When Paper Mario: Color Splash was first showcased, it seemed like the internet let out a collective “groan”. Quickly, the game received tons of hate comments and “thumbs down” on YouTube, with people thinking the game resembled the uber-disappointing Paper Mario: Sticker Star that was released on the 3DS. While I could understand the sentiments, especially when the “card” style of battling was confirmed to be in this game resembling Sticker Star, I decided to keep an open mind about the game because I was a fan of the series. While the gameplay was always entertaining, I always preferred the writing of the Paper Mario series, because it allows Nintendo to poke fun at themselves and the industry. So are Sticker Star haters right, or is Paper Mario: Color Splash a splash to enjoy?
Paper Mario: Color Splash has a simple story, but it keeps the game going. Mario and Peach decide to visit Prism Island, and upon arrival notice that things are too quiet. They soon discover that someone is stealing color from the world, and Mario must bring color back into things. A paint bucket named Huey is Mario’s main sidekick in the game, and helps guide the adventure along. Mario and Huey set out from Prism Island in search of Paint Stars to bring the color back to the world.
While the story is fine, it’s the writing that is the real star of the show. I usually don’t literally “laugh out loud” at games, but Paper Mario: Color Splash had me chuckling, and even cracking up, at times. The characters all feel like they have personality, from main ones to just NPC’s in the world. It’s a very random style of humor, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat and continuously changes the direction it goes in, which makes you want to keep playing the game. With references to the gaming industry, pop culture, and Nintendo itself, Paper Mario: Color Splash has some of the best dialogue in a game that I’ve ever encountered.
Of course none of this matters if the gameplay lacks, and this is probably the weakest area of Paper Mario: Color Splash. This all stems from the battle system which, while not terrible, just feels a bit flat and clunky. Battles are completed by using cards. Choose a card you want to use for a desired effect (hammer attack, mushroom for health, etc), then on the GamePad you can decide whether or not to paint the card. Painting the card makes it stronger or gives it a higher effect. After painting, you “throw” the cards at the screen by sliding your finger up on the GamePad. You can change this to be done with all buttons, which is fine, but it still makes the battles feel a bit too slow. Simple enemy battles that should be quick just feel a bit dragged on by the way the combat is handled.
Another issue I had with Paper Mario: Color Splash was the fact that the game felt a bit easy. Cards can be purchased at a shop, but they are bountiful in the battle field, either from defeating enemies, hitting objects with your hammer, or through coin blocks. I always felt like I had an absurd amount of coins and always had top notch cards to use at my disposal. There’s a challenge present, it just should have been a tad bit stronger. The game also doesn’t allow for “level grinding” of any sort, instead giving Mario more strength and HP upon defeating bosses in the game. While not a huge deal, it kind of kills incentive to battle random enemies, and I found myself trying to avoid them most of the time instead of taking them head on. Also, in stark contrast to this, there is the occasional element that will “one hit kill” you, which while doesn’t happen too often, feels out of place.
One aspect of gameplay where the Color Splash gets things right is the ability to paint things. Each level has a percentage meter indicating how much of the area needs to be painting, which you do by swinging the hammer equipped with paint. A simple press of the “Y” button will bring color to colorless objects, which in turn will give you battle cards, coins, and more. You do have a limited amount of paint, but hitting objects in the world or defeating enemies will refill your paint gauges. Also, you collect smaller hammers that, when a certain number are gathered, will increase your overall paint capacity.
Splashing paint all around the world would be a boring experience if the game didn’t look good, but Paper Mario: Color Splash excels in the visual and audio department. What at first looks like a simplistic art style quickly becomes one of the sharpest looking Wii U titles, by adding paint and color to areas in need. Every color and environment looks sharp and clean, with a great attention to detail. The game also throws in some real world objects, such as a fire extinguisher, that must be used at a certain time in the game, which creates a special attack in-battle with a real-world style background that really contrasts the game. It seems a little random, but it matches the tone and writing of the game and is a welcome addition.
The audio in the game is great as well, with both unique musical tracks and classic Mario-inspired from classic games mixed in as well. The original compositions are all well done and catchy, and the sound effects also use a mixture of classic Mario sounds and original ones for the game. The balance makes for a good experience on your audio senses.
While Paper Mario: Color Splash won’t win any game of the year awards, I think it’s a solid entry in the series. It’s better than the aforementioned Sticker Star, and while it might not be up there with the greats in the series, it’s a welcome addition to a dry Wii U library. Excellent writing, impressive visuals, and great presentation save the game from the somewhat lackluster battle system and make it a solid game that will provide fun for fans of Mario games and the Paper Mario series.