Having debuted on the N64, Paper Mario quickly became one of the most celebrated off-shoots of the vast Mario franchise, with a new entry for each of Nintendo’s home consoles since then, and a solitary jaunt onto the 3DS. The exception to the rule has been the Wii U, and it wasn’t until March of this year, four years after its launch, that Paper Mario: Color Splash was announced.
It’s a strange feeling to realise that, unless Nintendo have more games up their sleeves, this game might be the very last Wii U exclusive – Breath of the Wild is, of course, releasing on both Wii U and Nintendo NX. It’s a swan song for the console, then, likely the penultimate big game for the system, and it feels like a nice bookend for a lot of what Nintendo have done with the system over the last few years.
For one thing, there’s the visual excellence. It looks absolutely gorgeous, as you’d expect from Nintendo’s stable of games, and there’s a strong visual identity to it. Of course, the same can be said of all the Paper Mario games, and there’s nothing quite like running around a paper cutout of the platforming plumber, but much like Yoshi’s Woolly World, Intelligent Systems have truly embraced this and made the entire world completely out of paper and card. Each of the characters shimmers and waves gently in the breeze, they droop when they’re close to being knocked out, and there’s not a bare bit of 3D scenery in the game that doesn’t have the look and feel of paper.
It goes beyond that, though. At the heart of Color Splash is a new gimmick, as Paper Mario’s traditional hammer has been bestowed with the ability to smash some paint into the world – a brush might have made more sense, but who am I to argue? Smack your hammer onto the floor using the specific button and the paint spatters out from that point, seeping into the paper and drying in after a few seconds.
The reason for slapping some paint around is that a troop of Shy Guys have been running around, draining parts of the world of their colour and stealing Paint Stars. It’s up to you and your new buddy, the paint bucket called Huey, to unravel their dastardly plan and repaint the blank spots and colourless characters around the world. Naturally, the Toads that you colour in will probably have something to say about it, while patches around the world reward you with coins, items, cards, while hitting flowers in the world refills your paint levels.
As an RPG, enemies can be seen, avoided and actively engaged in the game world. They’re similar to those from the 3DS’ Paper Mario: Sticker Star, as you pick which particular Battle Cards to use in a puzzle-like twist on the battles of old. There’s still the rewards for perfectly timing your button presses, so that you chain together bonus damage and block to reduce incoming attacks, but you’re picking from a somewhat finite resource with how you take on enemies.
For one thing, you’re picking up these battle cards in the game world, so they’re a finite resource, but you’re also deciding which cards to play and in which order, while you will have to adapt to the enemies in front of you. You’re not going to want to jump on top of Morton’s spiked turtle shell, for one thing. That decided, you can then colour cards in with paint so that they deal more damage, draining from the red, blue and yellow, depending on the card.
To me, someone who has a couple of Paper Mario games deep in my collection of unplayed games, it’s a nice looking battle system which builds on what I know went before. However, I also know it’s closely related to Sticker Star, which was not terribly well received by long term fans. There’s other similarities, but one thing that absolutely has not been lost is the game’s sense of humour.
Whether it’s just in the back and forth dialogue, Morton’s dim witted puns or the whimsically silly scandal surrounding Oceanfest and the Five Fun Guys, there’s a knowing humour throughout. It even goes as far as the special Thing cards – another parallel feature from Sticker Star – which can summon special objects into the world during key moments in a battle. They bring with them whole new backgrounds and scene changes, with a burning city rooftop accompanying a huge fire extinguisher to put out Morton’s flaming hammer, or a giant maneki-neko statue accompanied by the most stereotypically over the top Japanese scene imaginable. It truly is gloriously excessive.
So yes, it looks like Color Splash is taking a few steps beyond Sticker Star, for better or for worse depending on your point of view, but I found it to be thoroughly charming. The game had me chuckling and smiling throughout with its silliness, and it’s given me a bit of a push to try and find time to play the previous games before this one comes out in October.