One of these days Princess Peach might just be able to go on a vacation and enjoy herself, but I wouldn’t count on that any time soon. This time Mario and friends head to Prism Island and find that a load of Shy Guys are drinking up all the color with straws that make them oddly look like they are taking part in other, possibly even illicit, activity. Mario makes a new friend that is a floating paint bucket named Huey and sets off on an adventure to get the central paint fountain working again.
If you were wondering why this is a feature and not a review with the game having released a month ago, there is a simple answer to that. I went in hoping this game was more like the Thousand Year Door but quickly realized it’s more like Sticker Star. For those of you not up to speed on the Paper Mario franchise that means it’s less of a role playing game and more of an action adventure game with turn based combat and light RP elements tossed in. I guess maybe that wasn’t so simple after all....
While trying to peg this game to a specific genre is a mess one fact about it isn’t. It is fun in a clearly Nintendo way. Other than Square Enix and their genre bending crossovers with the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises there aren’t a lot of AAA developers that can blend elements of different genres and get away with it quite like Nintendo can. As you complete areas you’ll open up paths to further areas much like you would in Super Mario World. Certain levels also have more than one star to collect which will open up more than one path per area. The different areas are less of a platformer and more of what you would find in a Mario RPG entry. You’ll explore the area looking for little paint stars in hopes they lead you to bigger paint stars and spend time filling in colorless spots with your trusty paint mallet. If you manage to fill in 100% of the colorless spots you’ll get a yellow flag indicator next to the area on the world map. I was hoping for more but I guess a pennant will do.
Enemies are visible and aren’t randomly encountered. If you jump on them or whack them your mallet you’ll get a free opening attack on them when you move to the turn based combat portion of the encounters. Once you beat an enemy you’ll be rewarded with coins, paint, and battle cards but you will not earn experience. You also don’t have equipable items like you would in a RPG. So while this game toes the line I’d say it’s more an adventure game than a RPG but it’s still fun (hence I’m writing to you all about it rather than letting it sit on my shelf unplayed).
The battle system is quirky and fun at first but quickly grows tiresome which is a real shame because you’ll spend so much time with it. As you defeat enemies, find golden blocks, or uncover secrets in the game you’ll earn cards. These cards are used in combat. Typically they will either be a jump, or hammer but there are fire and ice flowers as well and some extra special ones. Card can be earned either painted or unpainted. Once you engage in combat you’ll select which card you want to use, as you progress through the game you’ll gain the ability to use more than one per turn. You’ll then have to select how much paint you want to use on each card, the more you use the stronger the attack, but paint is a finite resource. Then once you are set you’ll have to flick the cards and combat will commence. In combat you can use the A button at specific times to enhance your attacks or defend against enemy attacks much like you can in a typical Mario RPG. While it is nice that Nintendo clearly found a way to make use of the Wii U’s touch capabilities for combat it would be better if the controls were streamlined and players could spend more time choosing their abilities and power levels than manually controlling the decisions with a touch screen over simple button inputs.
While the controls may feel a bit shoehorned the graphics fit right in. In fact the papercraft graphics in this game are simply stunning. Nintendo made smart design decisions with the game’s aesthetics that never leave you feeling the console is holding back the look of the game. The colors are vibrant. The edges look solid and not jagged, and rounded edges are squared up just enough that when it isn’t a perfect circle you understand it’s a design decision not a system limitation.
I’m going to make a bold statement but to back that up I’m going to have to give you a little expositional story first. I grew up smack in the middle of the console wars. I firmly dug in with Nintendo and so did my friends. Sure there were kids that liked Sega but they were crazy and part of the lunatic fringe. No self-respecting friend of mine would own a Master System or Genesis over a NES. That’s why I can’t really believe it when I write it this out but games like Paper Mario: Color Splash are what make me wish Nintendo would give up creating consoles and focus on making fantastic experiences for the PlayStation, XBox One, or even the PC. It’s a shame that they can make such great software and only a handful of people will see it because it’s saddled to the mess that is the Wii U. This will be the last great Wii U game this year, but it won’t be the last great game Wii U of all time. I have a suspicion that honor will be left for the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It could end up being the greatest Wii U game of all time but I’ll save that crown until after I get to play it. Until then if you are looking for something to keep your Wii U warm you won’t go wrong with Paper Mario.
A review copy of Paper Mario: Color Splash was provided by Golin. Part of the North American PR team in support of Nintendo.