Colour Us Delighted With Paper Mario: Color Splash
Ever since Super Mario RPG blew our minds exactly 20 years ago, each consecutive Nintendo home console has blessed us with a new role-playing Mario adventure. Although the series swiftly evolved (and never looked back) into a playful paper caper with N64’s Paper Mario, it has become a cherished tradition for a new Paper Mario game to drop every handful of years.
We could always count on the handheld Mario & Luigi games to fill that RPG void between console releases, however, when Paper Mario: Sticker Star arrived on 3DS in 2012, it seemed as though the franchise was possibly going mobile. While it’s nice to play on the go, one of Paper Mario’s greatest virtues is its blending of lo-fi cardboard/paper cut-outs with stunning visuals—something handheld devices can’t really pull off. Things started looking a little bleak for a Wii U iteration when Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam unfolded on 3DS last January, but our faith was restored after a March 2016 Nintendo Direct revealed Paper Mario: Color Splash for Wii U. Now, nine years after Super Paper Mario arrived on Wii, a living room-friendly follow-up is finally here—and we’re lovin’ it.
While each Paper Mario game has always offered a fresh coat of paint to its core gameplay, the trend has been to move away from the more traditional RPG in favour of something a little more action-packed. As in Sticker Star, there’s no conventional levelling up by way of experience points, but in this case there’s incentive to keep battling. While the fun but flawed Sticker Star lacked several mechanical ingredients to make it as enjoyable as its predecessors, Color Splash has fine-tuned its mechanics in order to appease both the classic Paper Mario crowd and newcomers.
Instead of using a bevy of stickers to fight baddies and solve puzzles, Mario now wields an assortment of cards. From classic items and weapons like mushrooms and hammers, to more high-concept fare like giant plungers and sour lemons, these cards are one of the two cornerstones of the game. The second most important thing Mario must use to his advantage is paint, which leads us to Color Splash’s central plot that takes place in a new habitat called Prism Island. Upon arriving at the island, Mario learns that many of its items, locations, and inhabitants lack colour. And so, teaming up with a sassy paint bucket, Mario sets off to collect six Big Paint Stars that will restore Prism Island to its formerly vibrant state. Oh, and somewhere along the way Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser, obvi.
With that little plot detour out of the way, let’s get back to the gameplay. By using paint, Mario can enhance his cards, as well as turn people, places, and things back to colour—and thus back to life. Between carefully using your cards and maximizing your paint storage by collecting post-battle hammers, Color Splash offers plenty of strategy for experienced and novice gamers. You can even direct a canvas-cutting pair of scissors in order to get across obstacles and uncover coveted cards.
As we’ve come to expect from the series, the writing is aces. Almost every quirky encounter and plot development will leave you with a goofy grin on your face. The levels are also hugely varied and always a hoot to explore. From sunny beaches to haunted hotels to jumbo-sized forests, there are next to no redundancies on the map. But if there’s one thing about this Paper Mario that takes the cake, it’s the tunes. Music can sometimes be a throwaway element to a game, but Color Splash boasts one of the most eclectic and memorable Nintendo soundtracks ever, which is a major achievement. Say what you will about that contentious claim, it still makes the story’s over-20-hour runthrough go down even smoother than it would with a bunch of generic beeps and borps.
Paper Mario: Color Splash is out now on Wii U. If this is indeed one of the console’s swan songs (Nintendo’s mysterious new hardware is slated for a March 2017 release), you better get your splash on sooner than later. Between this and Splatoon, Wii U really has a wonderful way with paint. Check out the trailer below and you’ll agree.