Does the World Need Another Mario Spin-off? Yes, When It Stars Captain Toad

EAD Tokyo's intrepid little explorer gets his own game at last, and it's wonderful.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

At this point, the spinoffs of Super Mario Bros. outnumber the actual Super Mario games by something like 15 to one — everything from Yoshi's Island to WarioWare. So you might think that yet another new Mario spinoff would be about as useful as a hole in the head. But that would mean you haven't played Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

Captain Toad's first solo title takes the Mario franchise into not entirely unfamiliar territory; the series has dabbled in puzzle action games since the Japan-only Mario & Wario for Super NES. Donkey Kong '94 remains a standout example of the format, and that eventually mutated into Mario Vs. Donkey Kong. Treasure Tracker, on the other hand, approaches the genre from a much more conventional direction. Rather than featuring classic Mario mechanics (running, jumping, power-ups) or being one of those hands-off, Lemmings-esque puzzle simulations, Treasure Tracker gives you direct control over a protagonist who can't jump and has almost no combat skills to speak of. It belongs to the Adventures of Lolo school of puzzle design – excelling through its limitations.

Anyone who played last year's excellent Super Mario 3D World will immediately recognize Treasure Tracker as a more glorified take on the bonus levels from that game. (Anyone who didn't play Super Mario 3D World needs to get on it, stat.) It's the natural evolution of EAD Tokyo's fondness for Captain Toad, who has appeared in increasingly significant cameo roles in their Mario games since Super Mario Galaxy; really, it was only a matter of time before he would become the star of this own game. And, as you might expect of a game built around the secret best part of one of last year's best games, Treasure Tracker appears to be a real... well, it would be corny to say "gem." But you get the idea.

In keeping with the general style of the Mario 3D series, Treasure Tracker presents its stages as standalone isometric dioramas, which you can rotate freely on multiple axes to get a proper view of the action. There's a sort of dollhouse look to the game, its little miniature tableaus presenting self-contained puzzles that challenge you in a variety of different ways. In their most basic form, Treasure Tracker's puzzles echo those of the Toad stages in Super Mario 3D World — the intrepid explorer can't jump or attack enemies directly, so you're forced to work your way through the multi-leveled isometric structures while evading various hazards. Figuring out the proper path to the Star at the end of the stage while gathering the collectable treasures en route involves equal parts brainwork and footwork, as danger tends to be active and mobile — Goombas will waddle after Toad, and Boos will drift toward him (when he's not looking, anyway).

Because this is a full spin-off and not simply a handful of bonus stages, though, Treasure Tracker also includes many more varied challenges than appeared in Super Mario 3D World. One stage in the game's E3 debut demo sent Toad hurtling along a mine cart rail — no, wait, come back! This level didn't play out as one of those annoying tests of memorization and muscle memory that define mine cart stages in platformers; rather, it was more like a shooter. Toad can't jump, remember? So, rather than leaping over gaps or controlling the speed and pitch of the mine cart, players instead hold up the Wii U game pad to aim at enemies and treasures and chuck turnips at them as the cart trundles along. It's more shooter than platformer, incorporating the Wii U game pad's gyroscope to good effect. (Though fans of a certain age will inevitably come away salty that this aim mechanic is appearing in a Mario spin-off and not a Pokémon Snap sequel.)

Toad also faces his share of boss levels; for example, a fight against a what appears to be a Blargg (you know, those lava creatures from Yoshi's Island) or something like it. Since Toad can't really, you know, attack, his "battle" consists of climbing to the top of a spiraling cavern as it floods with magma, while the boss tracks you from the center of the room and lobs fireballs your way. Much more linear and less puzzle-like than the more familiar Captain Toad stages, both this encounter and the turnip shooter stage still feel decidedly grounded by the protagonist's limitations and not just like warmed-over Mario stages. (You ultimately beat the Blargg, or whatever it is, by reaching the top of the cavern and tricking it into knocking a stone column onto its own head — not really through any motive force on Toad's part.)

It can be tempting to take a cynical view of Nintendo's propensity for spinoffs and expansions on the Mario franchise, but playing just a few levels of Treasure Tracker at E3 reminded me why these games continue to sell: They're almost invariably excellent. The Mario concept lends itself to many variants and alternate interpretations, all familiar yet unique. And, let's face it, Nintendo's EAD Tokyo group has yet to produce a game that's less than superlative. Treasure Tracker appears to uphold that legacy quite nicely; not only does it play well, managing to feel fun and unfrustrating despite its main character's general lack of offensive capabilities, it's crammed with the charming details and polish you'd expect from a first-party Nintendo game.

By all rights, a limited and generally simple game like Treasure Tracker should be a throwaway release at best, a quick cash-in to fill the company's holiday release schedule. And maybe it is, at heart. Yet it doesn't come off that way at all. Nintendo gave the game to their A team, and by every appearance it'll play like an A-tier game. I don't know who thought the world needed yet another Mario spin-off... but I'm glad they did.

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Comments 23

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  • Avatar for Thusian #1 Thusian 4 years ago
    Awesome another game I can add to my list. Its pretty slim because I am looking for stuff outside of the Shoot or Stab variety.
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  • Avatar for Neifirst #2 Neifirst 4 years ago
    Anything by EAD Tokyo is just going to be outstanding. I'm particularly looking forward to using the Gamepad's gyro controls and other assorted gimmicks just for a change of pace.
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  • Avatar for Warlock82 #3 Warlock82 4 years ago
    BTW, Captain Toad can attack in this game (albeit in limited situations), both in the form of pluckable turnips (not just while riding the minecart but in actual stages as well ala Super Mario Bros 2) and some kind of Donkey Kong Hammer-like Pickaxe power-up.Edited June 2014 by Warlock82
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #4 cldmstrsn 4 years ago
    I wonder how much this game will be? It looks absolutely fun and amazing but I don't see myself spending more than 30 bucks on it.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #5 Stealth20k 4 years ago
    yay. I am so hapy
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #6 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @Warlock82 Hm, I didn't see the pickaxe power-up. I am positive I played every stage in the demo. Was this something only shown in a video reel?
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #7 sam-stephens 4 years ago

    The pickaxe was shown in the trailer when Toad was pulling up a vegetable.

    This is definitely one of my most anticipated games of the year. I think the fact that the same people who worked on 3D World are making Captain Toad shows that a high degree of care is being put into this "spin-off".
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  • Avatar for LilSpriteX #8 LilSpriteX 4 years ago
    Does it feature a jump button that doesn't work, like the bonus stages in 3D World? I loved the little animation of Captain Toad attempting to jump but being held down by his pack.
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  • Avatar for docexe #9 docexe 4 years ago
    It certainly looks fun, but in this day and age I’m not sure the concept can carry a full priced release. I suppose it will depend on the amount and variety of the content.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #10 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    I'm really happy for this one. The Wii U lineup keeps looking better and better. And even if there isn't a single title that gets people to rush out and buy the system, that can be obviated by a lot of very solid games. Eventually, the number of available titles will push more people over the edge on a purchase.

    And yes, if you haven't played 3D World, get on that. Even if you were looking forward to a new Super Mario Galaxy, the game does a stellar job of scratching that itch due to the creativity on display. You can tell Nintendo's A-team worked on it, for sure.
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #11 Mega_Matt 4 years ago
    This looks great. There weren't enough of these levels in 3D World. Glad to hear this is getting the care and attention to development that it deserves.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #12 brionfoulke91 4 years ago
    I love games like this. It may be another Mario game, but it's a totally fresh concept and no one else is doing anything like it. That's what we need more of, in this day and age!
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #13 jeffcorry 4 years ago
    It's funny how Nintendo works on me...
    At first I think: Oh...that's nice...
    But then. I see more and more and I hear what everybody is saying and then I start reading reviews and then I am really excited. Then I get the game and it is just as good as everyone said.
    This happened with: Super Mario 3D World/Land, Luigi's Mansion 3DS, Mario Kart 8, Pikmin 3, Wind Waker HD, and countless other games.
    So I am going to keep watching this game and Splatoon and probably get my wallet ready. (I do hope this game isn't at the $60 least from what I have seen so far...then again...I could be blown away as I usually am.) My kids are already asking for this. Curse you and your child-friendly ways Nintendo! Good thing I love the Big N.
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  • Avatar for Zomby-Woof #14 Zomby-Woof 4 years ago
    It's interesting that Donkey Kong '94 is mentioned. It's the first game I thought of after seeing the trailer, especially with that pickaxe that breaks bricks the same way the hammer did in certain parts of DK '94. If these bite-sized levels are as varied and numerous as they were in that Game Boy masterpiece, then I won't have any problem shelling out sixty bucks for it, though I don't think it'll cost that much.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #15 Captain-Gonru 4 years ago
    This game got the biggest reaction in my house during E3. Sure, Zelda was awesome, but I kinda knew that was coming.
    I, for one, don't mind the Mario spin-offs. It's like Bugs Bunny cartoons. Yeah, you COULD have anyone pretending to be a barber or a lady, but why not dress up Bugs again? People like Bugs Bunny.
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  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #16 Critical_Hit 4 years ago
    You're super right I'm "salty". This feels like it's some small team at Nintendo trolling people, like me, who took one look at the Wii U gamepad when it was unveiled and said, "Oh. Obviously, they're going to make another Pokemon Snap for that thing. Use the screen as a viewfinder, move it with the motion/gyro sensors, hold it up to the TV... yeah. Duh".

    I mean... just like you said. THAT's POKEMON SNAP! WITH TOAD! There's Toad, in a cart, on a pre-defined path through the level, holding up a camera - controlled with the gamepad - and throwing stuff at Pirahna Plants! JUST. LIKE. POKEMON. SNAP. My God Nintendo is frustrating sometimes.

    Reminds me of why Yuji Naka put in the 3D exploration platforming into Sonic Jam; just to rub it in Sega Technical Institute's face after Sonic X-Treme fell apart. Just to show, "Hey, we could totally do it if we wanted. We're not going to though".

    It does look totally cute though. Looks like a great puzzle game. And a Mario-universe title that isn't a super safe, very boring, direct follow up to an unambitious platformer (Mario 3D World to Mario 3D Land, any of the New Super Mario games) is a welcome one. Let's them do what Mario needs a lot more of; mess with formula and try new things. I mean it really does look wonderful and worth picking up, and I'm happy to see Snap-esque gameplay regardless of how they make it.

    I'd be especially happy if it's an eShop game. I have no idea why Nintendo doesn't support their own digital service with more original smaller productions, and puzzle stuff like this (or games that hearken back to their arcadey path, like a new Punch Ball Mario or Mario Clash) would be PERFECT to push that service even more. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Dr. Luigi is their only original eShop exclusive Wii U eShop game, right? And they didn't do ANY original Wiiware or DSiWare titles for the entire lifetimes of those services, yes?

    And jeez louise Jeremy - Adventures of Lolo? Man, that would be a PERFECT candidate to resurrect for an eShop title! Also, HAL's Trax, and Mole Mania. But until Eggerland returns proper (if ever), at least Wiiware got Mouse House from Big John Games (the guys who do Thorium Wars). It's pretty much the same design with new puzzles, reskinned to star a rather cute mouse.

    Still though, where's Pokemon Snap U? I like new things, which is why I liked Snap in the first place. But it's been 15 years, and it's a perfect fit for that controller - something Nintendo's been struggling with ever since the machine launched. Seeing this just hits a nerve for me.Edited 7 times. Last edited June 2014 by Critical_Hit
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  • Avatar for Pacario #17 Pacario 4 years ago
    Always been a big fan of Toad (this is THE toad from all the other games like Mario Kart, Galaxy, and Wario's Woods, right?). My only cause for concern is the same as the new Kirby title--what will the final price be? I almost see this as being akin to a premium download as seen on the competition's services. For a disc version, I'd pay up to $40.00, but sixty dollars might be a hard sell.

    Then again, it's Toad! I'll probably pay the sixty for him.
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  • Avatar for sean697 #18 sean697 4 years ago
    The most anticipated Wii U game for me this year for sure. Puzzle gameplay with action elements, and bosses. I couldn't be more excited for this. It's nice to see new things. Game looks nice too.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #19 LBD_Nytetrayn 4 years ago
    @Pacario I think Nintendo has been a little fuzzy on whether the Toad from SMB2, Wario's Woods, etc. is the same Toad as Captain Toad.

    I'm looking forward to this, and enjoying all their SMB2 nods as of late-- the Shy Guys look great here! I hope between this and Super Mario 3D World that maybe they're building towards something like a 3D SMB2-styled game.

    The only thing here is, like others have said, I'm not sure if I can see this thing selling for $60. I'd probably go for it, but I can't help but think I'd be in a minority on that one.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #20 Pacario 4 years ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn Yeah, I don't think Nintendo itself ever really figured out which Toad is which across all these games, but the insinuation is that this Toad is the brigade chief from the Galaxy games, which many have deemed to be "THE" toad, due to his personality and red spots. And because he's the only red-spotted toad in 3D World, that implication is strengthened further still.

    But it probably doesn't matter. Almost everyone will see this as Toad's game either way, so I'm willing to do the same.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #21 LBD_Nytetrayn 4 years ago
    @Pacario What makes Captain Toad being "the" Toad kind of crazy is that means that Super Mario 3D World's Toad isn't, which kind of throws out the "reunion" aspect, in a way.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #22 Pacario 4 years ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn Ha, ha, I know...I've spent way too much time thinking about it. But basically, Nintendo goofed with 3-D World; that blue-spotted Toad should have been the red-spotted "Toad" we all know, but for some odd reason, the director chose to base the character's design off the original Mario 2 (8-bit) sprite, versus the updated design in All-Stars and Advance (in which he's been retconned to be the red-spotted, blue-vested Toad). Now everyone thinks the blue-spotted Toad is simply the Toad who commonly appears beside Mario in the mainstream titles, from Mario 2 to the New Super Mario games.

    Part of the problem, I think, is Captain Toad, who has those red spots and is thus often associated with Toad in general. Having essentially the same name doesn't help as everyone who knows Toad from Mario Kart and the like will just assume it's Toad, but who's now a captain, in his new game.

    At this point, that's what I'm willing to assume as well. At least until Nintendo takes an official stance--why doesn't the Press ever ask important questions such as these? :-)
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #23 LBD_Nytetrayn 4 years ago
    @Pacario I think they just wanted each character to have a distinct default color scheme.
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