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‘Captain Toad’ is So Fucking Cute It Will Make You Sick

Honestly, it is so violently adorable we just can't.

Within the greatest darkness, pitched beyond the echoes of our fears, self-doubt and voids is a half-crescent smile belonging to a flesh-coloured mushroom man with high-waisted pants and a childlike hand designed explicitly to wave at others. It is a creature of pure good and bumbling innocence, beaconing both brightly in a Mushroom Kingdom that's almost defined by those traits, too.

We once thought, "aw, Yoshi, Yoshi's the cute one." Yoshi dances and sings lullabies and eats berries and poops eggs on a whim. Yoshi, dino pal and a shortcut to kids' hearts for whom we'll go on ​safari or to the co​okie factory with.

No, no longer. Fuck you Yoshi, for I have seen Toad in a little red neckerchief and a bouncing backpack that wobbles side to side like a pug struggling to walk. I have seen thee Toad in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, a Wii U game so violently adorable it puts me in a nauseating fever just thinking about it. I need a damp cold cloth.

Shot of inside the gameplay. Image: YouTube

Toads are the froggy-voiced pudgy fungus people from the Super Mario series. Perpetually overjoyed civilians not unlike the Smurfs, even to the point that the female one is just named "Toadette."

Originally the bearer of bad news about what castle your princess is/isn't in, the little scamps have evolved from peons to kart drivers to assistants to the least popular choice in Super Mario Bros 2 to Peach's human shield in Smash Bros and now their own game. Well, Captain Toad's own game, the Toad from Super Mario Galaxy whose defining feature is wearing a lamp on his head.

Harking back to the simpler era of Mario, games in general, there is barely any story in Treasure Tracker. While enjoying a nice day of gold and exploits, Captain Toad and Toadette are attacked by Wingo, a blackbird dressed like Dame Edna, who snatches up one of the two as well as their biggest score, a giant star.

Look at him yawn, he is adorable! Image: YouTube

In a similar vein to the 3D Land games, each level is a small microcosm, but often even more pocketed to accommodate that the little Toad-os cannot jump or run. Treasure Tracker isn't only precious due to its smiling tiny heroes, or that their voices are so muffled by cuteness that the "Ready for adventure" battlecry that begin each level is unintelligible. It's even more afoul with adorables because many levels are squeezed into hoagie shaped bottled gardens, whimsied up with foliage and little monsters like laboured trinkets from Etsy.

A puzzle-esque adventure for the Toads, you scurry around enemies, shy guys, goombas, and obstacles to nab each star, coin and crystal mushroom. Unable to fight, you'll have to get clever with handling enemies, tossing a turnip, falling on them from above or just sneaking around them.

It feels like the best levels are the cutest ones, and not because they're pulverising your heart strings till your eyes water, but that there's something mechanically smarter happening by proxy. The least appealing stages feel like unused Mario stages, action oriented and a little disorienting to whip the camera around. The best are the teeny tiny ones, the stages that are a cross between Mon​ument Valley vantages and Mighty Max toys.

They are like music boxes. One stage is an actual music box (and another a library, a water park, a pinball machine, a Trans-Siberian express, a neon-lit alley, a haunted house here and there). Little bedside universes floating in space. They're almost more of a star of the show than the little mushroom people running along them, sometimes even cuter. This cuteness is so powerful because it also allows you to concentrate on the design.

Good level design is something that's always separated Super Mario's world from its lifetime of imitators. The tragic thing about the original is that you'll also be zipping through the levels, spending no time to take it in and smell the fire-breathing flowers. Because Captain Toad is not made for this or any world and can barely run, nevermind jump between floating blocks, you'll focus on the little things, of which there are plenty.

There are secrets everywhere, and the cleverest thing about the game is how all the clues are hidden in plain sight. Able to hover the camera around every degree of the stage, solutions are wedged between the cluttered small spaces, keening your eyes to hidden passages amongst colourful distractions, just-hidden windows, techniques you may have trained picked up from those I Spy books.

Cuteness is a curse. You don't spend most of your life thinking about porcupines but the second you remember there's a video of one squeaking like a shy infant and eating corn you're doomed to make room on your schedule. Maybe there's a level designer at Nintendo who felt fed up that the world isn't appreciating their good efforts, and Captain Toad is an exercise to see if you can make the environments as precious as its inhabitants, and if so players will start to melt over them like they do each Pokémon.

But god, what adorable overkill. Hey Nintendo, some of us over here are still trying to be cynical garbage dumps, okay?