Captain Toad's rise to fame has been, much like him, slow but steady. The fearless fungal explorer had cameos in Super Mario Galaxy before hitting the big time with his own puzzle-platforming side game in Super Mario 3D World. The hook was rotating the camera around a cubic 3D level, so you could follow Toad as you sent him to hidden caverns and obscured platforms. Now Nintendo's giving the mushroom cap'n his own Wii U game, which takes the 3D World distraction and transforms it into a full-blown adventure.
There are some subtle differences between the 3D World mini-game and Treasure Tracker. For one, rather than finding five stars to complete each level, you only need to reach the golden star at the end. However, each level has three bonus gems to collect, similar to the gold coins that keep completists entertained in the New Super Mario Bros. games. Like the coins, these gems require a bit of extra effort to spot and hunt down.
The first level I played at E3 was typical of the original mini-game, with spiky foes to sidestep, a river to cross and an Aztec-like structure to climb. As well as there being more collectible extras like coins, there were more moving parts than the early levels of the 3D World game, making up for Toad's slow, non-jumping movement. Having a clear end goal rather than a set of things to collect meant backtracking wasn't mandatory, something that sometimes made the 3D World levels tedious to negotiate.
In contrast, the second level used the GamePad as a camera for first-person shooting. As Toad rolled along automatically in a mine cart, I aimed the view by moving the tablet while firing off smiley turnips using the right trigger. There was plenty to shoot the happy root veggies at, including piranha plants, power blocks and those collectible coins and gems. For the brief minute it lasted it was fun if not spectacular, but it was an elegant use of the GamePad's motion-sensing qualities.
Toad's task in this level was to circle round a lava dragon, similar to the one in Super Mario Galaxy. With no weapons to hand, he had to stay hidden behind pieces of cover to avoid the dragon's poison breath, whilst being aware of flaming meteors falling from above. It was a bit like a less nightmarish version of the Scarecrow stealth game from Batman: Arkham Origins, and that's something I wasn't expecting from Treasure Tracker.
I do have reservations over how Captain Toad's Treasure Tracker can keep its slower-paced puzzling fresh and interesting over a full game, however long it proves to be. That said, I was impressed by its ability to change up the play while retaining that core look and style. If it can keep doing that then it'll be a good day's hunting for Captain Toad when his game hits Wii U this holiday.