Paper Mario: Color Splash Review: Cardboard Lovin’
Greg Johnson / Oct 19th, 2016 No Comments
Paper Mario has had a sordid history due to Nintendo’s attempts to shake things up in terms of gameplay. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door was similar to the original Paper Mario, but every entry onwards has tried to do something different.
Paper Mario: Color Splash takes some gameplay notes from Paper Mario: Sticker Star but is a vastly different game in terms of presentation and, most importantly, story.
Colors, Colors All Around
Mario and Peach set forward to Prism Island upon receiving a mysterious letter, which turns out to be a Toad sucked dry of all his color. Thus begins another whirlwind adventure to uncover who is stealing color.
Sadly, most of the game’s NPCs are toads. However, they have a few accessories and personality quirks to spice them up. The lack of character variety is disappointing, but the witty dialogue and writing makes up for it.
The game mostly follows a similar formula to every typical Mario title — Peach is kidnapped and Mario must visit various locations to find her. But Color Splash has some unique charm. There is some great moments of humor, and friendly NPCs are unique and endearing.
Particularly of note is Huey, Mario’s paint-can companion that serves as guide and comic relief. He’s easily excitable and endears himself through wit and useful advice.
Throughout the adventure, Huey pops off on his own accord or when players summon him to provide insight on Mario’s direction. Players will find themselves more excited for his jokes, and he has a lot.
A heartfelt moment between the duo, in which Huey promises to stand by Mario’s side through thick and thin, ends abruptly when a Chain Chomp attacks. Huey immediately bails on Mario, whom players must control in a runaway sequence. Upon catching up, Huey says he was only “keeping your hiding spot warm.” Huey’s not quite a mensch, but lovably affable.
Not to be the only one talking, enemies get in on the action as well. During battles enemies often taunt Mario. Spiked enemies dare Mario to jump on them, while flying enemies make snide comments egging Mario to hit them with his hammer.
Little subplots with allies and villains are the bread and butter of Paper Mario, and Color Splash continues this trend. The main story is fairly lengthy, but exploring every inch of the world provides some background information about Prism Island and its inhabitants.
The mystery of tea-loving ghost toads, specifically why they’re still haunting after 200 plus years, is a great example of comedy meets sentiment. The toads unique problems are mostly silly (ex: needing sheets cleaned in their room) but the finale to this subplot is rewarding — it literally gives Mario a power-up.
These smaller moments of Paper Mario: Color Splash are weaved into the main story effortlessly and give Prism Island life.
How to Paint
Players will be spending a lot of time in battles, so learning the ins and outs is crucial.
Battling takes place in turns. Once Mario or his enemy attacks, players are pulled into a battle screen. If neither Mario nor the enemy scored a “first strike,” Mario gets the first turn.
Players then choose cards on the GamePad, drag them into the attack box, tap ready on the screen, touch to fill with color and finally attack by flicking the painted card upwards.
This method is slow, but can be expedited by changing the settings. By doing this, one step is taken out, allowing players to fill the card with paint on the same screen as the card selection. After a while, this process becomes tedious.
Paint is the resource used to fill cards, and can be upgraded throughout the game. 1-Up mushrooms no longer revive Mario and are instead used in battle as a card that refills paint. Otherwise, paint is found by hitting nearly any non-living object in the game.
Should players find themselves without cards in a battle, which rarely happens given how easy it is to find or buy more, the new “battle spin” mechanic solves this.
Battle spinning is literally a slot machine-like spinning wheel of cards. One spin of the wheel costs 10 coins. An extra 20 coins can be paid to see the face of the cards, as otherwise they spin with their backs to players.
Having a way to quickly build up more cards keeps players from having to constantly go back to the main city to restock. Using battle spins keeps a fresh stock of cards always available and provides players with different moves for Mario to use.
A wide variety of cards means no one enemy has a defense Mario cannot crack. Mario can hammer down on enemies that have spiked hats and jump on ones using shields. He can use iron cards against shiny enemies and area-of-effect on opponents with dodging capabilities.
Thing cards, which are the only true 3D objects in the game, serve as kryponite to bosses and solutions to puzzles. They can be repurchased in town should they be lost or used preemptively. Otherwise, they’re always waiting in their original locations once they have been used from your card inventory.
There is a lot of strategy to Paper Mario: Color Splash. Using cards wisely is key to winning battles and essential for beating bosses. Many of the game’s hardest enemies cannot be beaten without specific cards. But if players pay attention to dialogue and take advantage of hints from toads, the cards necessary become obvious.
Once the correct cards have been used and a fight is successful, enemies drop coins, paint and hammer scraps. These hammer scraps, when enough are collected, upgrade Mario’s maximum paint. More paint means more cards can be used in battle, and more can be painted outside of battles to refill the world’s colorless spots.
Finding all of the world’s colorless spots is a daunting task, but later in the game an NPC is able to help in finding these locations. In fact, re-coloring the world isn’t where Paper Mario: Color Splash becomes frustrating. This is found in a number of the mini-games that have no learning curve and often come without notice.
Most are fairly straightforward — run away from the giant Chain Chomp chasing you — but others, like the Snifit or Whiffit quiz, pose more of a roadblock.
A seemingly empty base has a trap door that throws Mario into a life-or-death quiz show. Players must watch cards on their TV screen and memorize which were played. If the card isn’t in players’ inventory, tough break. What isn’t made abundantly clear is that a Snifit enemy outside the base offers Mario a “special” deck of cards, consisting of 30 seemingly random cards.
These cards are the answers to the quiz and ensure that all questions can be completed. The price on the cards drops after the quiz has been tried at least once, and the Snifit notes that leaving the course resets the answers, thus making the cards useless. However, all of this should have been made clear before you jump into the section.
So, do you have to complete all of these sections in order to pass the game? Players who achieve 100 percent completion are rewarded with a true ending cutscene. This is a nice touch because many of the difficult mini-games and side challenges serve a greater purpose.
All the Colors of the Cardboard
While there are some gripes with the lack of character variety and aspects of gameplay, the music and visual aesthetic of Paper Mario: Color Splash is perfect.
The paper look has evolved to include a more cardboard aesthetic than previous entries. This gives every level a papercraft look, meaning even 3D objects fit in with the world.
Trees, bushes and other elements all look like hodgepodge craft projects meticulously built for the game, while all the characters look like paper cutouts. The only objects that stand out as strange are the “things,” which are real-world objects with in-game uses.
At first, most of the levels have colorless spots that can be filled in with Mario’s hammer. Aside from those, the game is colorful and vivid. The multitude of locales all stand out brightly, even darker locations like the haunted mansion.
There are some of the generic Mario zones — a lava level, a green plain — but their unique look breathes fresh life into the classic areas. Unique levels, like the ones that feature larger than normal enemies and then inversely smaller than normal enemies, keep the journey fresh.
All of this is accompanied by one of the best soundtracks in a Mario game in a long time.
The music is as diverse as the levels, with a number of unique scores for specific enemies. Many of the scenes in which shy guys are caught sucking the life from unsuspecting toads features a haunting psycho-esque track to accompany the murder. Upbeat French café style music sets the scene for the plain levels.
The music does a fantastic job of presenting the level, and every breathtaking view has fitting music to incite a mood that players should be feeling.
For example, the first boss level begins on a Cliffside and the music is mostly the sound of wind. Upon entering the tower itself, a more dramatic piano score begins, creating dread up until the boss fight.
Paper Mario: Color Splash is not without faults, but it serves as a great entry in the series. The writing is incredibly on point, providing both heart and laughs throughout.
A lack of character variety and frustrating mini-games along with a somewhat tedious battle system mar what could have been a near perfect game. Luckily, the game makes up for it with what it is known best for — unique Paper Mario visuals and fitting music.
Paper Mario: Color Splash was reviewed on Wii U using a retail copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.
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