Imagine, if you will, a puppy. And a baby Panda. Also a tiny hamster with a tiny party hat eating a tiny birthday cake. Maybe throw in a little piglet in bright red gumboots. That, my friends, is how damn cute Toad's Treasure Tracker is.
All tiny animals aside, Toad's Treasure Tracker is, at it's heart, a clever puzzle game made up of multiple stages in which your job as Toad (in his first ever title of his own) is to find your way through each well designed level you face - collecting as much treasure as you can along the way.
The first surprise you will come across is that the game, post loading screen, opens straight on to a playable level. No start screen, no indication that you're even in control - just play. This little mini tutorial section essentially explains the basics of the game - from movement, camera control, how the levels work and the main premise of the story - without the characters saying a single word. In a few short moments, you know exactly what it is that you are tasked with doing and how to go about doing it.
For those that have played Toad's bonus levels on the equally brilliant Super Mario 3D World, the basic idea of how the game works will be familiar to you - albeit with a few changes. Every level is it's own contained space - often a tightly woven together cube or a long, straight and narrow rectangle. Your goal is simple - find your way through the puzzles between you and the holy Golden Star. Each star you collect will open up new pages in the story book that is the tale of Toad's adventure.
One big difference you'll notice if you're coming from the angle of 3D World - there is no timer in Toad's Treasure Tracker. This comes as a massive relief, as some of the puzzles can be quite tricky - thankfully, you can take all the time you need working through them.
For those unfamiliar with the levels mentioned above, controlling Toad is a little different to controlling other classic Mario characters. Possibly the greatest difference for toad is that he is unable to jump. That backpack he caries around is quite heavy after all! That being said, he can still fall from ledges on to the top of enemies to defeat them. Toad can also pick turnips out of the ground to be thrown, as well as grab the occasional pickaxe which will destroy anything in your path for a limited amount of time. One bonus little known tip - you can tap enemies on the gamepad to stun them momentarily, allowing you a quick getaway if you get stuck.
If the thought of collecting one star per level sounds a little boring to you, fret not my young gamer - there is more! Each level contains 3 gems, usually hidden away off the main path to your precious star - you will need to collect at least some of these in order to unlock certain levels and progress further in the game. There is also a hidden objective for each level, which varies page by page - some objectives revolve around collecting a certain amount coins, while some might have you making it through the stage without being seen by any shy guys.
If you couldn't already tell from the screenshots you've seen - this game is positively gorgeous. Every level you come across, whether it be a a frozen tundra train ride or an underwater exploration, is brimming with vibrant personality. Each stage is meticulously hand crafted, from the way the light falls over the stage to the placement of every block, enemy and gem. You can literally see the high level of polish put into making this game be as perfect as it possibly can.
As mentioned in the beginning of the article - Toad's TT is so damn cute. From the way Toad waddles as he runs to the design of nearly every enemy in the game, this game makes you just want to "awwww" with every new level. Every little animation that plays throughout your time playing is lovingly crafted to look at cute as it possibly can.
The colour palette on this game is sensational. Many of the levels are made up of bright greens, reds, blues and yellows, showing off the cartoon like design of the Mario games we've all come to love and ogle at with the HD capabilities of the Wii U.
And boy, does that HD shine through in this game.
Toad's TT is one of, if not the best game to make use of the Wii U gamepad. While other titles have either messed up the potential it has to offer or forgone the touchscreen completely, Toad comes in and uses the gamepad in subtle ways - but only where it both adds to the game and where it makes sense to use it.
Some levels contain wheels that need rotating, or platforms that need touching to move. These levels add a new dimension to the puzzles that wouldn't be there otherwise. There are even a few levels that set you up in a mine cart on rails, where your job is to throw turnips at anything you like.
This doesn't even hinder the off TV capabilities of the Wii U either - you can just as easily sit on the couch without even looking at the TV and play through every single level.
This isn't a game that forces the gamepad on to you and says "hey, use this!" - this is a game where you actually want to use the gamepad. This is a game built around and is perfectly suited to the use of a touchscreen and buttons.
Toad's Treasure Tracker would have been the perfect launch title for the Wii U.
Amiibo support for Toad's TT is possibly one of the best uses for Nintendo's toys-to-life lineup.
While every amiibo can be used with this game (any amiibo can be tapped on the pad to gain an extra life or two per day) the Toad amiibo adds a whole new minigame to every level - find pixel toad. Your goal is to find where the little 8-bit trickster is hiding on the stage - and this can be harder than you might think.
Not only can he be on any surface, but he can be hidden behind platforms, under enemies, even jumping in and out of sight. In order to prove that you have found pixel toad, you must tap him on the Wii U gamepad. This both integrates the gamepad further into the game, as well as adding more depth to every level.
The extra lives other amiibo give you, while seemingly simple, is actually a real boon to the game for beginner players. Having these extra lives available can help young kids or non-gaming family members still enjoy the game without the stress of running out of tries to finish any given level.
Whether you're an old school Nintendo veteran picking up your umpteenth 1st party title or a spring chicken just being introduced to the wonderful world of Nintendo fandom, this is a title you will want to pick up. Toad's Treasure Tracker is good fun, able to be played in bite sized chunks or long gaming sessions, has plenty of reasons to jump back in to levels again and again while making you feel a little bit smart while you're at it.
Puzzles, cuteness and content galore awaits!
Now, if Nintendo can just make a Treasure Tracker Toad and a Toadette amiibo...