REVIEW: Paper Mario Color Splash (Wii U)

The Paper Mario franchise was known as a traditional role-playing game. Super Paper Mario for Wii was considered the turning point for most fans. This was the case as the RPG features were stripped out of the gameplay. Following that was Sticker Star for the 3DS, which received a mostly unfavorable opinion. Upon its initial reveal, Paper Mario Color Splash received plenty of negative comments. It was compared to Sticker Star which changed a lot of the battle mechanics. Let’s dive into Color Splash to see how wet we get.

Paper Mario and Peach receive a paper Toad in the mail from Port Prisma. Concerned, they quickly travel there. Upon arriving, they see a colorless world and they come across a talking paint can named Huey. He wrings himself out, which gives Mario’s hammer the ability to hold paint. Shy Guys have used straws to suck the color out of the environment, and Mario must use his new paint hammer to restore it.

I know this sounds silly, but I expect no less from a series known for its goofy humor. I enjoyed seeing the goofiness of the narrative. It is charming, in spite of it being impractical. The Toads add to the story, as they are unique. For example, one is a superhero, and another a surfer. Some groups of toads are in charge of helping others. All of these factors create an engaging and humorous story.

A major element of the series is its battle system. The main reason to battle in Color Splash is to earn hammer medals or additional coins. Mario’s maximum paint storage is treated like an experience meter. He needs set amounts of medals for upgrades. While this adds some purpose, I felt that the battles are mostly pointless. I prefer a system where the hero, himself, earns each level.

The battles are conducted using Battle Cards, which are acquired through various methods: bought from a shop, by painting the colorless spots, hidden in blocks, or by defeating enemies. Each card can only be used one time and requires specific amounts of paint to power it up. This creates an inventory management issue I did not like. I frequently ran into situations where I did not wish to use my cards.  Luckily, there is a slot real to spend coins to get a random card. I prefer a fight sequence that does not rely upon inventory.

Some cards have uses outside of battle. The “things” from Sticker Star have returned in Color Splash.  Mario locates items and can wring them out to fill his paint storage. The item is then transformed into a thing card, which can be used in specific locations. For example, to access new areas or complete quests, Mario uses his new ability to “cut out.” He can transcend dimensions, cut out elements from the background, or slide in a thing card. There was an occasion where I needed to bring a boat to shore and used the fan card to blow air into the sail. The locations where you use each ability were easy to find but picking the correct card was not.

I had no issues with the traditional controller, but I did not like the touch screen controls. They involved scrolling through your cards, selecting one, painting, and swiping to use it. This might not sound bad, but you have to do all these actions in a small amount of time. If you take your time, the enemies can steal a card. My main concern with this process is when I ran out of standard jump and hammer cards.  This forced me to use rarer cards to exit the battle.

I really enjoyed having the beautiful map unfold when I found the paint stars. The world is completely integrated and connected. I often found myself just looking at the map in its entirety. There are so many places to go. I also liked returning to levels and finding hidden exits and secrets.

The map itself has a few smaller features to utilize.  One of the new additions is the Roshambo temples, where Mario can earn coins and boss character cards. Periodically, for example, a Shy Guy Bandit will appear to start draining the map of its color, and he must be defeated as quickly as possible. These side missions really added to the gameplay and never took anything away from the overall goal.

I especially loved the papercraft scenery and characters. The levels are crafted like dioramas. For instance, there is a level where the Shy Guys lift up the floor and roll it up, which causes the everything to go flying, altering the terrain. The use of the papercraft has hit the genius level in terms of the design, as everything looks just like it was made out of paper, even having the properties of it.

Mario games are often known for their soundtracks, and Color Splash is no exception. Plenty of familiar tunes, remixes, and new tracks are waiting to be heard. This really added to the entire adventure. I especially enjoy the exit track and the battle music which returns from previous entries in the series.

Color Splash certainly improved on some of the issues from Sticker Star, but two of its largest issues went unchanged: item management and meaningless battles. Do not let that change your color on the game, though, as they are small setbacks. Everything else that you love about the series is well done, including the story, graphics, and audio tracks. Paper Mario: Color Splash is a beautiful game that deserves your attention.

FINAL SCORE: 8.0 out of 10

Color/interactive world map
Silly and engaging story
Fun characters
Outstanding Paper-like graphics and detail

Missing RPG elements
One-time use attack system for battles