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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker strikes gold | Why I Love

Togges game director Lucas Bonatti draws inspiration from Nintendo's endlessly inventive puzzle platformer

Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This entry was contributed by Lucas Bonatti, Game Director of Regular Studio, who are launching sandbox 3D ‘puzzle stackformer' Togges on PlayStation, Xbox, PC and Switch on December 7th

There's a lot of discussion about what makes a certain type of game good or not. Endless discussions that result in the formulation of pre-established rules about what should be followed. While some genre conventions have resulted in almost universal adoption – like first-person shooters using dual analogue stick controls, for example – sometimes these foundations have prevented new ideas from flourishing.

All genres have these discussions – be they first-person shooters, Metroidvanias, or Souls-likes – but the 3D platformer is certainly one of the most heavily debated. What makes a good platformer? Is it jumping? The movesets? The collectibles? Indeed those all seem instrumental, but in my view, what makes those games so beloved by many is their inventiveness.

It's how they take a concept, turn it into a mechanic, and squeeze it to its limit, presenting something simple in different and surprising ways. For example, rolling a gigantic ball in the Katamari series is extremely satisfying because you're constantly absorbing new and hilarious objects (or animals, or people) that change the level layout as you grow in size and steer your comical kaiju towards cosmic dominion. Or look at Super Mario Galaxy, where stages are full of tiny little planets and asteroids with their own take on gravity, constantly presenting new ideas in novel ways.

Captain Toad promotional screenshot

I think one of the best examples of this constant reinvention is Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Set in a series of small diorama worlds, Captain Toad doesn't have an elaborate moveset or even the ability to jump. Given that platformers are seemingly associated with this action (remember Mario was originally called Jumpman in the original Donkey Kong), this would seem to be sacrilege. Yet it is the removal of these most pre-established concepts of the genre that makes the game shine.

There's an obvious limitation on Toad's movements, but the developers take full advantage of this

There's an obvious limitation on Toad's movements, but the developers take full advantage of this. The player is forced to move around and explore every inch of its tiny diorama worlds, zig-zagging around to ensure you've covered every inch of these compact little puzzles. Since the stage size is so limited, backtracking feels extremely satisfying, as you continue to experiment with the puzzles.

Of course, it is not just the absence of the jump that makes Captain Toad so great: it's how the developer plays with the core mechanics of the game. Suddenly, simply rotating the camera to find another point of view becomes your biggest weapon. Or you'll gather a power-up that duplicates your character, making you cover twice the area at the expense of creating chaotic situations with double the avatars to control. Or you'll push a button that creates new paths, modifying the world completely. The list goes on and on. It feels like every moment the game explores the joy of inventiveness!

It's worth noting that initially, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker began as a series of simple mini-games in Super Mario 3D World. These jump-less puzzle stages were supposed to be a small piece of a larger whole by offering variation to the pacing. Yet people loved these stages so much that Nintendo managed to expand them into an entire game. What's more impressive is that the developers managed to do this without running out of ideas, resulting in an entire adventure that felt fresh and inventive throughout.

Captain Toad promotional screenshot

This is what I was looking to achieve with Togges; that feeling of discovering something, of being surprised by its creativity at every turn. Togges, like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, is a new take on the 3D platformers. Instead of controlling a jumping avatar, you stack a trail of blocks across a sprawling world to gather new powers and collectibles. But within that simple structure we keep expanding on this core by introducing new game mechanics throughout, usually expanding on something previously seen in a new way, sparking the player's curiosity and imagination.

We wanted players to think, "Huh, is that possible? Let me try it. Oh my god it worked!" It's a great feeling for both players and game developers alike. I love it when games try to capture that feeling of finding something new for the first time. It never fails to get me excited about what's to come.

I've always loved to see games explore all new concepts. While Nintendo didn't need to create a jump-less platformer, it was this simple restriction that inspired the developers to think outside the box and come up with entirely new ideas that fit this limitation. I hope to see more games continue pushing the boundaries of established conventions, and if it's anything like creating Togges, devs will have a great time doing it!

Developers interested in contributing their own Why I Love column are encouraged to reach out to us at news@gamesindustry.biz.

Author

Lucas Bonatti

Game Director of Regular Studio