I’m one of the people that was worried when Paper Mario: Color Splash was shown off. I was disappointed by Sticker Star on the 3DS and was dreading another game in that vein. The card system for battling was back. It didn’t look like there was going to be much in the way of RPG elements and it seemed like it was going to be a generic adventure game. Despite that I was still saying that the game deserved a chance to stand on its own and people needed to wait until the game was out to pass judgement. I’m glad to see it’s a good thing I came into the game with an open mind, because it’s actually really good.
Let’s just get this out of the way now and address the elephant in the room. The battle system from Sticker Star still remains. It’s been tweaked some, but it’s still the card based system that was introduced in that game. At the beginning of each turn you choose a series of cards that you’ll play. These can range from traditional jump and hammer attacks to fire and ice flower power ups or you can even attack with Koopa Troopas or Shy Guys. The order that you place these cards on the screen will be the order that you carry them out in. You need to make sure to plan ahead and really know how much damage will be dealt with each card. If you’re careless you could end up jumping on top of spiked enemies or throwing fireballs at Paratroopas. Those attacks would be wasted and could even damage Mario in the process.
The biggest problem with the battle system this time around, however, is that it’s just so tedious to even attack. Before each of your turns you have to sort through your cards and choose the attacks you want to use. You then have to fill them in with paint, set those cards as ready and then flick them up towards the TV. There are no less than four or five taps on the screen before you can even attack. From that point you then get to the typical Paper Mario style battles. You can time button presses to do additional damage to enemies or block incoming damage to keep you from getting hurt. Since the cards are used up when you attack and lost forever you still run the risk of not having any attacks that would be useful when needed. This has been mitigated somewhat by the addition of a “Battle Spinner”. This new mechanic allows you to get one random attack that may or may not be what you need, but at least lessens the chance that you’ll be completely defenseless when in a battle.
Nintendo has really shown that they understand how to develop games on HD systems. Visually, Color Splash is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. That’s not just me saying that. I really do think it’s a gorgeous game. From the opening moments when you see Peach standing in the rain outside of Mario’s door I was blown away by just how good it looks. Every character looks like they’re created on thick card stock. They have depth to them. They have a slight shimmer to them that you’d see with the light reflecting off of their surface. Enemies that jump out at you from the water look washed out and faded. Everything in this game is made from different types of paper. The levels look like they’re made from paper craft or corrugated cardboard. You can see, in great detail all of the texture of everything in the environment. The paint effects look better than they did in Splatoon. The paint looks thick. It looks wet and it looks messy. Nintendo really knows how to take their games and make them look real. More than any gritty, realistic shooter; more than any open world game; Nintendo’s games have benefited the most from their move to HD and Color Splash takes everything they’ve learned and ups it in huge ways.
Like any Mario RPG there are light puzzle solving elements present here as well, but they take the paper mechanic and work with that in fun, unique ways. You have the ability to cut up the world. At different points if you find yourself stuck in a level there’s a good chance that a simple check of the environment will wield an area that can be cut to open up a new path to continue. Sometimes enemies will hide behind waterfalls where they’re tormenting a Toad you need to rescue. Sometimes Luigi will be hiding in a bathroom and the only way to get him out is to cut open the door. Just find those areas, trace your finger around it on the touch screen and it will fall away. Sometimes those hidden areas will reveal new cards that you can use to battle enemies. The puzzles aren’t hard and you’re almost always guaranteed to have what you need on hand. If you’re stuck then your partner Huey can tell you where you need to look to find the item you need. The giant real world objects are back this time and you’ll use them to solve some of these puzzles. For example a Toad stranded on a wrecked boat in the ocean can be rescued by using a fan to create huge gusts of wind or can be rescued from a pipe by using a plunger to unclog him from the drain.
Paper Mario: Color Splash isn’t the Paper Mario game I originally wanted. However, it’s a game I very much enjoyed. Despite the flaws with the battle system still present it was a game I found I just didn’t want to put down. The writing is terrific. It’s visually one of, if not the best, game on the Wii U. A game that I was worried about playing, after the disappointment of Sticker Star ended up being a game I very much enjoyed. It still doesn’t stand up to the early Paper Mario games for me, but it’s one I’m glad I played and one I would come back to again in the future.
Review copy of the game provided by Nintendo
Played through the entire Story
Total Play Time: 30 hours