The exact moment Paper Mario: Color Splash was revealed earlier this year during a Nintendo Direct, a ruckus arose from fans of the Paper Mario series. The resemblance to the previous entry, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, was clear as day. The series has long since ditched RPG mechanics that were ever so prominent in the first two iterations in favor of what is meant to be a more streamlined play experience.
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platform: Wii U
Released: October 7, 2016 (NA)
Color Splash, like just about every other Mario game, has a very simple story. Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach, Mario has to save her. Slight alternations to that formula tend to occur from time to time and this game is no exception. During a stormy night, Mario receives company at his door—Princess Peach and Toad (not Toadsworth, more on that later). The two of them give a letter to Mario and as it is unfolded, it turns out to really be a blank Toad completely drained of his color. There is no writing on him but an address to a place known as Prism Island. The crew heads out to Prism Island and upon arriving, they meet a talking paint can who goes by the name of Huey. He explains that Bowser, covered in black paint, has stolen the six Big Paint Stars in the town’s plaza. So Mario and Huey must travel across the island to recover them and discover the mystery of the black paint.
In battle, Mario uses cards that must be painted to attack his enemies. Certain attacks work on enemies but won’t work on others which leaves room for experimentation. Upon victory in battle, Mario receives hammer scraps that increase his maximum amount of paint. In that respect, battling actually serves a purpose unlike Sticker Star, which quite literally rewards nothing for victory other than stickers that can be found and purchased anyways. One can argue that increasing maximum paint isn’t really needed since the world is plastered in the stuff, but I ultimately found it reassuring that my efforts for battling were rewarded, even if just a little bit.
Color Splash is by far the funniest Mario game I have ever played. Hell, it’s one of the funniest video games I’ve played. From memes and pop culture references to self-referential humour and amusing character interactions, this game has it all. It’s a train ride of constant laughs from start to finish and I loved every second of it.
Upon watching trailers prior to the game’s release, it was abundantly clear that the visuals were bound to deliver and I’m happy to confirm that they absolutely do. Quite literally everything in the world of Color Splash is made up of paper and cardboard, and the way the game constantly acknowledges that is a sheer joy. The soundtrack is also incredibly top notch and will see a variety of instruments throughout the soundtrack, such as harmonica melodies in a countryside grill restaurant or catchy piano tunes in the game’s circus levels.
When I think of Paper Mario in retrospect, one of the first things that comes to mind is all of the amazing character designs. From partners like a Boo with lots of feminine qualities or an elderly sailor Bob-Omb, to NPC characters like a gang of Koopas or Piantas resembling the Italian mob, the first three Paper Mario entries were brimming with clever and interesting character designs. Like its predecessor, Color Splash is entirely filled with Toads. And I mean these little guys are everywhere. Not only that, but even the significant Toads you will encounter throughout the story such as a receptionist of an abandoned hotel or a train engineer all have colors and facial expressions to distinguish them from each other—that’s it. Hell, even Toadsworth—Princess Peach’s elderly steward—has been replaced with a generic red Toad who barely has any dialogue during the game.
While only a minor complaint, I feel I should still address the fact that there is no way to speed up Mario’s movement outside of battle. The first two Paper Mario games had Badges which allowed Mario to have various effects both in and out of battle. One of these allowed Mario to spin and move a bit faster in the overworld, making travelling much quicker and less tedious. Color Splash has no such feature, and as a result Mario is forced to walk everywhere. This adds a hefty amount of play time and also makes it trickier to avoid enemies that will try to attack you in the overworld preemptively, such as Koopas.
Things make a return from Sticker Star, which are random objects such as a fire extinguisher or an ice pick with no paper aesthetics. These are required to solve certain puzzles as well as to defeat certain bosses, although in the event that you are unclear of what to do, a Toad can be found in the hub world that will give you hints as to what thing you need and where it can be found. Things can also be purchased from another Toad in town. All of these and more tips can be found in the electronic manual for the game which yes, I am mentioning here because it is fantastic. Without going into too much detail, the electronic manual for the game is very visually pleasing and features things like a Q&A, tips and tricks, and jokes…in the game’s manual (I’m not kidding). Speaking of purchasing things, Coins are very easy to come across due to the game’s Roshambo Temples, which are little side areas in which Mario win three games of roshambo (or rock-paper-scissors, if you prefer to call it that) in order to earn tons of Coins and special cards. Returning to my mention of bosses, all of them have their own gimmick which make the battles stand out very much and almost feel like a boss from the older Paper Mario games which is a very welcome addition. Without spoiling anything, the final boss of the game has a gimmick that can be very frustrating if you’re unprepared. I’ll leave it at that.
Every rose has its thorn, right? I’ve already expressed that I’m okay with the battles barely rewarding the player with anything, but let’s talk a little bit about the battling itself. In order to do a simple attack, I must scroll through my list of cards which are (and can only be) arranged in a straight line. Then, I have to move the cards up to the designated slots and paint them to increase their power. Next, I must select a button to confirm my choice, and lastly I have to hold down and flick the card to slide it up. Worth mentioning is that the card must be held down directly in the center otherwise it won’t register. Now I can finally do my battle commands and proceed with the fight. Why all of these steps are present is beyond me, and it makes for an ultimately irritating and superfluous battle system, especially considering you will have to do this every single time you battle.
At the end of the day, Paper Mario: Color Splash is a game that a lot of people are going to intentionally miss out on because of the series’ departure from the RPG format. If you ask me, I think that is a shame because Color Splash does far more things right than it does wrong and has a lot of neat ideas to boot. From amazing visuals to clever writing to catchy tunes left and right, Color Splash is a relic of a game that achieves success in exploring new concepts that work, more often than not. I recommend this game wholeheartedly.