The release of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker in North America — it hits Europe on 2nd January — is sure to tempt a few into adding the retail release as a stocking filler. Bursting with charm and providing a substantial spin-off from the popular bonus stages in Super Mario 3D World, it incorporates a host of clever ideas and GamePad features to deliver one of the most distinctive Wii U experiences in 2014 — at least, that's what we thought in our review.

As a project it was also a relatively recent surprise, only unveiled at E3 in June before arriving just over six months later. Just recently it was also reported that the idea was originally a Zelda concept; keen to learn more about this and the development of the project, we got in touch with Nintendo.

We've been able to pitch some questions at game director Shinya Hiratake and producer Koichi Hayashida, to learn more on the game's origins, the team's goals in making Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker enjoyable for all players, and what exactly Captain Toad and Toadette are carrying in those backpacks.


Can you please introduce yourselves and explain your role in the development of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker?

Hiratake-san: I’m Shinya Hiratake, the director. I was in charge of level design in Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World. From the start of this project right up until the very end, I made sure everything came together. I even brought around sweets and treats to make sure the development staff had even more fun in their work.

Hayashida-san: I’m Koichi Hayashida, the producer. I was the director for Super Mario 3D World. Although this was my first time as producer, in the latter half of the development I was even more involved than I was when working on Super Mario 3D World in checking over the overall project.

It has been revealed that Captain Toad actually began life as a Zelda project. Can you explain how it evolved into what it is now?

Hayashida-san: It seems like the truth has gotten a little twisted here (haha). When we started work on Super Mario 3D World, we created a number of tests, one of which was a stage where you look in from the outside; a little diorama stage using Mario. The thing we noticed was that if Mario could jump, the stages become pretty big so we wondered whether it would be possible to make a game with a character who can’t jump. Hiratake submitted an idea to Mr. Miyamoto, the father of both Super Mario and Zelda, to use Link as the character. Unfortunately, this idea was stopped right at the planning stage. We really wanted to do something with it though and looked for another character who might not be able to jump, eventually landing on Captain Toad who appeared in Super Mario Galaxy. He’s carrying a backpack so it makes sense that he can’t jump. That’s why we decided to go with Captain Toad as the lead here and include him as part of Super Mario 3D World.

At what stage did this become a full retail project? Was it during development of the Super Mario 3D World bonus stages, or was it a decision taken after that game had been finished?

Hayashida-san: From the start of our work on Super Mario 3D World we wanted to make this into its own game. Once Super Mario 3D World ended, Mr. Miyamoto actually asked us if we’d make a Captain Toad game, and the project started from there. We were really happy.

Were there any particular challenges in creating a full game from this concept?

Hiratake-san: At the start of this project, we created over 100 stages and played through them all together as a team. What we learned was that just walking around would get rather dull after a while. So we came up with was a new action that even Captain Toad, who can’t jump, could do; plucking. By pulling things up, he can get a hold of treasure, or interact with certain objects in the map, giving a greater variety of gameplay.

We also managed to fill the game with huge stages like the Boss battles or Mine Cart stages and a real variety of other mechanics to create a game you’ll never get tired of.

What strikes us is that this game is balanced to try and suit both newcomers and seasoned, skilled players. Has that been a particular priority in development?

Hiratake-san: Yes, it was! One of the most important points for us was to make this game enjoyable to as wide a range of players as possible.

Getting the Power Star and clearing the stage is relatively easy, but things get harder when you try to collect all the Super Gems or go for the Bonus challenges even if it’s the same stage.

We divided the game into three sections for the same reason. We want users to play a lot of stages, but if there are too many at once, they might feel overwhelmed. By splitting the game into three episodes we can pace things out.

Episode 1 forms the introduction and introduces players to the Captain Toad gameplay.
Episode 2 features more puzzles and mechanics.
Episode 3 features stages which are more like challenges from the designers than anything else and the more you play, the more you’ll get out of them.

Are there any particularly tough challenges for inexperienced gamers, such as manipulating the camera or using the cherry power-up, and do you feel all players will be able to learn and overcome tougher puzzles?

Hiratake-san: We haven’t included a time limit so even less experienced players can take their time and enjoy exploring the stages.

Players will soon get the hang of the controls while they are enjoying Captain Toad’s sweet little mannerisms, and all the interactive sections in the stages.

When you make several Captain Toad clones using the double cherries, it’s especially endearing to watch them all doze off.

To help players who aren’t so good at making quick movements and keep losing lives, an Invincibility Mushroom will appear after a few set-backs and allow them to focus on solving the puzzles.

Even if you get a Game Over, it’s also possible to get a 1-Up or two in the bonus game. If a stage is difficult, you skip ahead to the next page of the book, so even inexperienced players can enjoy their adventure with Captain Toad right through to the end.

Do you have a favourite moment, stage or puzzle from the game?

Hiratake-san: Leave the game alone on the title screen for a bit and you’ll find yourself in the optical illusion stages. In one, moving the camera around you’ll see the object in the center change from a Fire Flower into a Super Star. I think this really highlights the kind of feel we went for in Captain Toad’s adventures. Actually, it was Hayashida who made these stages bit by bit!

Hayashida-san: That’s right! I made them even though I’m supposed to be the producer! (Haha).

Hiratake-san: I also really like all of Captain Toad’s many reactions.

Move the left stick around and around and Captain Toad’s eyes will start spinning and he’ll fall down onto his backside! I think that’s one of my favourites. Actually this is just between us, but while he’s spinning, you can even defeat enemies…!

Hayashida-san: In the mine cart stage, the Wii U GamePad screen shows Captain Toad’s point of view. I’m really glad we managed to get this in and allow players to really feel like they’ve entered a miniature world. The TV screen will show the same 3rd person perspective of Captain Toad on the mine cart so that people around can watch that and point out where to go. It should be fun for everyone involved!

Move the left stick around and around and Captain Toad’s eyes will start spinning and he’ll fall down onto his backside! I think that’s one of my favourites. Actually this is just between us, but while he’s spinning, you can even defeat enemies…!

We have to ask, what’s actually in Captain Toad’s backpack?

Hiratake-san: Hmmm, I wonder…

I’m curious about this too so let’s have a look.

Some coins, a banana, a dumbbell, a pillow…I’m just kidding!

I think we’ll keep the contents of Captain Toad’s backpack the biggest secret of this game.

Would you like to see Captain Toad, Toadette and the other Toads appear in more of their own games in future?

Hayashida-san: Here in the development team we’ve really come to love Captain Toad and the Toad Brigade from Super Mario Galaxy! We’re really happy to have been able to make a game where they are the main stars. I hope we’ll be seeing them pop up in all sorts of other places in future.

Finally, are there any other franchises or Nintendo settings that you feel would suit these diorama puzzle mechanics?

Hayashida-san: In Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, it feels like we managed to recreate the fun of the games we used to play on the NES, but with a modern twist. I worked on this project in parallel to the NES REMIX series [titles available on the Wii U eShop and 3DS] where we pick up some of the best bits from games on NES. I was thinking it might be interesting to turn some of the games there into box worlds like this too. Those of you who enjoyed the Time Attack mode in Captain Toad: Treasure tracker might also like the Time Attack challenges in NES REMIX. I hope you try them out and enjoy!


We'd like to thank Shinya Hiratake and Koichi Hayashida for their time, in addition to Nintendo UK for arranging the interview. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is available now in North America and Japan, and will arrive in PAL regions on 2nd January.