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This generation of video games has been playing it safe so far. Most of the big releases on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One have either been sequels or remakes of established titles, like Assassin’s Creed, The Last of Us, and Halo. They’re giving us what they think we want because they’re afraid to try anything new.

Nintendo is, of course, guilty of this as well, with the new Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8, but they’re also trying new things like Hyrule Warriors and the upcoming Splatoon. They’ve never been afraid to give us what we want, but also pepper in new experiences here and there. This has never been more apparent, or more successful, than with Nintendo’s new title Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

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Those familiar with Super Mario 3D World will get Captain Toad right away, as it started its life as a mini game in that series. You play an intrepid Toad that has gone off in search of adventure and treasure. His counterpart, Toadette, gets toadnapped by a giant bird in pursuit of a golden star, and it’s up to our hero to rescue her while collecting treasure on the way. A simplistic story is nothing new to a Nintendo game, but it works especially well here. The narrative is bright and cheerful, and serves simply to move the game forward without getting in the way of the gameplay.

Speaking of, the gameplay is the strongest part of Captain Toad. You navigate though small, self-contained levels, each with a golden star waiting at the end. Toad can’t jump (though this is odd, since many Toads can, but whatever), so the trick is to navigate the stage without the typical acrobatics of a traditional Mario game. The camera can rotate completely around and above the levels, and you can zoom in to get closer to the action, which is helpful for navigating tight spots.

Each stage feels like a puzzle just waiting to be solved, and they are a delight. No two stages feel completely alike, and the challenge is given out at a near perfect pace. Some could argue that the game is too easy, but that’s where the gems come in. Each stage has three gems to find, along with a secret objective. Some stages can get pretty frustrating when trying to 100% the game, but it always felt fair. Hardcore players can even try their hand at time challenges, as completing these requires beating the stage flawlessly.

Captain Toad is an absolutely gorgeous game. The graphics are colorful and vibrant, and some of the textures and lighting effects are just stunning. There are some areas where it’s hard to not just stop and enjoy the view, and the game might even be a little self-aware, as there are tiny mid-chapter segments every so often that let you do just that.

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There’s a ton of detail in every stage too. Some stages even have hidden Easter eggs, such as wanted posters of the giant bird, and 8-bit Luigi’s on the wall. The music is equally great. It doesn’t simply rehash classic Nintendo tunes, but has a soundtrack to call its own that matches the game’s tone perfectly.

The only real issue with Captain Toad is its length. The entire game can be beaten in about 12-15 hours if you’re looking to fully complete it. Thankfully, the game’s price point reflects this at $39.99 USD, so you get your money’s worth. Plus any potential DLC and confirmed amiibo-integration might make this issue moot anyway.

It would also be nice if the game had a “restart level” option in the pause menu so you didn’t have to quit the stage entirely each time you wanted to reset. This is a minor complaint, but so was not having “next race” first in the menu on Mario Kart 8 and Nintendo fixed that, so there’s hope.

Captain Toad does so many things right that it’s impossible not to love it. In a world where video games all look the same and blur the line between game and film, Captain Toad is a welcome surprise. It’s a nod to an era of gaming long past, where games were simply that: games. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a treasure all its own.

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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was developed and published by Nintendo. This title is currently available exclusively for the Wii U for $39.99.

A copy of the game was independently purchased by the reviewer.

Tagged in: Nintendo, Reviews, Wii U