Do you know what I love? Easy games. But how do you decide if a game is too easy? Does deliberately making games easy lead to them being less fun? I’ve found that whilst games critics often praise games for being difficult, if a game is dismissed as being too easy, there can be an intimation that it is no fun. So here I want to celebrate games made with an understanding that being easy and being fun are not mutually exclusive.
In reality, I mostly just want to talk about Nintendo’s fantastic 2014 outing Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. It gets great reviews, including 81 on Metacritic , and a decent 7/10 in (kinda) serious gaming magazine Edge. However, what is usually levelled at the game, and possibly stops it getting even higher scores, is that it is too easy. Is it really fair to mark a game down simply for being too easy for the person reviewing it?
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is often referred to as an ‘action-puzzler’, but here I’m going to call it a ‘platformer’. For the purposes of this article the genre of the game makes little difference, but it does make me feel better about my gaming inabilities. Platformers are not a genre I am naturally inclined towards, and I’ve actually finished this one.
For me, platform games present two problems: jumping and walking in a straight line. Somehow that left stick just doesn’t work well for me! Now Captain Toad (and his much savvier counterpart Toadette ♥), weighed down by treasure as they are, cannot jump. This removes the first of these issues. The other is addressed in the game with generous level design with relatively wide platforms, which make it more difficult to fall off, even if i do occasionally veer uncontrollably one way or the other when trying to escape from Chargin’ Chucks! The game also has an interesting puzzle element, which frequently sees the player standing still and panning the camera around the compact levels (see below), to see what you’ve missed.
Don’t get me wrong though. It is most definitely still a challenge. At the start of the game, it is just a case of getting to the green stars, and picking up any Super Gems you can find along the way. However, as you progress, it becomes clear that you will have to work to find more Super Gems, as progress is gated dependent on how many of these you’ve found. This is great for me, as it means you have to go back and play earlier levels again, which makes you realize you’ve got better at it!
As you might expect, many enemies from the Mario series feature here, and as you might also expect, I don’t like enemies. Whilst there are some levels which are pure puzzles with no monsters to run away from, you are definitely going to have to learn how to deal with a Goomba or two. More often than not, finding the courage to run past the enemies often reaps fun-shaped rewards. Whilst playing the level Turnip Cannon Jungle, I spent 10 minutes trying to work out how to time my run past approximately one million Piranha Creepers. Once I eventually built up the courage, I was rewarded with the aforementioned Turnip Cannon, loaded with infinite turnips. That was goodnight to the Creepers! Even better, game-design-wise, is that when you return to the level later, you are encouraged to hold your fire, and negotiate the enemies more bravely, as the bonus challenge for the level is to complete it firing only one turnip.
Another real joy in this game are the mine cart levels. They are easy. You basically just jump in and roll to the finish. Except, you will also need to find some of the Super Gems, which results in waving the gamepad around the room frantically, firing the trusty turnip cannon at walls and Para-Biddybud’s alike to uncover them. This here is the real beauty of the game – whilst some of it is difficult and presents a challenge even to platforming aficionados, some of it is just fun for fun’s sake. Something does not need to be difficult to be fun after all.
There are a few other features within the game which appeal to me. For example, many of the levels have movable platforms, and to move them, you simply blow on the gamepad, meaning I don’t need to remember what both of the shoulder buttons do! You can also bop enemies on the head using the gamepad screen which stuns them, giving The Captain time to shuffle away! Best of all though, are invincibility mushrooms that appear at the start of levels once you’ve failed it several times. These make it possible for you to complete (most) levels, without having to worry too much about the enemies. However, to my shame, there was still one level I couldn’t do, even with an invincibility mushroom. This was Magma Road Marathon. This is a level featuring dash pads and lava. And fire-dragon things. Oh for Christ’s sake! I’ve still never done it.
Finally, I would like to give an honorary mention to another game, that whilst fiendishly difficult, contains perhaps the most fun AND easy level in platforming history. Take it away, Rayman (Rayman Legends: Ubisoft 2013):
So what do you think? Is Captain Toad too easy? Too difficult? Too cute? What other games do you think balance difficulty and fun effectively? Let me know in the comments!
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Nintendo) is available now on the Wii U.
“Time for adventure!”