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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker review
Meh
by Austin

5/10

+ Tinkering with levels is satisfying
+ Collectibles/challenges add tiny replay value

- Never was given any motivation
- Cheap, recycled cutscenes and boss fights
- Short, but still grew dull

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The general gameplay is good fun, with the unique hook being that each level is a floating diorama that must be tilted and spun to look at from every angle - making controlling the camera just as important as controlling Toad himself. These environments are as varied as they are gorgeous - being an isolated cube floating in an endless void lets the game go from desert world to creepy Luigi's Mansion style world one after the other - although that does make them feel completely disconnected from each other in what is supposed to be one long expedition. There are plenty of levels, and each can be replayed 3 times in different ways if you want to, but there's no forced incentive to do so because the game is confident in how fun they are. There are some setpieces that manage to be truly impressive in how much spectacle they provide while sticking wholly to the game's isometric style and Toad's limiting skillset, such as a beautiful train level and even boss fights. Even with all those levels there is one type that sticks out as head-and-shoulders above the rest: The minecart levels, but they're woefully under-represented as they make up only 4 of the 82 stages. These levels are the closest thing we've ever got (and likely ever will, sadly) to a Pokémon Snap sequel and I replayed them a bunch of times each. Aiming with the Switch's gyro controls you travel down a fixed minecart track, throwing turnips at all and sundry to rack up the biggest score you can, having to look all around you to find all the hidden objects and bonuses.

One of two big negatives is the controls: the game staunchly refuses to let you change the keybinds, which wouldn't be such a problem if camera zoom (something you'll be wanting to use more often in this game than any other) was mapped to the triggers rather than as a three stage toggle on the x button that you had to swap through every time you had to zoom in a bit. Far more annoying is that neither handheld or docked mode is quite perfect, so you'll have to be constantly switching between the two if you want to have the best time you can. The Switch is wide enough that mandatory touch controls - using the middle third of the screen to interact with wheels and blocks in particular - is annoying even for someone with huge hands, and while the docked mode's pointer makes THOSE levels much more fun there's the glaring omission that you can't aim with it in the cannon or minekart levels, forcing you to switch back to handheld because those excellent levels wouldn't be half as fun (or possible) without gyroscopic aiming.

The other downside is the repetition. Everything I just gushed about in the first paragraph is from the first "episode" of four and while the puzzles are of course new, everything else - cutscenes, setpieces, and bosses - are all the same as the first time around. They're tweaked in subtle ways, making them JUST different enough to still be fun rather than feeling like a waste of time, but if they'd put in the effort and creativity for new bosses as good as the first two rather than repeats it would've been amazing. Getting to take control of Toadette in these later episodes is fun, and some of the levels got hard enough that I hit Game-Over a couple times which surprised me by not even being a punishment really, more like giving you a quick pat on the back and a "get back in there" in the form of a bonus to top your lives back up. If you fail a level too many times they'll even give you an optional invincibility mushroom to make sure you aren't stuck for too long, which really made me appreciate how the game is accessible to anyone without relying on an up-front easy /normal difficulty select.

By the time I hit the ending, though, I was getting frustrated by the repetition and (as if to hammer the point home) the ending cutscene is exactly the same as the end of episode cutscenes from the first 2 "episodes" except for a tiny but awful twist that, rather than being any sort of satisfying conclusion, made the whole game feel like a throwaway advert for a bigger game. Out of curiosity I looked up the Wii U version's ending, and that was a bit more digestible because it had more to it and was at least directly linked to a sequel, whereas this time it's just the latest Mario game they need to shift copies of. It feels strange being so cynical about a game that at first oozed playful fun out of everything down to its idle animations but that's how much it felt like a cop-out reusing so much of the game, right down to the final cutscene.

If it wasn't for that ending and the game had finished after episode one I would've rated it highly for sure, and if it had kept that level of creativity up for the latter 3/4s as well it might have been up there as one of those perfect, tight experiences that take one simple idea and explore every facet of it - ending up as one of my favourite games, like Katamari Damacy did. I'm not saying that less is always more (certainly cutting the length down by that much would've made it hard to justify as a full price game) but in this case where the "more" is so much less, I could have done with less more.
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