'Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker' is out for Nintendo Wii U on 2 January 2015
After a miserable 2013, this year has been something of a triumph for Nintendo. To some extent that's just a question of making good games - and it's done that with aplomb. It's released at least two absolute classic Wii U system sellers in Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros, and a clutch of other excellent titles for its handheld and living room systems.
But more than just quality control, Nintendo has done something else in 2014 - it has found its voice. A sort of quiet, creative madness - a great artist, locked in a small room, building whole worlds out of primary colours and bricks.
And for all the bombast of its marquee titles, it's arguably 'Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker' which shows what that really means.
'Treasure Tracker' is essentially an expansion of a mini-game from last year's Super Mario 3D World. You are the titular Toad, a hardy, brave little guy who -- alas -- cannot jump. Your task is to explore various small, but wondrously intricate puzzle-box stages for gems, and collect the star locked away (usually in plain sight). To do this you have to navigate standard platform obstacles like mechanised enemies and moveable blocks, but also rotate the entire world with your gamepad, looking for entry points and solutions.
It plays something like a cross between basic Mario and the iOS classic 'The Room'. It's not expansive but it's deep, clever and inventive. And while the original mini game gave a brief glimpse into the concept, here it's mined to literal, and delightful, exhaustion. You'll travel to haunted houses, ice worlds and castles, defeat bosses with your brains (not your button bashing) and have a tremendous amount of fun in the process.
And that's the point, really. The core of this game is an idea that would just about sustain a middling iOS hit. As a full console release, in theory, it's almost painfully thin. But in practice it's almost as rich as any open world shooter or racing game - and it's imbued with a love and originality that no hipster indie developer can match, no matter how many art degrees hang on their wall. It functions perfectly. It's filled with content and is surprisingly replayable. And it couldn't have been made by anyone else.
Nintendo is pretty bad at some fairly important things in the world of games, from engaging with the rich sea of opportunity outside of its own hardware to actually making that hardware good.
But what it can do better than anyone is take the simplest game idea in the world, with an art style and central character we've seen in hundreds of forms over three decades, and make you fall in love with it.