2014 Hottest Toys CaptainToad TreasureTrackerWow. Toad. That takes me back. Specifically, back to Super Mario Bros. 2 (SMB2) for the original Nintendo Entertainment System console. As I recall, he wasn’t very good at either jumping or breaking bricks with his head (Though no character in the game was good at that last one), but he was just aces when it came to plucking objects out of the ground. Toad, who has always resembled an anthropomorphic mushroom, never really went away. However, he gets a well-deserved starring role in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, from Nintendo, which recycles a few play mechanics from SMB2, but is a neat puzzle game in its own right.

The plot of the game is Captain Toad and Toadette, both fortune hunters, are about to collect one of those glowing, Super Mario Bros.-universe stars. Suddenly, a giant bird, Wingo, swoops in and grabs it for itself. Toadette hangs on for the ride, leaving Captain Toad to mount the ideal type of rescue for a treasure tracker: one that leads him through all kinds of puzzling levels and past various precious items. While there are all kinds of obstacles, including those Shy Guy-type hostiles who appeared in SMB2, for the most part, they’re of the thinking variety, meaning players will have to use their brains more than just their twitchy fingers.

2014 Hottest Toys Captain ToadFrom a visual perspective, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is never anything short of dazzling. The animation of the characters is smooth, the colors practically pop off the screen, and most importantly, each level is a fully realized 3-D universe of which players can explore every angle. While the game designers took advantage of the console’s technology to create these worlds, they utilized the GamePad’s features to fashion a highly immersive experience: The joystick makes Toad move, while the buttons cause him to pull objects out of the ground, run faster, etc. On the other hand, the thumbpad causes the camera view to rotate. This is key, as players can only see every hidden level, bad guy, or piece of treasure, by rotating around.

In the early levels, most of the obstacles are solved either by knocking off an enemy, pulling a special object out of the ground, or manipulating part of the level—for example, there are sections of wall that can be made to slide up and down by pressing the GamePad’s touchscreen. As the levels progress, new hurdles emerge, and some of them are quite whimsical. There’s a labyrinth level, for instance, in which players use a special item to create a double of Toad, and each one has to travel a different path. They act as mirrors to the other, so players must utilize them in particular ways in order to reach the end successfully.

Players will also have a chance to play as Toadette, which is reason enough to take up the adventure. Meanwhile, like many classic puzzle games, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker has definite replay value: Even after clearing a level, players can have a redo, either to try and complete it faster or to pick up any valuables they may have missed the first time around. The overall level of difficulty can vary; that is, if the goal is just to complete each level, even novice players should be able to get through just fine. The real challenge is to get every last jewel or gold coin, and that takes real grit, brains, and determination. In other words, it takes a Toad.