Paper Mario: Color Splash is the 5th game in Nintendo’s quirky Paper Mario franchise, announced earlier this year to resoundingly negative fan reception due to its similarities with 2012’s Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the 3DS. I might be in the minority here, but I did not find Sticker Star to be as offensively bad as many consider it to be. It certainly had many problems, having mediocre world design, no story and bad levels of backtracking, but overall it was a charming action-adventure game. Yes, it wasn’t an RPG, and that’s fine. A game does not need points and stats to be fun, so I’m not of the train of thought that the series necessarily needs a return-to-roots in order to be good. That said, what really is Color Splash? Sticker Star 2? Something else? After many hours with the game, I will attempt to cover just that.
Answer: It’s Sticker Star 2
If you hated Sticker Star, I’m sorry to tell you that Color Splash isn’t secretly a return to the RPG style of The Thousand Year Door or the original Paper Mario. In many ways, it’s more of a continuation of Sticker Star than I originally expected, and the new paint mechanic only switches the game up in subtle ways. It is, however, an improvement on Sticker Star in many ways. The first and most obvious, if you’ve seen any video or screenshots of the game, are the flawlessly gorgeous visuals. The papercraft style of the Paper Mario series has never been more fully realized than in this game. It’s the little subtle touches that make this, like how Mario’s hammer crinkles up when it hits the ground, or how Shy Guys that have fallen into water look like their color has been washed out. It’s an absolute marvel to look at, and I didn’t detect any rough edges in the visuals in my time playing this game.
Another very strong improvement is the writing. Sticker Star barely had a story-it did have some quirky writing here and there, but it was very rare. Color Splash, however, has some of the best writing ever in a Nintendo game. Not that the story is brilliant-this is still Mario after all-but the dialogue from front to back is incredibly hilarious and weird. It’s very apparent that the writers and the translators here must have had a lot of fun with this game, and it definitely pays off. Generally, I would say this game is worth playing simply to experience the writing.
The world design is also largely improved from Sticker Star. While that game had a very generic set of levels (Grass world, Desert world, Forest world, Ice world, etc.), every one of Color Splash‘s levels is a lovely named zone with its own theme, characters and story. This time around, it’s actually a joy to run around and discover what lies in the next level, as opposed to trudging through your generic 1-1, 1-2, 1-3 levels. Additionally, while part of the charm I found in Sticker Star was picking and prodding at its various maps to find hidden secrets, the lack of direction would often become frustrating. Color Splash does a much better job of giving you the necessary tools to be able to figure out the game’s secrets without having to backtrack too much or having to resort to online resources or guides, even if you definitely will get lost at some points.
The Gameplay is Still a Mixed Bag
Unfortunately, not everything is rainbows and unicorns with Color Splash. The formula of this game is very similar, if not identical to Sticker Star. In this game, you travel through a set of worlds where you collect Paint Stars in order to unlock more worlds. At the same time, you have to collect several real life “things,” which are the keys to solving several puzzles in order to advance in the game. Like in the previous game, the main source of frustration is the “thing” items, which are required to progress, but it is often unclear when you need what specific thing. They did try to improve this by adding a Toad that gives you hints in the main town, but it’s a band aid on a mechanic that isn’t terribly fun.
Battles received many changes, but the end result isn’t terribly compelling. Cards replace the Stickers from Sticker Star, but they are functionally identical, save for a few changes. Your moves in battle are still linked to these one-time-use items, so you must be constantly scouring the world for new cards to replace the ones you use. This battle system had some problems, and some issues that were present in the previous game were corrected, but at the same time, a plethora of new issues were introduced.
In Sticker Star, you could only use a single sticker at all times. You essentially had to pay coins each turn in order to run a roulette where you could match icons to win a shot at using more stickers in a turn. In Color Splash, you gain the ability to use more than one card through out the game permanently. Removing the need to use the roulette in every turn is definitely an improvement, but it does make coins all but useless in Color Splash. The roulette is not totally done away with-instead, it is kept to fix another one of Sticker Star‘s problems, which is running out of stickers. Now, if you run out of cards, you can use the roulette to get new cards. You will no longer get into a situation where you run out of moves and are forced to flee from a battle, although you may definitely run into times we’re you’re caught with your pants down in a boss fight because you don’t have the right Thing card.
The main issue with battles is that now you have to “paint” your cards each turn. In theory, this adds a layer of strategy to battles, since you have to decide how much paint you want to use, but in practice, it makes each turn a trudge full of unnecessary actions. Here’s the picture I want you to have: you’re run into an enemy and a battle has begun. First, you have to wade through an astoundingly non-intuitive list of cards, wading through dozens of them with no real rhyme or reason to their ordering. Seriously, the sticker book screen of Sticker Star is a paragon of interface design by comparison. After dragging your cards over, you have to press a button to move on to the next step. Then you have to paint your cards, which involves tapping them on the touch screen until they are as full as you would like, but let’s be honest-you will barely ever run out of paint, so there’s no point in filling a card up part-way. After that, you must press another button to move to the final step, swiping your cards up to your TV screen to complete your turn.
This entire process has to be repeated every turn. Yes, even when fighting a lonely goomba. It’s not enjoyable, and it makes every battle take much, much longer than it should. I found myself running from nearly every single battle due to this, and there’s no real drawback to picking that path, either. The only significant prize you get from battles is hammer points, which increase the amount of paint you can hold. The catch is that paint is so plentiful in the environment that it doesn’t really matter, and the max size of your paint meter is basically irrelevant.
It’s Fun, But They Can Do Much Better
With Color Splash, I didn’t really feel like my time was wasted. This game is actually a lot of fun, and is worth a playthrough simply to experience the brilliant writing and graphics. If what you missed from the Paper Mario series is the incredible wit and humor, then this game is probably worth your time. Just know that you will have to trudge through several frustrating game elements, such as battles, frustrating puzzles and the occasional weird level design mishap. But if you think those are problems that you can overcome, this is a great reason to dust off your Wii U.
- Brilliant writing and stories
- World design is greatly improved from the previous game
- Stunning visuals and music
- Exploration is a joy
- Tons of levels make for a lengthy experience
- The battle system is awful
- “Thing” puzzles return, can be just as frustrating as in Sticker Star
- Occasionally frustrating levels and bullshit game overs
- In-game economy is broken
- Most of the game is very, very easy