Nintendo have had a fantastic end to 2014 and while Captain Toad might not be as anticipated as Super Smash Bros or Mario Kart it’s definately another must-have in the increasingly amazing line-up of the Wii-U.
Taking some notes from Toad’s little adventures in Super Mario 3D World, nearly every level in Captain Toad sees you taking control of the titular captain on a tiny cubic world that you can rotate around at will. There’s no jumping and no real abilities other than switching a torch on and off or pulling up SMB2 turnips to throw at enemies. On each level you just need to get to the golden star at the end. If you like you can also complete an optional objective that changes between levels, or you can try and get all three hidden gems, or try and beat the secret time, or maybe you’ll try and get as many coins as possible. It’s entirely up to you and it’s at such an incredibly relaxed pace it feels refreshing after Ubisoft’s latest forays into ‘Look how many icons we can fit onto a minimap! Do them all now!’ style gameplay.
As we’ve come to expect from Nintendo’s first party projects, Captain Toad is incredibly polished. Everything looks gorgeous and cartoony in that modern Nintendo chunky and rounded 3D style. There’s some impressive effects and an amazingly consistent art style that ranges from crystal caves and magma streams to abstract oblongs and small rivers. The worlds are populated with familiar baddies and objects as well as a few new tools like the super pickaxe that lets you go on a Donkey Kong Hammer-style rampage through the level for a few short seconds. The music is enchanting and cheerful, the characters faces are beautifully animated and always expressive.
We felt a little hard done by as the credits rolled after sixteen or so short levels (most can be completed in around a minute if you’re not looking for secrets) but thankfully that was just the end of the first episode. There’s plenty more to enjoy and if you took the time to find every secret and do each one perfectly you’d find enough to keep you busy for hours and hours. The challenge steadily increases but it’s never particularly difficult to at least get the star on each levels. There’s some stealthy bonus objectives that can take a few tries but thankfully the controls are precise enough that if you die it always feels like your fault, the game is never particularly unfair.
The gamepad is used as a duplicate of the TV for the most part (with a couple of exceptions we won’t spoil here) but we found ourselves playing on just the gamepad more and more. This feels like an extremely polished handheld game at heart and it’s a brilliant little puzzler to curl up on the sofa with for half an hour.
There are some problems and as always with Nintendo, some notable omissions. Firstly there’s no leaderboards. It seems like a no brainer when you have a track of how many coins you got on each level to let you compare that to the world’s best or just your friends, but there’s no online functionality at all. We’d love to think we’d got every coin only to see someone else on our list get one more and send us back to that level to hunt it down. As it stands if you want to know the true totals you’re going to need to look for forums and guides which is never particularly fun or immersive.
There’s also the distinct feeling that there’s not a lot of actual ‘game’ here. It’s definitely a more casual puzzle game aimed at children and there’s definitely a place for that, but on a console starved for third party releases, Nintendo must know gamers of all ages will be looking to this and it is incredibly simple. Later levels open up the concept a little and beating every hidden time is surprisingly taxing but it’s not like there’s a huge amount of hidden depth to the game.
Overall we’re distinctly impressed with Captain Toad. It’s a new kind of game and so incredibly polished it’s impossible not to love it. That being said, if you’re going to pay full price for it be aware that there’s not a huge amount of content and maybe watch a couple of videos of the early levels to make sure you know what you’re getting for your money.