Paper Mario Color Splash gives the franchise a new coat of paint, sporting high quality graphics and animation. The new entry to the series is fun, filled with humor and references, and is worthy of carrying the Paper Mario name. Now that we’ve got all that positivity out of the way, let’s get down to business.
The Paper Mario series emerged as of August 2000 on the N64, attempting to give Mario a chance at his own turn-based, RPG series with a graphical twist (for the third time). The game was known for its unique take on the mushroom kingdom, providing unique bosses, characters, minigames, and surprisingly humorous and light-hearted writing. This being said, it was still a typical Mario game: Bowser captures princess, Mario gets stars, Mario rescues princess, implied sex, yada yada- we get it.
This is where the Paper Mario series began to diverge from the main series and other RPGs like it; the sequel for the GameCube, Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door, astonished fans with just how incredible the new direction was. A game that utilized the paper mechanic, offered an unpredictable, dramatic, memorable story, and featured even better writing and music than its predecessor. There’s a reason why after 10 years it’s still 40 bucks on eBay. The third installment, Super Paper Mario, changed the franchise into a platformer once more, but focused on the depth of the story and attempted to bring 2-D characters into a 3-D world, which might not have succeeded but it was charming.
What’s the point of this history lesson? I’ll tell you it straight: this isn’t the Paper Mario we have now. Paper Mario Sticker Star was a hyped-up cluster of glitter. Sure, it’s fun at first, but then you realize that there’s no substance to the story, the battles are rigged so you’ll keep grinding stickers (To the point where some bosses can’t be beat without a specific sticker), and they removed any semblance of a leveling system, you know, the defining part of an RPG.
After Mario and Luigi Paper Jam killed everyone’s dreams from being just outright terrible, Color Splash attempts to pick up the pieces by having Mario return the many hues of color to the world with his companion character, Huey, who only exists to be a pun. Other than covering Bowser in black paint and this it’s the same recycled story: Bowser captures princess, Mario gets paint stars, plot-based companion sacrifice him/herself for the third time in a row to save Mario, etc.
So, bottom line, is it good? The graphics are beautiful, the environment reacts with Mario in very interesting ways, and the music isn’t half bad. However, the battle system is bland, giving no real challenge except when battles are near impossible unless you insta-kill them with a specific item: effectively removing any substantial feeling of victory just like in Sticker Star. Additionally, the paint-and-flick, card-based battle system is convoluted, to the point where newcomers will have a hard time initiating the first attack. The fact that the RPG part of an RPG isn’t up to snuff is, by far, the most concerning part about this game. The style is artistic and the jokes by characters are bound to get you to laugh, but this isn’t an art museum or a comedy show; this is supposed to be a game.
Nevertheless, I think that the game is worth a try and worth a buy. The gorgeous, minigame-filled overworld with a focus on witty dialogue and collecting make the game fun. Regardless of how it’s only a step above Sticker Star, there is fun to be had, and while the combat system may not shine, the experience on its own is a worthy one just to take in the charming, masterfully-designed world. Paper Mario Color Splash offers a new coat of paint to the franchise, but at the same time, as any carpenter or plumber can tell you, no amount of paint can fix what doesn’t work.