Paper Mario: Color Splash Review (Draft)

Discussion in 'Writers' Kitchen' started by Koenig, Oct 25, 2016.

  1. Koenig

    Koenig The Architect

    (Part 1) (The review exceeded TNE's maximum character limit per post)

    Paper Mario: Color Splash

    Draft Review


    Paper Mario: Color Splash is the newest installment in the long running Paper Mario series, and spiritual successor to the controversial 2012 release, Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Unlike the original RPG games in the franchise, Color Splash opts to be a light action adventure instead much like its immediate predecessor. Upon reveal, many fans of the series were outraged that Color Splash appeared to follow in the footsteps of Sticker Star rather than the original RPG’s, fearing that that the game may abandon the series roots outright; while others were more interested on whether or not the game could improve upon the flaws of those that came before it. I have had the game for a couple weeks now, so let’s take a look at just how Paper Mario: Color Splash compares to its predecessors, and whether or not it has come into its own.

    [​IMG]


    The game opens with Peach, Mario, and a nameless toad investigating the colorless cutout of another toad. The only clue to be had is the post marking it’s back, so all three board a ship and head towards where the letter originated; Port Prisma. Upon arriving in the town, they quickly discover that Bowser and his Minion have launched an attack on Port Prisma and its surrounding lands, draining the color from them and their denizens. To top it all off, Bowser has scattered the six big Paint’s Stars, the source of the islands color, to the far corners of the realm. With the help of Huey, a magical talking paint can; Mario sets off to repaint the island, rescue its citizens, retrieve the big paint stars and their pieces, and ultimately stop Bowser and his sinister plan.

    One of the biggest criticisms that Sticker Star received was its relative lack of interesting story or characters; Color Splash addresses this particular issue moderately well by creating the much needed context for playing that Sticker Star lacked. Every level has its own miniature story to drive Mario towards the small paint star at the end of each; each with unique characters, themes, settings and general problems to resolve. One level you might be solving a mystery at a haunted hotel, the next you might be sailing the seas with a pirate; each level has something to call its own and contributes a great deal of variety to the narrative. Eventually these levels culminate in in a final section for a particular set of themes, and a battle with one of the Koopalings; with a Big Paint star being the prize for victory. The context provided by these miniature stories go a long ways towards immersing the player in the world, and incentivizing them to push onwards. It is a much needed frame of reference that Sticker Star lacked, and In many ways this structure feels like a return to from akin to the original Mario RPG’s Such as the Thousand Year Door. The writing is as sharp as it has ever been, character dialogue is engaging, and the game boasts plenty of meta-humor for those looking for a laugh. Huey, Mario’s partner in all of this, has excellent writing and acts as a valuable foil to Mario’s mute persona. At every major problem or interaction Huey takes up the brunt of the conversation with a bit of useful advice and often humorous dialogue. He also acts as valuable navigator and provides helpful hints or observations when called. However, outside of his original purpose of guarding the Paint Stars, Huey lacks much in the way of personality to call his own; Huey is definitely a huge step up from Kersti, but lacks much of the spark that many of the previous companion characters in the series have had.

    [​IMG]

    With all that said; there are still some issues with the games narrative. While the individual levels and areas of the game are filled with interesting characters and dialogue, Color Splash does not have much in the way of an overarching plot. The vast majority of levels (with a few notable exceptions) have little to no narrative connection to the next, while the main story revolving around Bowser is almost non-existent and without any real sense of urgency being given until the very last level. Although the writing is great, the lion’s share of the dialogue is not grounded in the world, and exists solely to move Mario forward or for the sake of a joke. With a few notable exception such as the Pirate and Train themed portions of the game, most levels and characters do not have any significance to the plot and are forgotten about almost as soon as they are introduced. Despite having a modest cast of characters to work with to craft a story, most of the characters in the game have titles instead of names, and with the exception of Huey and one other NPC, only pre-existing Mario characters have the luxury of a name to call their own. Simply put, the game has the narrative to push you forward, but very little in the way of a story to bring you back for more; the game tells the narrative of a paper world, as opposed to using the world to tell a story.


    Visually the game looks amazing; it is a world made entirely out of paper and polished with charm. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is made out of paper craft materials; the ground, the sea, the sky, buildings and trees, pavement and furniture, even the graphical effects, all of them are lovingly crafted to look like they were made out of paper, and yet nothing feels like it was compromised to accommodate the paper-craft style. The lone exception to this are the “Things”, but more on that later. The world itself follows the themes laid down by most recent Super Mario games (Grassland, Forrest, Desert, Fireworld etc.) with slight changes in-between; however unlike Sticker Star, each of the levels set in these areas are given unique themes of their own that add much needed flavor to the world as a whole. Every level has its own unique assets and style to match its story, which provides a far greater sense of variety than your typical Mario game as of late.

    Unfortunately this degree of variety is no afforded to the NPC’s in the game, as almost all of them are cut directly from ultra-simplistic designs set forth by the New Super Mario Bros (NSMB) and 3D Land/World series. The entirety of friendly NPC’s are limited to pallet swapped toads and the rare one-off shyguy, with articles of clothing being infrequently distributed among them; while enemy NPC’s are all stock cutouts of their NSMB counterparts, 90% of which being some variation of Shy-Guy. The NPC’s simply feel hollow by comparison to the rest of the world and previous Paper Mario games.

    When it comes to the games audio, Color Splash does not disappoint. The music is perpetually upbeat and joyous, with a strong line of instrumental and synthesized tracks that impresses a sense whimsy and joy; yet it never feels overpowering and stays in context to the scene around you. Sound effects are equally as energetic and match the theme of the game. Some tracks in the game unlock additional channels as you progress through the game, making the world and music feel dynamic as they change and grow with the player, while others stick to the theme and aesthetic of their respective areas. The sound quality in Color splash is consistently good, and never deviates from the attitude that the rest of the game portrays; although this means that none of the games music ever strives to be more than part of the scene, it never fails to fit in snuggly with the rest of the game. You won’t find the next “Gusty Garden” here, but you might find yourself humming a few infectious ditties from time to time.

    Everything from the world, to the music, to the interface, and even the games own digital manual (complete with spoilers and flavor text tied to your save file) bare these aspects. NPC’s aside, it is hard to describe the game as anything other than utterly charming. Virtually every aspect of the game embraces it’s paper-craft theme with open arms and runs with it from start to finish; from the broad strokes to the smallest details, It is truly a beautiful looking game.

    [​IMG]
    • R.A.P. R.A.P. x 1
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2016
  2. Koenig

    Koenig The Architect

    (Part 2)

    At first glance Color splash plays like the original paper Mario games, Mario can jump, has a hammer, and a special ability; from which you as the player must use to solve various light puzzles and busywork. However for better and worse, this is where the similarities end. Early on in the game Huey grants Mario the ability to paint things with his hammer; this allow Mario to repaint the color drained portions of the land and restore life and functionality to the devices and NPC’s Mario comes across during his adventure; In addition to restoring parts of the map, filling in the colorless portions of the land also reward Mario with money and the occasional battle card. Although painting the world is not that much of a mechanical revolution, it is strangely cathartic; something about repainting everything and repairing the world tickles the brain a bit, it just feels right.

    [​IMG]

    Color Splash requires the Gamepad to be played; there is no option to play with the pro controller or wii remote. This is likely due to the games dependency on the touch screen for item management and menu navigation, however it still feels odd considering how little these are actually used. The touchscreen controls work fine, but there are no options to use more traditional controls to supplement them. Curiously, several buttons on the Gamepad go completely unused, with others being recycled to the same input. It seems that the controls were simplified to accommodate other controllers, but then dropped them at the last minute to focus on the gamepad's touch screen implementation. Off screen play is also supported, but can only be accessed at the games startup menu or in the options menu; there is no way to switch between them on the fly.

    Another (and more functional) ability that you learn early on is the “Cutout” power; which permits Mario to bend the laws of physics and alter the world around him by cutting out parts of the land, allowing him to bypass certain obstacles or insert a necessary object to progress the story. In theory the cutout mechanic allows for a great variety of perspective based puzzles and applications; in practice however Color Splash tends to underutilize the perspective puzzles in favor of contextual Thing Cards, which is a bit of a disappointment. The cutout mechanic is a very promising idea, but it is not used to its full potential.

    [​IMG]

    Thing Cards function identically to the Thing Stickers from Paper Mario: Sticker Star, albeit slightly easier to get. The way they work is that throughout the world are a number of oversized non-paper “Things” that Huey can squeeze the paint out of and convert into a Thing Card; these cards can then be used in battle or in conjunction with the cutout power to solve various battle and logic puzzles. They act as powerful weapons and clever keys to to various puzzles, however which Thing Card’s you need to solve these puzzles however can be incredibly arbitrary; The “Icepick” Thing for example won’t actually break any ice in the game, but is instead used for another completely unrelated puzzle. Many Thing cards that are the solution to other puzzles or battles often don’t make any sense compared to the alternatives; often there are no reliable hints or indications prior to a puzzles as to which card you will need to use, and most Thing’s are not located in or near the same area that they are used, meaning you will often need to intuit which card you will actually need with no way of actually knowing which one is correct. It is adventure game logic at its worst, with large focus on trial and error at the expense of the player.

    [​IMG]

    On its own, this would be a forgivable offense, the catch however is that each Thing Card can only be used once, regardless of whether or not it is was the correct card to use in that situation; and in order to replace it you must travel back to its original spawn point or go to the black market to get a new one. At first this might not seem like this is that big a problem, but it results in a number of serious problems; if you use the wrong Thing Card, use the right one at the wrong time, or even use it in the wrong order, you will have to abandon whatever boss battle or puzzle you are currently at and get a replacement card or suffer a humiliating Game Over. Couple this with the fact that enemies and even some puzzles will reset when you leave a level, and it can lead to a sort of paranoia in which you might hoard as many Things Cards as you can carry so that you will have the correct one when it is needed, but fear using any of them in case it might be wrong one. This problem could have easily been avoided if Thing cards were permanent upgrades with their uses tied to your paint level as apposed to single use item, but as is they break the flow of the gameplay and often conflict with the narrative theme.

    Levels are split into separate location scattered across the island, each containing 1-3 paint stars and connected by an over-world map. Each time Mario collects a new paint star it will repaint a portion of the map and open up a new pathway to nearby levels, as well as kick Mario out to the overworld map with a bonus of coins. Because some levels contain multiple stars, some of which are directly next to each other, it can be a bit frustrating to have to revisits a level to pick up the other stars since the game returns you back to map each time you collect one; it is not a major inconvenience, by why it was implemented this was is a bit of a mystery. Although the overworld map is not as immersive as a continuous or linked level structure, the inclusion of miniature paint-stars and their significance to the story makes this set up far more compelling the map and hub based system from the last two Paper Mario games. Much like the painting mechanic, restoring part of the world with each star adds a sense of progress to the game that goes a long ways towards motivating you to continue playing.

    [​IMG]

    The combat system works much the same as the battle system did in Sticker Star but with a few improvements to the overarching design. Whenever Mario enters a battle, all of his actions (except for fleeing and blocking) are tied to the cards in his hand; (note that the hand is functionally you entire deck). All battles are turn based, with Mario and Enemy characters taking turns to attack each other, although in the case of Mario you can block incoming attacks with good timing to reduce their damage by half. Each turn Mario can select up to a set number of cards to use or choose to flee. When cards are selected Mario can paint them and then play them to begin an attack and quick time event (QTE) respective to which cards were selected; the better you perform the QTE the more powerful the attacks become, while the more color a card has the stronger its default attack power will be. As the story in the game progresses you can earn 1 of 3 upgrades to increase how many cards can be played per turn.

    Although a card based system sounds interesting at first, its probably not be what you expect from a card based combat system. Rather than building a deck and playing various cards in conjunction to each other like most card based games, the cards in color splash function identically to the stickers from Sticker Star; meaning that they all serve as one off attacks and items with no other functions. Once a card has been selected, it is permanently lost at the end of the turn; regardless of whether or not you actually used the card by the end of the battle. It is essentially a glorified item menu. This effectively destroys the collectible motivation most card games are built around, and recreates the same dilemma many players had with Sticker Star; “Why fight at all?”. Because the cards you own are finite, there is still no reason to use them on common enemies as it would be better to save them for a required fight.

    [​IMG]

    To offset this issue Color Splash takes a number of steps to improve the experience. The game showers you with common cards and money for beating enemies and repainting the land, ensuring it will be difficult to run out of cards. If you do ever run out of cards mid-fight however, the game goes one step further by allowing you to spend a few coins and draw a new card to your hand from a randomized deck. Color splash also tries to address the problem of fights feeling pointless by providing hammer points at the end of each battle, a kind of XP System that raises the maximum amount of paint you can carry each time it levels up. At first glance this does provide incentive to fight enemies, however it is ultimately insignificant on how much it affects most fights; you simply won’t run out of paint often enough to justify the time sunk into grinding for it. Considering the sheer number of enemies the game throws at you and the cost of using cards to fight them, it often best to avoid combat altogether than to get bogged down for a few insignificant hammer points. Late game this can be offset somewhat by the fact that weaker enemies can be instantly killed with a primitive jump or hammer strike, which helps alleviate the stress of battles somewhat. However if you ever find yourself stuck in a battle you wanted to avoid, it is often faster just too simply grind through the fight than try to flee from it.


    If you choose to flee from a battle, Mario will try to escape from the fight; however unlike all previous games in the series, the outcome of whether or not you succeed in escaping is entirely random, and if you fail to escape you forfeit your turn and take a beating. Fleeing feels like a punishment in this game, not because you did poorly in battle and needed run, but because you had the nerve to try a bypass one of the games pointless fights.

    Despite all the problems I just mentioned about the combat system, battles are generally fun and somewhat engaging; much like rest of the game much it just feels "right" most of the time. However the longer you play the game the more the problems I mentioned before begin to get in the way, eventually leading to the combat becoming a slog. For all of the improvements that Color Splash has made to the formula laid down by Sticker Star, they all feel like patchwork to cover up the problems created by this kind of combat system rather than actually fixing them. Why this flawed combat system was chosen in the first place instead of the far more compelling traditional battle systems pioneered by the original Mario RPGs is something that only Nintendo can answer to; whatever the reason is however, the game simply loses far more than it gains by sticking with its item driven battle system.

    On that note, some may also find the tone of the fights in this game somewhat dissonant towards the narrative and tone that the rest of the game portrays. Enemy NPC’s will fill the screen with merry dialogue and even have a friendly talk with Mario from time to time, yet at a moment’s notice the game will throw these NPC’s at you with no other option but to exterminate them. With the exception of toads, there is no distinction made between which NPC’s are friendly and which ones are hostile; characters that are shown to be more than just minions in dialogue are quickly disposed of and used as nothing more than filler for the common fight. Yet throughout all of this Mario and company act completely oblivious to it all. It runs contrary to games narrative and theme, and often just feels downright mean-spirited at times. Again, very contrary to the vibes that previous Paper Mario games gave off, which often went to great lengths to ensure that characters and common enemies were kept separate or handled appropriately.



    So with all that said and done, just how does Paper Mario: Color Splash compare in the grand scheme of things? The game improves upon its predecessor in just about every way, but still retains some of the key flaws that held it back. Its story is an enjoyable one, even if there is not much to be invested in. It has perfected the graphical aesthetic of the Paper Mario series and matches the tone throughout, yet never manages to take full advantage of the creativity it has at its fingertips. The combat system and focus on “Things” are still a blight on the series, but still manage to enjoyable most of the time. Paper Mario: Color Splash is a strange case: It is polished to mirror shine, and one of the most the most refined games I have ever played; and yet many of the core mechanics on which the game is built are deeply flawed and hinder the experience, with several arbitrary choices further complicating the flow of the game. Despite all this the game is simply fun to play however, but the spark that the series is known for smolders; still present, but never able to bloom into its full potential. Longtime fans of the series will likely be disappointed with Color Splash, but at the same time they and anyone else who is simply looking for a fun game may be pleasantly surprised by what they find.



    Paper Mario: Color Splash gets and 8.5 / 10.
    • R.A.P. R.A.P. x 2
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2016
  3. Koenig

    Koenig The Architect

  4. EvilTw1n

    EvilTw1n Necessary Evil Staff Member Moderator

    At work now, but I really look forward to reading this tonight when I get home, top hat.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. FriedShoes

    FriedShoes MLG Staff Member Moderator

    awesome, i'll give it a looksee asap
    • Like Like x 1
  6. BobSilencieux

    BobSilencieux Well-Known Member

    Well, it was a good enough read to get me to read the whole thing, which most articles struggle to do. Always good to get the gist of the text and the final score to match up, and to not rail on it too hard because "it's not TTYD mark II."
    • Like Like x 1
  7. Koenig

    Koenig The Architect

    I think that's a compliment. Thanks.

    Aside from what I suspect are a surplus of typo's and punctuation errors, was there anything in particular you recommend fixing?
  8. FriedShoes

    FriedShoes MLG Staff Member Moderator

    There's a couple of redundancies I noticed while reading through, if you want me to point them out.
    Big read, but good and informative. I feel like there are some sections that could be moved around or swapped and condensed to make it all flow better as well, but not sure, gonna take another look later after a nap.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. Koenig

    Koenig The Architect

    Sure thing. I wrote the review in three primary sections, each containing points I was trying to cover; so it makes sense that some of it might need to be moved around a bit to fit in better.
  10. BobSilencieux

    BobSilencieux Well-Known Member

    The only bit that I didn't really "get" was about the Thing Card paranoia, and your solution. Maybe you could explain it a bit better... like, do you mean you'd just have Thing Cards use up a big chunk of paint, and as long as you had enough paint, you could have unlimited uses of them?
    • Like Like x 1
  11. Koenig

    Koenig The Architect

    That is exactly it. Any suggestions to clear it up.
  12. BobSilencieux

    BobSilencieux Well-Known Member

    This problem could have easily been avoided if thing cards were permanent upgrades with their uses tied to your paint level;

    becomes

    This problem could have been easily avoided if Thing Cards were permanent upgrades tied to your paint level - you could use them without fear, as long as you had enough paint;

    IDK, something like that. It's been a while since I last used this part of my brain.
    • Like Like x 1
  13. Koenig

    Koenig The Architect

    I edited that segment somewhat to :" This problem could have easily been avoided if Thing cards were permanent upgrades with their uses tied to your paint level as apposed to single use item, but as is they break the flow of the gameplay and often conflict with the narrative theme."

    Does that help clarify things at first glance?
  14. BobSilencieux

    BobSilencieux Well-Known Member

    That works.
    • Like Like x 1
  15. Koenig

    Koenig The Architect

    I updated the review with a couple of screenshots I took and any free photo's I could find online. What do you guys think?

    PS: is the video showing up in the last section? It shows up in the embed code, but I don't see it in the post for some reason.
  16. FriedShoes

    FriedShoes MLG Staff Member Moderator

    I see the video fine.
    Here are some suggestions after another read:
    It is a much needed frame of reference for the game that Sticker Star lacked, and In many ways this structure feels like a return to from akin to the original Mario RPG’s Such as the Thousand Year Door.
    "for the game that Sticker Star lacked" makes it sound like Sticker Star lacked a game, to me at least. I understand now you mean to say its a much needed frame of reference for Color Splash.
    I'd reword it as such: It is a much needed frame of reference for the game, one Sticker Star lacked,
    There's also a capitalization error and I think that should read "return to form". I'd give the review another once over, there are a few of these capitalized letters and typos around.


    Although the writing is great, the lion’s share of the dialogue is not grounded in the world, and exists solely to move Mario forward or for the sake of a joke. With a few notable exception such as the Pirate and Train stories, most levels and characters do not have any significance to the plot and serve only to push the levels story forward around the time of their introduction.
    This line sounds a bit redundant. I'd drop everything past "Train stories," and attach the remaining line to the first sentence.

    Unfortunately this degree of variety is no afforded to the NPC’s in the game, as almost all of them are cut directly from ultra-simplistic designs set forth by the New Super Mario Bros (NSMB) and 3D Land/World series. The entirety of friendly NPC’s are limited to pallet swapped toads and the rare one-off shyguy, with articles of clothing being infrequently distributed among them; while enemy NPC’s are all stock cutouts of their NSMB counterparts, 90% of which being some variation of Shy-Guy. The NPC’s simply feel hollow by comparison to the rest of the world and previous Paper Mario games. Despite this however, the majority of the game feels like a living breathing paper-craft diorama, with every other aspect lovingly crafted in great detail from various craft materials.

    NPCs shouldn't have apostrophes, I don't think. The last sentence is a touch redundant, given that the previous paragraph covered the lovingly crafted nature of the game and you spent this paragraph pointing out why its not always the case. This line just circles back instead of making a solid point.


    Another (and more functional) ability that you learn early on is the “Cutout” power; which allows Mario to bend the laws of physics and alter the world around him by cutting out parts of the land. What this translates to is that you can physically cut out certain parts of the game world to help Mario bypass certain obstacles, physically alter the environment, and insert a necessary object to progress the story.
    Would rework as the second sentence sounds a bit repetitive.
    Another (and more functional) ability that you learn early on is the “Cutout” power; which permits Mario to bend the laws of physics and alter the world around him by cutting out parts of the land, allowing him to bypass certain obstacles or insert a necessary object to progress the story.
    The way they work is that throughout the world are a number of oversized non-paper “Things” that Huey can squeeze the paint out of and convert into a Thing Card;
    Small edit: Throughout the world there are a number of oversized non-paper "Things" Huey can squeeze the paint out of and convert into a Thing Card.
    Also noticed some more unnecessary apostrophe placements, like Thing's or Card's when the context I believe is to pluarlize the word. Keep that in mind when doing a final pass through it.

    Despite all the problems I just mentioned about the combat system, battles are generally fun and somewhat engaging, but the longer you play the game the more tedious and boring they start to become.
    This line, I feel, can be removed entirely. Not necessary in its paragraph and sounds self-contradictory.

    I thought that the final gameplay section should be moved closer to the part where you talk about the gamepad features, and before/after/between the Thing Card section, but where it is now flows better to the conclusion

    That's all I think I have, just keep a lookout for extraneous apostrophes, typos, and unnecessary capitalization when going through it again. Oh, yeah and dashes, I think you used both over-world and overworld in the same sentence which looked odd. Otherwise, golden.
    • Like Like x 1
  17. Koenig

    Koenig The Architect

    Ill try to address this issues tomorrow. If all things go well this will go up on EG tomorrow evening or Sunday.
    • Like Like x 1

Share This Page