Each stage is somewhat of a cube-shaped puzzle where players must take advantage of controlling Toad with the ultimate goal of finding a hidden star.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because Captain Toad is a direct spin-off of the minigame found in last year’s Super Mario 3D World, and its influence shows.  There’s a distinct Mario feel to the game that will make fans of the plumber’s more recent adventures feel right at home.  Familiar Mario enemies, such as Piranha Plants and Shy Guys, are littered throughout the game, and there are even Mario power-ups such as Super Mushrooms and Double Cherries.  Unlike Mario though, Toad has a much more limited moveset at his disposal.  Toad can’t jump, and must rely on ladders and moving platforms to gain height.  This also leaves Toad vulnerable to attack, but thankfully, Toad is able to pluck turnips from the ground and throw them at enemies, a la Super Mario Bros. 2.  Captain Toad has enough in common with Mario to make players comfortable, yet also features a distinctively different play style that makes it feel fresh.

Toad's goal is to reach the star in each cube-shaped stage.

Toad’s goal is to reach the star in each cube-shaped stage.

Captain Toad also features Nintendo’s immaculate style of presentation.  The menus are all clean and easily navigable, with a storybook overlay where each stage acts as another page in the book.  During gameplay, everything is neatly displayed and simply works flawlessly.  In an age where so many games are cluttered with convoluted gameplay options and unnecessary online components, it’s refreshing to experience Captain Toad’s straightforward presentation.

This translates to the soundtrack and graphics as well.  Toad may be a man of few words, but the game more than makes up for it with an entertaining soundtrack that suits the mood of the game’s various level themes, and I found myself whistling along to the music on several occasions.  Meanwhile, the graphics on display here are beautiful.  Once again borrowing most of its assets from Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad features a vibrant color style and a level of graphical detail not often seen on Wii U.

The levels may be gorgeous, but as with most Nintendo games, gameplay is king.  Captain Toad features some absolutely brilliant puzzle design that makes great use of the game’s mechanics.  The puzzles start off simple, but during the second half of the game, there are definitely some puzzles that may cause players to take a step back and analyze the stage while strategizing their next few steps.  Rarely do games make such great use of three-dimensional puzzles.  The key to victory often lies in taking your time and thinking things through; the solution to these puzzles boil down to finding just the right perspective.

The game is not perfect though, and if there is one nagging complaint I had, it’s the camera.  Players are able to rotate the camera around using the right thumbstick on the Wii U GamePad, but navigating to a comfortable camera angle in a 3D puzzle is not always possible.  There are times where it is nearly impossible to get a grasp of where Toad is in relation to the goal, especially when Toad is in the center of a stage and surrounded by obstacles and enemies on all sides.  It is possible to zoom the camera in to get a closer view, but that often left me with the trouble of seeing what was only in my vicinity while losing track of dangers that may not be so close by.  This was made even more frustrating by stages that threw up countless objects that obfuscated my view while still requiring impeccable timing.  This was a problem that I only encountered on certain stages, but there were a handful of times that I failed a stage simply because I couldn’t see a Bullet Bill or Goomba around the corner fast enough.

Camera angles in complex stages can sometimes be frustrating.

Camera angles in complex stages can sometimes be frustrating.

As far as content goes, Captain Toad provides a fair amount.  Aside from the star in every stage, there are three hidden gems in every level that can be collected and often require some strong puzzle-solving skills to access.  These gems can be used later in the game to unlock bonus stages.  Each stage also has an additional challenge to it, such as collecting a certain number of coins or defeating all enemies, and provide good replay value to the game after completing the roughly 6-8 hour campaign.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is an entertaining puzzle platformer that has a great balance of gameplay that is both familiar and new.  The graphics and sound are beautiful, and the varied levels make perfect use of both of them.  Excellent puzzle design lies at the heart of Captain Toad, and while players may often find themselves fighting the camera for an effective viewpoint, there is some real fun to be had here.  Toad’s premiere solo adventure is definitely a successful one and Wii U owners have yet another awesome title to add to their library.