Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023
Sometimes you want a game where literally every character on the screen is sleepy, okay?

Sometimes you want a game where literally every character on the screen is sleepy, okay?

Can you make a good Mario game without a jump button?

It sounds like a stupid question. Jumping is such an ingrained part of the Mario experience that the main character in Donkey Kong was originally called “Jumpman” before becoming the Nintendo mascot we know and love. But one of the most interesting parts of last year Super Mario 3D world were the bonus stages that stripped away that core ability, putting players in control of a pudgy, waddling Captain Toad who had to use a complex series of ramps, ladders, and elevators if he wanted to gain height. It was a nice change of pace that required a different part of the brain than the more frantic, standard 3D platforming that dominated the game.

Now with Captain Toad’s treasure hunter, Nintendo is trying to prove that those bonus stages are interesting enough to support a full standalone platform game where you never jump on your own. They manage to do just that, through incredibly clever and varied level design.

The developers have done an impressive job of stretching the simple concept over dozens of short levels that rarely feel repetitive or recycled (only a few repurposed boss fight vignettes, repeated with a slight difference, really stand out in this regard). One minute you’re tipping Toad over an old-fashioned pinball machine. The next time you run through a series of dashboard blocks along a collection of narrow paths. One minute you’re flying through the air in a series of cannons, the next you’re manning the cannon firing turnips to blast your way through walls and enemies.

After that, you may need to tap the touchscreen to move blocks in a precise order to progress, or run on a hamster wheel to build a bridge to your goal, or carefully manage your position as the level revolves around you, or navigate a few Captain Toad clones to hit two separate switches at once, or make your way through a maze of pipes. Even without a jump button, there’s a surprising amount to do in the varied environments, all rendered with the rounded friendliness and bright, primary colors that Nintendo is known for.

And even without a jump button, there are still occasional platforming challenges – timing a fall on an enemy below, for example, or navigating between falling donut elevators and periodically disappearing “beep blocks”. There are enemies in the levels, but for the most part they wander in slow, predefined patterns and are quite easy to avoid (and can often be knocked out by throwing a handy turnip picked off the ground).

But for the most part, each level is just a 3D puzzle box that doesn’t need much precision reflexes. What you need is the ability to visualize complex 3D arrangements and manipulate the different pieces of that puzzle box in the right order to get Toad (or Toadette, in some levels) to his goal. OK, so first I hit that P switch, then I wait for that floating platform to reach a certain point, then I drop onto the platform beyond the wall. From there I can take the pipe to the next section and then grab the pickaxe, but I don’t want to break through the nearby blocks, I want to break through the other move blocks further away to get the gem. OK, now what…

Through it all, the biggest challenge is often battling with the game’s perspective. The camera is usually locked to a permanent spin around the center of the level, meaning Captain Toad is often squeezed close to the edge of the screen, if not completely off it. You’ll find yourself constantly adjusting that camera with the right stick just to see where you are between the walls, columns and ceilings that constantly seem to get in the way. You can see a shadowy outline of Captain Toad when he’s hidden behind an object, but this is only so useful if you can’t see the enemies on the platform edges around you.

You can aim the camera at Captain Toad himself, but with only two zoom levels it’s often difficult to get the precise framing you really need. Instead, it feels like you’re constantly rotating these little puzzle box worlds in your hands, looking for the right position so you can see the next bit of hidden machine.

You can also rotate the camera by tilting the GamePad, although I didn’t feel this was quite sensitive enough to be my primary camera control. Even worse, this feature can’t be turned off, meaning I was constantly and accidentally moving the camera when I was just shifting the controller in my hands. There are only two zoom levels and no way to look around from Toad’s perspective. Instead, the camera just floats a little away from the action, as if the world below is spinning in a void.

Despite the camera problems, Captain Toad’s adventure isn’t that challenging. A player with a decent amount of experience navigating 3D worlds should have no trouble figuring out what to do in the first 80 percent of the levels or executing the plan. Even finding the three hidden gems in each level isn’t that hard in most cases, requiring more careful observation than fiddly logic tinkering. None of the levels are that huge either; the vast majority can be completed in five or ten minutes.

It gets a bit more challenging in the last handful of levels, but there’s little that will make most players throw their GamePads against the wall. Completers will find a bit more of a challenge in optional objectives that can be completed in each level (destroy all enemies, don’t get damaged, only hit a certain number of switches, etc.), but only a little. As a bonus, after the main game’s 60 or so levels are completed, there’s a section where you can navigate Captain Toad through slightly modified levels of Super Mario 3D worldputting a whole new, jump-free spin on those familiar environments.

Overall, Captain Toad’s treasure hunter is the equivalent of cotton candy in a video game: petty yet satisfying for your brain’s version of a sweet tooth. Like cotton candy, a little nibble every now and then is a nice treat, but if you play in large quantities, you’re likely to get a tummy ache and look for something with more weight. As a $20 “bargain” download on the Wii U, Captain Toad’s first titular adventure would get a full recommendation. As a $40 tent pole for the holiday season, it’s something fans of cute, mellow brainteasers should definitely invest in.

The good

  • Deal smartly with platforming tropes by removing jumps.
  • Amazing variety in puzzles and level design.
  • Warm, inviting visuals and Nintendo-style music.

The bad

  • Camera controls are often frustrating.
  • The challenge slope doesn’t climb very high, even at the end.

The ugly one

  • How soon will it be over for most players.

Pronunciation: Give it a try if you’re in need of some light, airy game sweetness.

By akfire1

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