Paper Mario is back after his last outing with non-paper Mario and Luigi in Paper Jam Bros. (reviewed by us over here). This time, he’s back in whatever papercraft universe he belongs to, along with a metric boat-load of toads, a new companion, and a new weapon that does unusual stuff. All this comes with some old stuff hanging over us from Sticker Star. We get our origami on to review this game, and see whether it’s worth returning to the Paper Mushroom Kingdom.
Let’s just get one thing out the way here: the Paper Mario from the original game is gone and is not coming back. Okay? You just have to deal with that fact and move on so that you can accept the changes and start enjoying the series again. Yes, Thousand Year Door was when we hit peak-Paper-Mario, we’re not going to argue there. Now can we get on with the review? By your leave, of course.
So, in Paper Mario: Color Splash, Mario, Peach, and Toad receive a strange letter in the post, postmarked from Port Prisma. This prompts the trio to catch a boat for those far shores and discover that the Toads are all missing, and that there are areas of Port Prisma that are strangely devoid of color. Some more investigation leads Mario to uncover a Huey, a sentient paint can who serves as Mario’s companion through this adventure, and also serves as Mario’s guide through the Prisma region.
Mario’s new weapon is the paint hammer, which gives him the power to splash blobs of paint on those bits of the landscape that have been de-painted. This has varying effects, from bringing things back to life to making things move again. It becomes much more of a puzzle game, as you wander each region trying to figure out what is lacking in colour and revitalizing it. Adding to the complications, the hammer has a limited paint capacity (stylized on screen as a little ink-meter much like the ones you see in printer settings), although it was only on rare occasions that I actually ran out of ink. The stuff is abundantly plentiful, and you can squish it out of just about anything. Another tool that Huey bestows upon Mario is the scissors, allowing him to cut sections of background out and treat the foreground as if it were 2D, thereby traversing terrain that was ordinarily unreachable. That sounded much more complicated than it actually is, but it’s just another puzzle mechanic in this game.
Battle takes place much like it did in Sticker Star, with Mario using an assortment of cards to indicate which attacks he wants to use. If you want to power up your attack, you can imbue your cards with paint (drawn from your supply, of course) before attacking. The cards themselves display on the Wii U’s GamePad, and in a very cute manner, you flick them upwards toward the TV when you play them. This motion got a little old quickly, so I soon figured out how to do it all via button presses instead. Paper Mario: Color Splash does very little to explain the expanded controls, sadly. In a nod to the original Paper Mario, battle is turn-based, and Mario’s attacks can be expanded upon with timeous button presses. For example, the hammer attack can either knock an enemy for some damage, or if you time it right, can also cause splash damage to the next few enemies in line. I’ll say this much: getting that timing right looks and feels glorious. While you’re preparing your attack, if you don’t pay attention to the TV you’ll miss some of the greatest jokes to ever come from the mouth of an enemy. Just something to watch for.
Also returning from Sticker Star are the 3D objects—called “Things”—that get turned into usable cards, either via super powered attacks, or as part of an environment puzzle that you have to solve. As attacks, they’re powered well, but the animations can get a little tedious. Pity there’s no way to skip past them.
Again in the Sticker Star vein, Paper Mario: Color Splash adopts a system of discrete regions, which are unlocked via paint stars that you obtain on each region. Some regions contain multiple stars, either unlocking multiple regions, or opening paths that double back to a region you’ve already unlocked. All the regions are on a giant map, and naturally, for story progression reasons, some parts are unlocked until you’ve fulfilled certain conditions. The map is gloriously huge, though, and each region is a treat to look at and play through. It helps a lot that this is one of the funniest Mario games I’ve played in ages. The humour here is truly something to laugh at. It also helps that the story is much, much better than Sticker Star’s, and the plot is enough to keep you wanting to know what’s next.
The music and graphics of this game are simply brilliant. This is probably Paper Mario at his paper-iest. Everything has a cardboard and construction paper aesthetic, even the attack “pow” star effects when you bonk something on the head, or when you power up one of Mario’s attacks. The entire game has the paper look and feel, even the water and waves. A number of puzzles even take the realistic-looking papery effects into account, which was brilliant to watch. The music has this fun, funky café vibe to it that’s just a treat to the ears. Even the battle theme, which I’ve probably had to listen to over a thousand times by now, is still easy on the ears. Here’s one game soundtrack I’d love to buy.
The game isn’t without its frustrations, of course. There are occasions where you’ll get lost and not know precisely how to proceed. In some cases, Huey will help; in some cases there’s a Toad who can assist; but then there are cases where you will have to brain qite hard to proceed. Some of the puzzles can a be little obscure for younger players as well, so if you intend on giving this to a young’un to play, bear in mind they might need the occasional bit of help. And then there’s the ridiculous Game Over screen, an artifact from a bygone era. Why does an RPG need a game over screen? In any event, there are certain places in the game where you need to do some quick thinking or else you’ll be embroiled in instadeath, leading to a Game Over screen, and then you get to reload from where you last saved. Hope you saved often.
Paper Mario: Color Splash is probably not the Paper Mario game you were wanting, but it certainly the prettiest. Nintendo has said that the more RPG elements belong in the Mario & Luigi series now, and Paper Jam is the only nod we’ll get to it. However, I thoroughly enjoyed Color Splash; and before the detractors get their indignation up, I did play and thoroughly enjoyed the original Paper Mario and Thousand Year Door (less so with Super Paper Mario and Paper Mario: Sticker Star). Paper Mario: Color Splash is still a highly entertaining game with great dialog, excellent graphical design and music, and above all: it’s great fun to play. I say put down your scissors and torches and give the game a try.