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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is the best Nintendo spin-off in years

Is this mushroom magic?

Talk to people about the superlative Super Mario World 3D World and ask them what they love. It's often a long conversation, but Captain Toad's little puzzles always seem to come up. The mini-levels were designed as quick distractions - brief breaks from Mario and co.'s main platforming adventures - and yet amongst 3D World's inventiveness and capacity to surprise level after level, their simple concept still stood out.

The levels restricted Captain Toad to the most basic of movements. Unable to jump or attack, he was still the diminutive, humble hero from his earlier appearances in the Mario Galaxy games. He was someone more typically found shivering in fear and waiting to be rescued than acting out the role of Nintendo's traditional castle-raider.

But this reversal of Mario's usual tropes and Captain Toad's reliance on timing, speed and skill to scurry around for treasure - as well as Nintendo's usual brilliance for building the levels themselves - left players wanting more. Forum posts and Miiverse messages hungered for a full spin-off starring Nintendo's new hero. More importantly, Nintendo apparently realised that, with a little extra time and room for expansion, the concept could still be improved.

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The basics remain the same. Captain Toad still can't jump and remains fairly weak, reliant on you to navigate him safely around enemies rather than facing off against them direct. Your goal is to collect a single star at the end of each level and as many collectables as possible along the way. It's a little different from 3D World; the original levels there required you to collect five stars before moving on, and all within a time limit. Treasure Tracker can be taken at your own pace and its tricksier levels now have increased replayability as you go back, explore further and pick up anything you missed the first time.

Each map now has three diamonds, a Miiverse stamp and any number of coins hidden inside, in relatively linear but often bamboozling paths that lead from start to finish. Once again you can use the GamePad screen to interact with the environment; as in 3D World, you can tap on coins to collect them remotely and press down with your finger on enemies to hold them still, allowing Toad to pass safely.

There are now on-rails sections too, levels set in mine carts which rattle around the edges of their densely-packed maps. Gameplay shifts into first-person view via the GamePad screen as you shoot turnips (naturally) at nearby stacks of coins and flying enemies to clear a path and collect your prize. Aiming and firing can be performed via the GamePad's gyro controls, while the TV screen shows an overview of the level. It allows onlookers to shout in and help you with knowledge of what's coming up and where to turn and point your turnip cannon, with some secrets only easily spottable when glancing up at the larger screen.

The game's quick turnaround, just a year on from 3D World, is a savvy move from Nintendo to fill a hole in the Wii U's sparse release schedule.

Other levels are now devoted entirely to boss fights - although there is no actual fighting involved. The level we played involved a screen-filling dragon who spat fire and smoke and whose projectiles we had to scurry between rocky crags to avoid.

There are other additions to the formula, such as a special pick-axe power-up that lets Toad attack enemies for a brief period of time - something only available in certain maps. There's also the game's mysterious integration with Nintendo's new Amiibo figurines, details of which have yet to be announced - but which, for our wallets' sake, hopefully won't involve buying too many of them.

How long Nintendo can stretch out the formula for is not yet clear. Treasure Tracker is a disc-based release as well as an eShop download, so will hopefully be a fairly substantial experience with yet more gameplay surprises in store. But at the very least, what we've seen so far suggests that the game is the proper introduction for our newest Nintendo hero, and the fully-realised experience that his earlier debut deserved. Move over, Mario Kart. Leave it out, Luigi's Mansion. Wario Ware - who cares? Captain Toad has arrived.

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