The Paper Mario series has been a bit of an odd one for Nintendo. While fans have clamored for new releases in the series, the requests usually come with some caveats. Namely, that it play more like the original title, and its sequel Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. Instead, more recent games have been areas of experimentation, with Super Paper Mario on the Wii being a perfect example, while also trimming some of the deeper gameplay mechanics that fans of the series crave, like in Sticker Star. This is true once again in Paper Mario: Color Splash, which isn’t a deep, RPG-style quest. However, if fans can look past its bucking of expectations, they’ll find a game that is truly worth their attention.
Paper Mario: Color Splash tells a distinctly Mario story, with Bowser up to no good, and a world that is in peril. Color is being drained from Prism Island, causing all sorts of problems. Luckily, with the help of his new paint bucket friend Huey and a really big hammer, Mario is able to fill in these colorless spots, splashing them with paint, and helping set right what Bowser and his minions have made wrong. Along the way they’ll have to collect various paint stars in an attempt to refill the fountain in the middle of the island.
What might seem like a barebones tale that is simply there to let the adventure exist is instead a very enjoyable meta-narrative that fans of Mario will thoroughly enjoy. As has become the norm for the Paper Mario series, Color Splash features excellent, and genuinely humorous writing. Callbacks, jokes, and subtle references are sprinkled throughout, with the humor even dipping its toe ever so gently into more mature territory at some points. While the overall plot won’t be thought of as anything too special, the writing lets the whole thing shine quite spectacularly.
The game also looks gorgeous, with the papercraft visuals truly shining on the Wii U.
The game also looks gorgeous, with the papercraft visuals truly shining on the Wii U. Nintendo has made a few games in this sort of craft style lately, and while they’ve all looked fantastic, Paper Mario: Color Splash ranks at or near the top. Colors are vibrant, and the whole world has a realistic look to it that will draw the player in. You’d think that flat characters and environments would get boring, but it never does, as the inventiveness behind how it all looks and feels will amaze throughout. The visuals are a massive improvement over previous games, but the gameplay might not be seen so well.
Of course, comparisons to older games in the Paper Mario series might lessen the impact, and even cast Paper Mario: Color Splash in a harsher light. Fans will be better served if they take this game on its own merits. RPG elements from past games have been whittled away so much as to be virtually nonexistent, with the only real improvable stats being how much paint you can carry, and your overall health. You no longer have true companions on your journey, instead adventuring solo, aside from Huey, and calling upon various friends via the card battling system. Longtime fans might be understandably upset by these changes, but they are manageable when the rest of the game is so much fun.
Paper Mario: Color Splash has a lot of great things going for it. On top of the aforementioned stellar writing and visuals, the levels are well designed, and the puzzle-platformer style gameplay is quite enjoyable. The world is separated into separate levels, which unlock in a spiderweb sort of fashion. This limits exploration, but also allows for more linear troubleshooting when trying to figure out how to proceed on the main quest. This quest is littered with roadblocks, of course, and while many can get very frustrating to figure out and deal with, overall these times are limited.
Players will also find themselves revisiting levels multiple times. Sometimes this is just to take an alternate path, with a paint star possibly at the end as a reward. Other times it’s to find some hidden character, or other item that will help Mario along the way. This can get a little old, especially if you aren’t sure what needs to be done and where. Thankfully there is a handy hint system, which will key off of your current location, letting you know if you’re on the right track.
While the overall journey of Paper Mario: Color Splash is enjoyable, there is one aspect of the gameplay that isespecially troublesome, and it’s a pretty important one. The combat in Paper Mario: Color Splash is simply dull. Turn-based, with the usual bonuses for timed button presses during your attacks, Color Splash uses cards as its main method of fighting. Instead of just picking a move and performing it, each of Mario’s actions is dictated by a card that you either found or purchased.
To use one of these cards you have to sift through your collection, which can grow to be quite large later in the game, choose a card (or multiple cards later), paint the cards (unless they are pre-painted), then fling them up off the Gamepad to actually perform the action. This sounds more cumbersome than it actually is, especially if you alter the controls to one of the more streamlined methods, but it is still not fun to do at almost any point. It’s just boring to go through your cards, looking for the one you want, then having to go through all of these actions every single time.
There is strategy to what moves you use and how much you paint them, as that dictates how effective they are. You need to plan for the number of enemies, what type they are, and how many you’re fighting. Sometimes this can lead to enjoyable moments of tactical maneuvering, but usually it just means you spam the objectively best attack for the situation, and hope that you get them all on the first attack round. The game never really reaches levels where it is too difficult, unless you start to run out of cards. While you can purchase a semi-random card in-battle, if you get low it can be a real pain to deal with. Having to run back to the main hub town every time you run low on cards gets old quickly, though you’ll thankfully have plenty of coins to spend on them all.
Despite all of these things I found myself drawn into Paper Mario: Color Splash far more than I initially thought I would. The game does well when it plays to its strength, letting you explore the world and talk to its many interesting characters. Platforming and puzzle solving are also highlights, though the former does suffer from some perspective issues at very few points. The battle system gets in the way, but you can avoid a lot of the fights, which is actually preferable since they offer little in the way of rewards without RPG elements.
Once again Nintendo has delivered an overall enjoyable game that doesn’t seem to deliver what fans may have initially expected. Putting aside expectations though, Paper Mario: Color Splash is a decidedly solid adventure-platformer, with some great storytelling and humor layered on top. The papercraft visuals are gorgeous, and the soundtrack will have you humming along in just a few minutes. The card-based battle system is a real downer though and the loss of deeper gameplay elements is still hard felt, dragging the whole experience down quite a bit.
Paper Mario: Color Splash
- Available On: Wii U
- Published By: Nintendo
- Developed By: Intelligent Systems
- Genre: Action-Adventure
- US Release Date: October 7th, 2016
- Reviewed On: Wii U
- Quote: "Once again Nintendo has delivered an overall enjoyable game that doesn't seem to deliver what fans may have initially expected. Putting aside expectations though, Paper Mario: Color Splash is a decidedly solid adventure-platformer, with some great storytelling and humor layered on top. The papercraft visuals are gorgeous, and the soundtrack will have you humming along in just a few minutes. The card-based battle system is a real downer though and the loss of deeper gameplay elements is still hard felt, dragging the whole experience down quite a bit."
- Gorgeous papercraft style visuals
- Excellent and humorous writing
- Well designed and enjoyable levels
- Dull card-based combat system
- Loss of deeper gameplay elements from the series