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Artwork from Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker featuring Toad being chased by shy guys and a goomba. Nintendo

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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker on Switch is a can’t-miss Wii U port

Too few people played this charming puzzle game, but now they have a second chance

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

With the Switch, Nintendo has a platform that offers a second chance to games that were criminally overlooked when originally released on the company’s previous system, the poorly performing Wii U. One of the Wii U’s best efforts, the charming puzzle-action game Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker comes to Nintendo Switch (and Nintendo 3DS systems) this week, giving Nintendo fans an opportunity to atone for the sin of missing it the first time around.

Not much has changed for the Switch version of Captain Toad. The game is still a smart, charming series of puzzles starring Toad and Toadette as they hunt for treasure with a disarming cheerfulness. Levels are made mostly of tiny dioramas, like tiny chunks carved out of larger, more traditional 3D Super Mario Bros. levels, that must be twisted, turned and explored to pluck out every secret.

The goal in most levels is to walk (or quickly waddle) Captain Toad or Toadette toward a glittering gold star. It’s the optional objectives, like collecting every special gem or a cleverly tucked away golden mushroom, where Treasure Tracker’s true fun and challenge lies. While Treasure Tracker isn’t a particularly difficult game, many of the game’s hidden objects are diabolically buried in dense, brilliantly designed mazes. I’ve completed the game twice on Wii U, and even on my third playthrough of the game on Switch, occasionally found myself stumped by Nintendo’s level designers.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker has its roots in the Super Mario Bros. series. The character and the puzzling dioramas he explores first appeared as a smattering of levels in Super Mario 3D World for Wii U. Nintendo later spun off the concept into a full game with more than 70 levels that expand on Captain Toad’s inability to run and jump through Mario’s world. Toad, encumbered by a weighty backpack filled with adventure gear, can jog and pull turnips up from the ground, but he can’t jump or butt-stomp his enemies. Those movement and ability restrictions underpin the game’s understated puzzle design. As we noted in our 2014 review of the Wii U original...

Captain Toad is less about action, and more about deliberation. You can’t see every part of a level from one angle — how you position the camera and where you look is always important. Enemies and obstacles have to be considered, and a “simple” slightly raised platform might be the whole crux of a stage’s challenge.

While Captain Toad seems subdued by the measure of modern Nintendo releases like Mario and Zelda, at its core it’s pure Nintendo. The simple concept of wandering around slowly, without vertical navigation, is iterated on again and again. Themed levels with their own aesthetics are introduced over time, and each establishes its own gimmick.

For the Switch version, Nintendo added a handful of new levels based on Super Mario Odyssey. There are just four, but they let players revisit Odyssey’s Sand, Metro, Cascade and Luncheon Kingdoms for new challenges. The Odyssey levels can only be accessed after completing the game’s first three episodes — essentially the entire campaign — but with the exception of the New Donk City level, they fail to match the efficient puzzle design pedigree of the original game’s content.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

The Switch version of Captain Toad also makes a bonus gameplay mode previously tied to an amiibo figure a standard feature: After completing each level, players can play hide and seek with a tiny, pixelated Toad. That lil’ 8-bit Toad will tuck himself behind a tree or on a wall somewhere in the level, and you’ll need to track him down. It’s a chance to quickly revisit each of the game’s levels, but the add-on always felt inessential.

Nintendo has also improved the camera zoom options in the Switch release. Rather than just a zoomed-out and tightly zoomed-in camera perspective, Captain Toad for Switch also offers a middle ground. That mid-range zoom is extremely helpful when playing the game in handheld mode, where the game’s tightly packed levels can be tougher to visually dissect.

Certain hardware-dependent gameplay features have been updated on Switch. The game no longer asks players to blow into a microphone to raise certain platforms, and when playing the game on a television, the right Joy-Con controller acts as a pointer device to replace the unavailable touchscreen inputs.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker for Switch is measurably better in all ways than the original game — according to the technical analysts at Digital Foundry, the 3DS version is great too — but more importantly represents a chance for many Nintendo fans who skipped the Wii U to finally see what all the fuss is about.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was played using a final “retail” Switch download code provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.