Game Review: “Paper Mario: Color Splash”

Wasted away again in Margaritaville...
Wasted away again in Margaritaville…

The Paper Mario series is a bit of a sore spot for gamers of a certain age. In the beginning, the game stayed close to its Super Mario RPG roots by mixing platforming elements into its role-playing core, and early games in the series won plaudits for their unique combat systems, creative partner character designs, and overarching stories. Over time, however, the game’s RPG/platforming mix shifted as Nintendo attempted to distinguished Paper Mario from its Mario & Luigi series, with Paper Mario becoming more of an experimental platform while Mario & Luigi remained a traditional RPG. This change did not sit well with fans of the original Paper Mario games, and more recent games in the games have taken heat for their generic characters (#SlapAToadOnIt (NSFW)), minimal story (in fact, legendary Mario creator Shigeru Minamoto thought Paper Mario: Sticker Star didn’t need a story at all), and bizarre gimmicks (using stickers to fight? Really?).

Sticker Star, in particular, has developed a reputation as one of the worst games released in the past few years, representative of all of the ills that have plagued the Mario series in the Wii U/3DS era. Lonely Goomba summed these issues succinctly by declaring new Mario games were lacking one major ingredient: heart (again, NSFW).

Well, said Goomba has been very complementary towards Color Splash this weekend, along with a lot of other reviewers. I’m not surprised, because  unlike many of the new Mario games we’ve seen lately, Paper Mario: Color Splash doesn’t just have heart—it’s got heart in spades.

What I like:

Truer words were never spoken.
Truer words were never spoken.
  • The writing in this game is spectacular. There is no such thing as a throwaway line in the character dialogue—everyone has something interesting to say. The enemies even throw out amusing lines during battle (it’s not quite “You fight like a dairy farmer!” but it’s still charming).
  • Despite the lack of visual diversity between characters, there are a lot of distinct personalities amongst the NPCs you interact with. A generic-looking Toad turns out to be JUSTICE TOAD, a hyperbole-prone defender of the innocent! A normal-looking Shy Guy enemy turns out to be a bullying victim that helps you after you flatten his tormentors. Even Huey, your paint-can companion that serves as your only company in the game, is a witty, attitude-filled character that is a step up from Tippi and Kersti from the previous two games. (The benefits of only having a single companion, as opposed to the multiple ones you get in the early Paper Mario games, means that the developers can really go to town and infuse that companion with context-specific personality.)
  • The platforming gameplay is surprisingly addictive! I found myself scouring each level looking for far-flung secrets and filling in blank spots with paint. The painting mechanic could have easily fallen under the ‘bizarre gimmick’ category, but it’s well-implemented and enhances the gameplay rather than detracts from it.
  • The music is outstanding. It does a great job of setting the mood for each level.

What I didn’t like:

  • The battle system isn’t bad, but it’s really clunky:
    • You have to cycle through all your battle cards (up to 99 of them!).
    • You have to confirm your choices with a button.
    • You have to press on the cards you chose to fill them up with paint.
    • You have to confirm your paint levels with a button.
    • Finally, you have to “flick” your cards on to the TV screen to use them.

    Even with the Advanced controls removing one of the button presses, this is really slow. Oh, and you have to figure out which enemy to target too (something I haven’t actually figured out how to do yet). Worst of all, if you take too long to select your attacks, certain enemies will swoop in and steal one of your cards, which is infuriating.

    I’m also not a fan of the cards being single-use. As a CCG fan, I’d prefer a system that allows you to build a deck and use a limited subset of the cards during each turn in battle. Finally, the card setup forces players to focus on the gamepad, which means you miss seeing the enemy’s witty banter in between turns. Overall, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Paper Mario battle system (I prefer the traditional, multi-hero RPG setup), but I feel like this battle system could have set up a lot better.

Is the game fun?

Hey, it worked for me.
Hey, it worked for me.

Honestly, yes! Even with the sub-par battle system, I find myself drawn to the game, and ended up playing it a lot more than I initially expected . I haven’t been this attracted to a game since Mario Maker came out last year. Heck, I’ve even passed up watching streams from some of my favorite gamers in favor of this game! Nintendo put a lot of time and effort into this game, and it shows.

Rating: 8/10. It’s not the sequel to The Thousand-Year Door that a lot of people wanted, but it’s a fun game in its own right, and helps restore the luster to the Paper Mario franchise.