Nintendo has all but cornered the market on streamlined, cute adventures for all ages. While Captain Toad made his first appearance in Super Mario Galaxy, he’s since been spun off into his own puzzle-platforming series based on a very different type of design philosophy than you may be used to. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker debuted on the Wii U back in 2014, but as Nintendo moves much of its legacy system’s library onto the Switch, Toad has another shot at stardom. And it’s certainly a worthy outing–even four years on–for anyone who appreciates clever puzzles.
The core gameplay conceit is one of level design. You’ll need to rotate a cuboid world around Captain Toad as you look for clues and solutions from multiple angles. Each move helps change the level, affecting how different parts react to one another and to you. As you turn the stage, you can see different pieces and elements. It’s not uncommon to shift things around and notice a “POW” block in a convenient location. Toss a turnip from the other side, and you can dissolve a wall with its power and move through.
Perspective matters, and the obstacles that can affect how you use your perspective are fertile ground for spectacular puzzles. And it allows a breadth of pacing options as well. Some stages feel tense and rushed, but some are set against calming pink clouds. A calm stage can be followed immediately by one filled with foes and traps, though, shifting where and how you focus your attention. The progression is steady enough–both within stages and across them–that you’ll be left, more often than not, feeling clever and encouraged.
This is all true for both the Wii U and Switch versions, but the Switch version adds in a few things, most notably local co-operative multiplayer. Ostensibly a distinctive addition (as there’s also a 3DS port that lacks it), it is poorly executed the majority of the time. Each player gets one of the Switch’s Joy-Cons, splitting the typical play into two roles. One handles Toad’s movement, while the other dispatches enemies and shifts the camera. It’s a bizarre twist that could feel a lot more developed than it is. As it works, neither role gives much for its player to do and having enemies largely handled by one person cuts down on the scope of the platforming and the puzzles, making each stage feel like a cut-down version instead of a solid addition in its own right.
That said, the sharper screen on the Switch and addition of about a dozen new areas and modes make this version a strictly better choice, and the short, relatively simple stages of Captain Toad lend themselves to a portable environment. Of course, it also carries with it the weaknesses of its forebear. Even with the bonus content, Treasure Tracker is a bit short. You’re left with the sense that there could be plenty more and that the idea of rotating through levels doesn’t get its full due.
Despite a smattering of minor complaints, Captain Toad stands as a pint-sized version of Nintendo’s stellar first party pedigree. It’s among the best Mario spin-offs around and a delightful iteration on old ideas.