Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a charming little Wii U puzzle game recently ported to the Nintendo Switch and 3DS. Its bubbly characters seem like a natural fit for the Super Mario universe, but it actually began its life as a Legend of Zelda spin-off instead.
Captain Toad game director Shinya Hiratake told Polygon that the studio started with the concept of diorama-style stages with a character who couldn’t jump. It would be a set of small sandboxes with hidden nooks and camera control as a central ingredient.
The natural solution was to use Link, since exploration is a core part of his series. But that idea was ultimately shelved, and revived later when the character of Captain Toad was introduced in Super Mario Galaxy. When Hiratake realized that Captain Toad was a small character with a heavy backpack, it fell into place.
“We thought Link would be a little too courageous and he would want to fight enemies with his weapons,” Hiratake said. “Captain Toad is still courageous, but maybe a little bit weaker, and by having a character like that we thought we could have the player focus on the geography and turning the camera, that kind of gameplay. In the end I think it worked out really well.”
Captain Toad still takes on bosses as originally intended, but he doesn’t fight them the way Link would. Instead, boss gameplay in Treasure Tracker is mostly about avoiding danger and springing traps. And unlike Link, Captain Toad isn’t driven by heroism or valor. He’s more like a cute and cuddly version of the greedy antagonist Wario.
“I really just want to make him someone that loves treasure and you can feel that from him,” Hiratake said. “I think honestly Captain Toad is someone that doesn’t really care what’s going on, but when he sees treasure he’s like, ‘I want it!’ You know, I do question his loyalty to the Mushroom Kingdom a little bit. I think of him like a crow that loves shiny things or a moth to a flame. He just loves treasure so much that he can’t think about anything else–he’s just so happy finding treasure.”
In GameSpot’s Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker review, Daniel Starkey said it “stands as a pint-sized version of Nintendo’s stellar first party pedigree.”