The Switch version of Captain Toad is a no-brainer. Given that Nintendo’s latest home console (of sorts) is massively more popular than the Wii U was, it’s only logical that Captain Toad would be the latest in a long line of ports aimed at giving some of the Wii U’s brilliant library a second chance at success.
For many, then, it’s the 3DS port – due for release on the same day as the Switch one – that’s raised a little more curiosity. After all, some question whether it’s necessary to keep committing resources to a system enjoying its twilight years, but the likes of WarioWare Gold and the upcoming Luigi’s Mansion remake prove that Nintendo’s still keen on ensuring those 70+ million 3DS systems out in the wild keep getting new games, at least for now. It’s just as well, really, because the 3DS version of Captain Toad is a fascinating demonstration of just how much it’s possible to squeeze out of this now seven-year-old device.
What’s initially impressive when playing the 3DS version is just how faithful everything is to the Wii U game. Like Hyrule Warriors Legends and Poochy & Yoshi’s Woolly World before it, it’s clear that sacrifices in visual detail have been made but the overall package is still the same. Most notable (especially when playing the Switch version then jumping over to the 3DS one) are the jaggier visuals, something which is pretty much inescapable given the 3DS’s humble resolution. Everything looks significantly rougher here, but that’s what you get when you’re dealing with a 400x240 output. When zoomed out the game’s levels can become a tad too low-res for comfort, though never to the extent that you can’t identify specific parts of the stage and figure out where to go next.
The frame rate also takes an understandable knock, from the stable 60 frames per second of the Wii U and Switch versions to (a similarly stable) 30fps. It’s certainly noticeable and does make things feel a little less slick and polished as a result, but given the slow pace of the game, it doesn’t really affect the way it’s played. One area in which it does achieve parity with the Wii U version is the controls. Since the Wii U technically used two screens, the 3DS version directly imitates them: the top screen is essentially the ‘TV’ while the touch screen stands in for the Wii U GamePad.
This means that, as in the initial release, you can use the touch screen to manipulate elements of the game world: moving blocks, spinning wheels, stunning enemies and the like. The Switch version obviously does this too in handheld mode, but while docked players instead have to make do with a less intuitive motion-controlled pointer. Since 3DS is handheld-only, no such concessions are necessary and it’s touch-based goodness for all.
This does, however, make for a curious situation in which both the top and bottom screen show similar action. In fact, they pretty much show exactly the same thing, albeit with the top screen obviously showing a little more of the sides due to its widescreen aspect ratio. Since both screens are rendering the same detailed 3D environments, it would be interesting to know how much processing power could have been freed had only one screen been showing the game instead. Maybe if the top screen had only shown information like level details and your life counter, improvements could have been made to, say, the frame rate.
That said, it’s still useful to have the action replicated on the top screen too, if only because it lets you play the game in 3D. Yes, it’s fair to say the 3DS’s stereoscopic 3D feature no longer drops jaws in the ways it did back in 2011, but there are still occasional new releases that remind you just how impressive it can be when used properly (take a bow, Metroid: Samus Returns).
This is very much the case here: Captain Toad’s self-contained floating 3D stages and its general concept of rotating and zooming around them works perfectly in three dimensions, and genuinely gives the 3DS version an edge over the Wii U one, even despite its lack of oomph in other visual aspects. This is easily one of the better uses of 3D in recent years, and it’s nice to see Nintendo still supporting it when it fits as well as it does here.
The 3DS version also gets the new Super Mario Odyssey-themed stages that have been added to the Switch port. Unlocked through general gameplay or instantly using the Mario wedding amiibo, these lovely new stages perfectly capture the feel of Odyssey and are clear highlights in this new release. It’s a bit of a shame, however, that these stages replace the four Super Mario 3D World-themed stages that were in the Wii U version. It would’ve been nice to have had those too, making the new ports the definitive versions of the game, but as it is you’re still going to want to keep hold of your old Wii U copy if you want to have access to every single stage.
Ultimately though, we’re only talking about four levels being substituted for new ones, and if you can live with that then you’re otherwise still getting the full experience here. While it could be argued that the Switch version is now the definitive one – its docked and handheld modes bettering both the Wii U and 3DS versions in terms of visual fidelity – that doesn’t mean the 3DS port should be ruled out entirely as a waste of time.
Indeed, given the relative lack of power in Nintendo’s little 3D wonder, it’s fair to say the 3DS version of Captain Toad is the most impressive: not only in terms of what it manages to pull off, but how it actually manages to improve things in a way with its effective use of 3D.
If you own a Switch then there’s no real decision to be made here: Captain Toad is still far and away better on Nintendo’s latest system. That’s not to say the 3DS version is a write-off, though, because that’s far from the case. As seemingly one of the final few big-name releases for the system, Captain Toad pushes it to its limits to produce easily one of the best-looking 3DS games ever made. The 3DS may be preparing for retirement, but games like this are ensuring it’s going out in a blaze of glory.