The Big Paint Stars of Prisma Fountain have vanished—and with them the veritable life’s blood of the once vibrant Prism Island. Who has the strength, smarts, and natural eye for color needed to bring this land back from the edge of an ashen apocalypse? None other than the thinnest hero in the Mushroom Kingdom himself, Paper Mario. Because apparently plumbing just wasn’t paying the bills.
Is this the Wii U’s last hurrah?
With the exception of the much anticipated Legend of Zelda entry Breath of the Wild—which will release on both the Wii U and Nintendo’s upcoming NX—this does look to be the Nintendo’s last major release of the console cycle.
What separates Paper Mario games from the other Mario series?
While the New Super Mario Bros. games are traditional side-scrollers and the Super Mario 3D series are big, modern three-dimensional platformers, the Paper Mario titles mix the straightforward “flat” character models of the former with the environmental puzzle-solving of the latter. Then they crank both elements to 11 and throw in a novel combat system that is both turned-based and encourages some precision button-mashing. The result is part RPG, part action game, and all fun.
How does it stack up to previous Paper Mario titles?
The general consensus seems to be—while all the games are as polished as you’d expected from big-name, first-party Nintendo/Intelligent Systems co-productions—each subsequent Paper Mario release loses a little bit of its former luster. The GameCube’s Thousand Year Door wasn’t quite as innovative as the original, while the Wii’s Super Paper Mario seemed almost too ambitious for its console home.
Similarly, recent 3DS releases Sticker Star and the crossover Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, while great in their own right, didn’t quite fulfill all the promise that many fans had hoped.
That said, Paper Mario: Color Splash is pitch-perfect. Not only is it the best Paper Mario game in recent memory, it may well be the best Mario title of this console generation.
What makes it so good?
At its best, the Paper Mario saga combines epic storytelling, humorous writing, action-packed combat, and innovative gameplay. Color Splash earns high marks across the board.
So, visually-speaking it’s…
Stunning. The central conceit of the game is that the Koopa clan and its troublemaking minions are stealing the color from the Toad-inhabited Prism Island. Obviously, it falls to Mario and Company to return the vibrant hues (not to mention order) to the game’s floundering world. The way in which this island, with its epic, expansive map and vibrant—but, in many places, quite literally blank—levels, is represented is perfectly beautiful.
As Mario battles (and puzzles) his way through a slowly expanding selection of exquisitely designed lands, restoring color with the help of anthropomorphic paint bucket Huey and his trusty Paint Hammer, the game both draws you into the adventure and makes you a party to the recreation of a world in peril in the most chaotic, colorful manner possible.
Uh… What’s a Paint Hammer?
In order to progress through the game, Mario must repaint blank environments, revive crumpled, colorless Toads, and power up his own card-based attacks. These are all done via the Paint Hammer, a specialty weapon that can collect paint from the world around him (usually by pounding strategically placed flowers, trees, and benches and soaking up the color that flies out) and then slap those same captured hues onto a level’s colorless elements to open new paths, reactivate machinery, or uncover other hidden elements.
How does it control?
Along with his trusty Paint Hammer, Mario is also armed with a growing deck of Battle Cards, physical manifestations of various weapons, allies, and other actions. Combat generally involves selecting one or more cards from your current deck using the GamePad, recoloring any blank cards to give them more power, and “sliding” those finished cards from the touch-screen and into the fray on your television.
This turn-based system also rewards properly timed button-presses—to string together combos when attacking or help protect against damage when defending—and thus gives the game a nice balance between traditional RPG tactics and good, old-fashioned action. There’s an obvious learning curve, but, thanks to helpful Toads of the game’s central hub, Port Prisma, it’s always easy to track down a tutorial or simply find a place to practice your moves.
Both coloring cards and repainting any barren spots in the environment tap your limited paint resources; thankfully, a little exploration can easily uncover more paint-bearing items ripe for a proper smack from your trusty Hammer.
If I had to nitpick, I’d say that the only problem with the control scheme—and, honestly, the only problem in the game at all—is that moving an intentionally 2D Mario through the depth of faux-3D (2.5D?) environments can sometimes feel a little squirrely. This tends to occur when it comes to lining up your jumps for breaking bricks or activating save points and occasionally when you’re attempting to use the Paint Hammer to add color to an area of blank ground.
That said, this is only a minor inconvenience. The level design is such that you’re seldom in danger of accidentally falling off of a hard-fought perch, and this little bit of extra jumping and hammering is more fun (and funny) than frustrating.
Will kids enjoy it?
If my children are any barometer, yes. From the earliest moments of Paper Mario: Color Splash, my 8- and 11-year-olds were in stitches. The writing was funny but family-friendly, the quest to reclaim Prism Island’s missing color-giving Paint Stars felt appropriately epic, and a cast of old favorites, particularly the island’s Toad inhabitants, provided its most charming performance yet.
There were a couple of moments when my youngest needed some nudging to solve environmental puzzles, but that mostly just added to the overall family gameplay experience. On the other hand, my eagle-eyed brood was often much faster than me when it came to spotting cutout points, a new gameplay feature whereby simple 2D shapes can be cut out using the touch-screen to bridge otherwise inaccessible gaps at select points within certain levels.
How about adult gamers?
If you like Mario, action-RPGs, and overall silliness, you’ll enjoy Color Splash. Even if the most recent portable Paper Mario titles didn’t scratch your itch, I encourage you to give this one a try.
What’s the bottom line?
Everything about Paper Mario: Color Splash, from its gorgeous game map to its novel level design to its humorous dialog make it a standout title, even among a generation of exemplary Mario releases. If you have a Wii U, this one is a must-buy. If you don’t have a Wii U? Well, there’s likely no convincing you this late in the game.
If you pine for the good old days of the original Paper Mario (or its spiritual forefather, Mario RPG), Color Splash is proof positive that the property’s best years are far from behind us. If you’re ready for a colorful adventure that won’t leave you flat, Paper Mario: Color Splash is exactly what you’re looking for.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America