As in most Paper Mario games, Color Splash begins with a letter. In a world built of nothing but cardboard, foil, and reams of paper, however, letters aren’t always what they seem. When the letter opens to reveal the bleached, bone-dry, lifeless body of a folded up paper Toad, it’s up to Mario to follow the postmark and figure out what’s draining the life, paint, and color out of Prism Island.
The problem is revealed once Mario reaches the center of Port Prisma: the paint fountain, normally filled with swirls of color from the six Big Paint Stars, has run dry, and the Paint Stars are missing. Even worse, a legion of Shy Guys armed with straws has descended on Prism Island, hunting down stray Toads and literally slurping the life out of the landscape wherever they can. Mario clichés being Mario clichés, it’s not long before the minions have run off with Princess Peach. The Island’s not without its own emergency measures, though, and Mario’s soon equipped with tools to fix the problem: a talking, flying paint can named Huey, and a magical Paint Hammer to splash some color back into his surroundings.
While the overall story’s about as standard and straightforward as a Mario game can get (oh, no, the Princess is gone again, and there are a set number of important missing items to track down again), there’s still plenty of creativity packed into Color Splash. It’s just on a smaller scale. Each level, or subset of levels, has its own unique story to tell, whether it?s a haunted hotel stuck in a time loop, a trainload of hungry toads trapped on the tracks, or a pirate ship sailing into the great unknown. Even the more standard levels where Mario’s simply running through cheerful forests or underground caves often feature some kind of twist, usually based on the game’s paper-y nature?an ecosystem shrunk under a magnifying glass, a paper road rolled into a tube as you run across it, or a fan tossing paper scraps and minions high into the sky.
Of course, your journey’s not all smooth sailing. The army of minions is still out there, and to get past, you’ll need to fight. Color Splash‘s combat introduces Battle Cards, a system that’s similar to the one most recently seen in Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. Each card represents an attack, most often some form of a jump or hammer swing. Once you pick a card, you can choose to paint it, using up your limited amount of paint stored inside of Huey’s can?the more paint, the stronger the attack. From there, time tapping the A button to get the most bang for your buck, jumping five times in sequence or causing splash damage with a perfectly-swung hammer.
Though the system’s solid at its core, and it can get really fun in boss battles, it’s not without its issues. The default control scheme Nintendo picked to select, paint, and flick your cards into the fray is set to use the touch screen, and it’s pretty terrible. You have to take your hands off the controls and look back and forth between the screen and tablet several times, turning every single attack in a battle into a laborious process that’ll make you miss the days when all you had to do to beat a Goomba was jump on its head. Thankfully, there is an alternative buried in the settings to switch it to a button-based input, and if you want to enjoy the battles even a little, it’s crucial that you turn this on as quickly as possible. It can’t do everything?you still have to physically touch the screen to scroll through all ninety-nine of your cards if there’s a specific attack you’re going for (and of course healing mushrooms are aaalllll the way at the end)?but it’s infinitely better than the default and speeds up battles immensely.
Battles can also get annoying at times because of the limited nature of your cards. Playing a card in battle uses it up permanently. There are plenty of cards around and plenty of doubles, so there’s no need to hoard your rare attacks like in Sticker Star. Still, when you run into something small like a Shy Guy or a Goomba, especially right before a boss, it can feel like a waste of time and cards to fight?especially since you don’t get any reward beyond increased paint capacity. Exacerbating this is Kamek, who occasionally pops up into random battles and flips over all your cards so you can’t actually see what attack you’re using. If you sort your cards regularly, you should have a good idea of what general vicinity of the deck your cards are in, but you could also easily end up jumping multiple times into a Spiny, wasting a huge attack by accident, or stuck for a while trying to get an array of attacks strong enough to take out a batch of Dry Bones before they all revive.
Overall, though, the worst that can be said about the battling system is that it takes time away from exploring the levels. Because each area’s been attacked by paint thieves, every level is dotted with patchy white areas just begging to be fixed. Mario can repaint each spot in a second with the help of Huey and his new paint hammer, but some of them are hard to reach. A high-up question block with an unknown reward isn’t always enough motivation to explore and find that secret or hidden back trail, but an unpainted white patch in the same location sure is. It’s a satisfying mark of progress to paint each area back up to 100 percent, and it’s often necessary to poke into every nook and cranny just to find all of the Toads you’ll need to help you pass obstacles.
Failing to find something on a level can occasionally be a pain. There are several points in the game where, if you accidentally skip a small step, you end up racking up a huge chain of events. To fight the boss on one level, you’ll need an item from another level, but you can’t get there until you’ve found all the Toads scattered around four other levels, and to reach one of those you’ll need an item from yet another level you can’t get to until you clear a separate course?et cetera. If you have everything you need on hand, it goes fairly smoothly, but if you’ve missed a step or two along the way it can be frustrating to figure out what you accidentally skipped. There are two Toads back in Port Prisma who will give you hints about what you’re missing and what levels they’re on, but there’s still a bit of backtracking necessary, and if you take a long break in the middle of the game, it might be impossible to remember the entire sequence of what you need to do.
At other times, there’s backtracking that’s just there to be backtracking. Certain special items, real world Things that aren’t made of paper, can be found in specific locations, and are often used to clear an obstacle or help defeat a boss. Once you use each one once, though, they’re gone, and if you need it again, you’ll have to go back through that level again. There are also special Mini Paint Stars?separate from the big ones that have gone missing?that you’ll have to find to get a Course Clear, and sometimes levels will have more than one. A good part of the time, more than half of the time, this just signals that more of the level will open up later on as the story progresses. That part’s perfectly fine, and in fact helps with a sense of progression as the world changes due to your actions. Occasionally, though, a level will just have multiple Mini Paint Stars sitting right next to each other. So you’ll pick your poison, get a course clear “victory” screen, and then have to walk all the way back through the exact same level again to pick up the second (or even third) Mini Paint Star.
These are drawbacks to Color Splash, but they’re not deal-breaking drawbacks. The world itself is charming and creative, with fully orchestrated music and plenty to explore, so going through the same area two or three times isn’t the worst thing in the world. You’ll only have to do your painting work once; after a spot’s painted, it’s painted for good. Sometimes, your progress through a level will create shortcuts that make subsequent visits faster. And there’s plenty of sharp writing and wit to the game’s characters, who often react to their changed situations in funny and interesting ways. If you’re careful to grab everything and investigate every single corner and (sigh) get the dual Stars back-to-back whenever they show up, you should stay fairly on track to keep the game moving forward at a good pace?the only thing to look out for is that moment of missing a tiny step and retroactively having to figure out where.
Ironically, Color Splash is at its best at the moments where it least resembles a traditional Mario game. The levels you spend bouncing around and booping Goombas in a forest while doing some easy platforming across ledges are fun, but it’s the weirder, more experimental ones that stand out and shine the most. What’s taking out a row of Goombas compared to battling a colossal slab of meat into submission (and a tasty dinner)? Why go through a run-of-the-mill cave when you could be dimension hopping, seeking buried treasure, becoming the world’s greatest rock-paper-scissors (or, as the Toads call it, Roshambo) champion, or serving up tea to a bunch of disgruntled ghosts? And why fight when you can share a train cabin with an existentially philosophical Shy Guy, riding off into the sunset and waxing lyrical about life as a minion? It’s almost enough to make you forget that in the end, you’re just saving Princess Peach. Again.
|Publisher: Nintendo ? Developer: Intelligent Systems ? ESRB: E – Everyone ? Release Date: 10.07.16|
Color Splash presents a beautifully crafted paper and cardboard world, populated by witty paper Toads and existential minions. Though it’s got its share of backtracking and battle system quirks, the new painting mechanics are satisfying, and the mini-story arcs are almost creative and clever enough to make you forget that your princess is (yet again) in another castle.
|The Good||Gorgeous paper visuals, sharp writing, and a series of increasingly imaginative areas to explore mean that you’ll want to visit every level more than once.|
|The Bad||It’s tricky to judge how well lined up a jump is when you’re two dimensional.|
|The Ugly||The default battling controls. Turn them off. Turn them off now. Don’t even test them. Just turn them off.|
|Paper Mario: Color Splash is a Wii U exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|