Ask any Paper Mario fan which entry is the best in the series, and most will say the game Cube Classic Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door. I hate to disappoint, but Paper Mario: Colour Splash is not as good as Thousand Year Door, BUT it is still an incredibly endearing game and worth your time and gold coins.
The first thing you notice is how gosh darn pretty it is. This gen Nintendo have proven that they are the masters of arts and crafts. Between Kirby’s forays into stock motion animation, Yoshi’s Wooly World and now Colour Splash. Nintendo have shown that the WiiU is more than capable of creating incredibly lifelike graphics. But being Nintendo just not in the ways that would instantly spring to mind.
The bright beautiful character models of Color Splash look like they’ve been cut out of foolscap; living in a world constructed comprising of chunky cardboard dioramas peppered with papercraft trees, green pipes and bridges held together with ribbon are the most realistic representations of the series handcrafted paper aesthetics yet.
But not content to just make a lovely world for you to play in, like Splatoon (in fact I think they may be reusing some of the tech) the main conceit is to use a bloody great hammer to bring colour into a world that has had it drained from it by a bunch of shy guys brandishing straws. I wouldn’t think about it for too long though, or the games cheery façade becomes sinister, especially if you consider that paint in this world is basically a proxy for blood. So basically it’s about vampiric ShyGuys draining the life from scared toad people and a struck off Dr. Mario turning up to perform a series of very unorthodox blood transfusions with the heavy end of a mallet. (and who said Nintendo couldn’t do mature)
In game terms though this revolves around Mario, using his magic mallet to splash paint onto toads or some part of the scenery until they’re fixed. This is accompanied by the occasional item puzzle in which you use various real world items to adjust the landscape in some way, thus unlocking a special attack in the process ( al a Sticker Star) and at certain pre prescribed moments you’ll be given the power to use a pair of magical scissors to cut out part of the environment so that it forms platforms and bridges for Mario to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. Its all relatively simple, but nether-the-less strangely compelling.
Sadly, Color Splash also retains the most irksome part of Paper Mario: Sticker Star, namely it’s combat. However, instead of stickers you use cards, but they function pretty much identically. During the game’s turn-based battles, Mario plays a single use card from a deck to make a move. For example, a Boot card allows him to jump on an enemy, a mallet card lets him thwack them, while a Goomba card summons a temporary shroo-man shield. Eventually you gain the ability to play more cards per turn, allowing you to chain multiple attacks or heal yourself and still-remain on the offensive. Cards can also be powered up by paint, with a fully coloured in card doing the most damage. In theory, this should add some nice risk-reward element, but paint is so easy to come by that it always pays to fully power up your cards before you use them. It also throws all manner of strategy out of the window because since you must use a card to make any move at all eventually you’ll run low and be forced to use a powerful card on some random encounter, or find you have no attacking cards at all and be forced to flee (which doesn’t always work)
What’s more the entire process of fighting even the lowliest henchmen requires a monumental amount of faffing around. First, you select the card you want, wading through a potentially massive deck (and even then, you might not have the card you need.), fill it with paint, and then flick the cards from the Gamepad to the TV. Mario then performs the move associated with the card with the help of timed button presses. It all feels completely unnecessary, make battles feel like a slog, and robs combat of any sense of progression or reward. You know what Paper Mario game had a good combat system. Thousand Year Door, why couldn’t we have that again. It was simple, effective and really, damn satisfying. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
A high point of the battling are the ‘Thing’ cards, which once again see Mario use the power of random household objects to defeat his papery foes. Seeing minions attacked with Lemon wedges, fans and plungers in ludicrous ways (the plunger is particularly weird, and oddly sexual) is a lot of fun and surprisingly satisfying. Annoyingly though, certain cards are required to beat particular bosses, and if you don’t have it in your deck (because chance are you were forced to use it on that group of Kooper Troopers you bumped into on the way), then you have to march all the way back to the Thing card shop in the docks where you first began the game. It doesn’t quite reach the level of buggering about required when a similar thing would happen in Sticker Star, but it’s still irritating.
Reading back my previous comments you’d think I didn’t enjoy my time with Colour Splash, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Irritating card battles aside, the overall experience is an absolute Joy. it’s writing, it’s setting and narrative are down-right endearing. The writing is stellar, and while the Paper Mario games have always been well-scripted and funny, and Color Splash is no exception. It’s got plenty of great gags, fun asides, and I don’t want to spoil them.
The entire presentation is top notch and full of subtle details that are bound to raise a smile, like when you smack a Toads with your hammer and they crumple up, and then they give a n irritated yelp before flattening themselves back out, and the way enemies mock you when you take too long to attack, or the way the map slowly unfolds as you explore the world, filling itself with colour and sticky tape trails that lead you from one area to the next.
Color Splash is just one of those games that’s very difficult to dislike. Though the combat mechanics are irksome, the beautiful mad-cap world, and marvellous script keep you keep you engaged and chuckling along. It may not be the Paper Mario: The Thousand Year door beater we’ve all been hoping for, but It is one of the most endearing games you’ll play this year.