While everyone knows who Mario is in the videogame world, you’d be forgiven if you weren’t aware of his adventures through the JRPG genre. Back in 1996 on the SNES, Mario was given a more comical tone and a turn-based battle system in Super Mario RPG thanks to Square (now Square-Enix). While there was never a true sequel made to this rather epic fork in Mario’s road, it did set the standard for what would become the Mario and Luigi series of titles on handheld, and the Paper Mario franchise on console.
Comical stories with fantastic storytelling, and turn-based fighting that mimicked the more traditional titles in that genre. Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door was, to many, the pinnacle of the Paper Mario series, and where fans had come to adore the franchise, Nintendo were starting to worry that there wasn’t enough to set it apart from the Mario and Luigi handheld series.
After a bit of experimentation the series almost managed to move further from what captured fans with a “collect and store” sticker based attack system, and the removal of unique characters and locales, basing it entirely on the Mushroom Kingdom and its inhabitants.
Sticker Star had plenty of flaws and is touted as the worst in the series. Which leads us to Paper Mario: Color Splash. The most recent in the series has dropped onto the Wii U bringing with it an amazing HD look that fans of the series have waited for. Everything comes looking like a beautifully crafted paper and cardboard world. After a brief, and seriously gorgeous, introduction to the game, we see Mario, Peach, and Toad arrive at somewhere that isn’t the Mushroom Kingdom! It’s a step in the right direction even if Toadsworth, Peach’s long-time servant, has been replaced with a generic Toad.
After seeing parts of Port Prisma devoid of colour, Mario is introduced to his newest sidekick: Huey, a sentient paint can that Mario manages to squeeze to life. With Huey’s help Mario is able to return some colour back to Port Prisma and reveal that the town’s paint supplying stars have been stolen by some evil paint sucking Shy Guys. Before too long Peach has been kidnapped and it’s with that that Toad comically explains that it’s up to Mario, yet again, to save her. That moment may be a little too on the nose for some people.
So, the art style is fantastic, the humour is well and truly in place, and best of all, it’s not set in the Mushroom Kingdom, it’s all looking a little too perfect until the battle system is introduced. It’s not Sticker Star, but it’s close. Again Mario has to find and collect attacks in the form of cards (not stickers), yet again you may be left with only powerful attacks to knock off the last couple of hitpoints on an enemy, and yet again you might come to a boss fight without the card (not sticker) needed to complete it.
The first two are hard to defend, and I’m still uncertain a find and store system is what the Paper Mario franchise needs, but the latter can be solved by purely paying attention. In an attempt to remedy the issue from Sticker Star, Nintendo has maybe gone a little overboard in making sure players are ready to proceed. See how everyone is talking about a BONE? Notice how every time someone says BONE it’s in capital letters? Notice how just before the boss fight someone asks if you’re prepared and subtly drops the word BONE in their sentence? Yeah, if you don’t have the bone card in your arsenal right now, it’s your own fault, and you won’t be winning that fight.
It also needs to be said that the “collect and store” battle system removes the ability to unlock new moves as Mario levels up, which is why Mario’s levelling system has been removed from both this and Sticker Star. Doing this removes the fear of coming against enemies that are higher level than you (as they too don’t have a level system) and purely means that you just need to have the right cards to defeat them.
If you don’t have the right cards, it’s not a matter of grinding in a previous area to unlock them, it’s simply a matter of heading back to Prisma Port and buying the ones you need from the card store. This, again, wouldn’t be a problem if there was a system that rewarded a player for focusing on besting difficult fights, but instead money is found almost anywhere Mario needs to paint, and before too long you’ll have his money maxed out at 9999, letting you purchase as many cards as you can carry.
But despite Color Splash retaining a few of the gripes people have had from the previous two titles, it’s an incredibly engaging, if not easy, romp through a new Paper Mario locale. I do miss the unique characters the previous games would introduce, but just like Sticker Star, Color Splash is happy to just fill the world with different coloured Toads and Shy Guys, an arsenal of identical Koopas and Spikeys, and mixes it up only by including the Koopa Kids and a simply fantastic moment with everyone’s favourite transgender videogame character: Birdo.
Fans of the series may find a lot to like here, but it might simply be down to the fact that it has been over 12 years since the greatest Paper Mario game launched. Those who want to experience a rather unique look at one of the industry’s most popular characters, Color Splash is a good place to start, and if you like what you see here, going back to the earlier games in the series will offer you a similar tone and feel with a much better battle system.
Reagan received a physical copy of Paper Mario: Color Splash for review from Nintendo.