The failure of the Wii U has been a boon for the Nintendo Switch. While the Wii U was far from successful commercially, it was the home to some of Nintendo’s most inventive games ever. Slowly, the company has been porting the best releases to its new tablet. It’s giving great games a second life, and perhaps none deserve that spotlight as much as Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
First released on the Wii U back in 2014, Captain Toad is an odd little game. On the surface, it looks like a platformer, a classic 3D adventure starring one of Nintendo’s lesser-known characters. But it’s actually more of a puzzle game. Each level is a tiny, self-contained world, like a digital diorama. Toad can’t do much. He can walk and pick up a few objects, but that’s about it. He can’t even jump. In order to get him through each stage, you need to rotate the camera and view the tiny world from every angle to find the optimal path through.
The goal in each level is to get to the golden star at the end, and there are always three optional gems to collect for an additional challenge. Some levels have classic Super Mario enemies like shy guys and piranha plants, and there are coins to gather so you can earn extra lives. Really, each stage feels like an adorable puzzle box. Each one is full of secrets if you find the right switch or look at it from just the right angle. It’s the kind of game that constantly delights with new, unexpected ideas.
As with many games, Captain Toad feels particularly at home on the Switch. (There’s also a Nintendo 3DS version out today, but I haven’t tried it yet.) It’s like holding a tiny, adorable world in your hands. Having the screen so close to you makes it feel more intimate, and it’s easier to spot some of the less-obvious details that are hidden in each level. For the most part, the Switch version is the same as the Wii U iteration with the addition of a handful of levels based on Super Mario Odyssey. The crossover makes a lot of sense. Not only does Toad appear in Odyssey, but both games make use of a Japanese gardening concept known as hakoniwa — or box garden — where a small space is packed with details. The games are very different, but they share similar philosophies.
There are already plenty of solid puzzle games on the Switch, like the remaster of the musical Lumines, the excellent crossover Puyo Puyo Tetris, and the always brilliant Picross S. But there’s nothing quite like Captain Toad. Underneath its painfully charming exterior lies an engrossing puzzler, one that rewards careful observation above all else. It was a great game when it debuted four years ago, and it’s even better now that it’s portable.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is available today on the Nintendo Switch and 3DS.