|System: Wii U|
|Dev: Intelligent Systems|
|Release: October 7, 2016|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
If you'd asked me last year, I would have told you that Yoshi's Woolley World was the pinnacle of Nintendo's craft-based game trend. Everything there looked so darn touchable that I didn't think it could get any better. Then along came Paper Mario: Color Splash and its amazingly detailed, ever-changing papercraft world to prove me wrong. Despite well-founded worries, this title not only displays Nintendo at its audio-visual best, it's genuinely fun to play and often quite funny, as well. Only a few design missteps keep it from climbing to the top of the heap.
This time around, Paper Mario is off to Prism Island after being mailed a freaky paper Toad that has been drained of all its color. The entire island is being drained of paint by a "mysterious" foe (I'll give you one guess who it is), and it's up to Mario and talking paint can Huey to set things to rights. It's all basically an excuse for you to be able to play with paint as well as paper, with Mario able to splash color back into the world with his magical paint hammer.
When our 2D hero disembarks from his cute paper ship onto the island, we get our first look at the Paper Mario world in HD, and it's what the series has deserved all along. Everything is made of different kinds of cardboard or paper, with textures so real they look like they should fly off the screen and onto a craft table. There are many impressive papercraft set-pieces to be found throughout, my favorites being a huge haunted mansion and a paper train straight out of any railroad fan's fantasies. Every corner of the world has been crafted with care and creativity, and it's a genuine delight to enter each new scene and discover what lies in store. Even the character animations are perfectly papery, as they fold and flutter about.
It's not just looks that make this paper world so much fun. It's the way you interact with it. The entire adventure unfolds like origami as you re-color and otherwise interact with the levels. You'll make changes, large and small, to the areas you encounter as you play. Turn a poisoned park pristine again, fix up a battered train, or even flatten out a paper road that's been curled into a loop by the bad guys. It's a level of permanent change that's unprecedented in a Mario game, and it's not only enjoyable to watch, it feels satisfying. Finally, Mario is making a lasting difference!
The puzzles you'll need to solve to transform these levels can be mildly tricky, but they're rarely frustrating. There are a few pixel hunts, but usually you'll catch on to the solutions without too much difficulty. As usual for Nintendo, there are clever hints hidden in the text and in your surroundings to help you out. You can call out Huey the paint can for a more explicit hint (often useful, occasionally frustratingly unhelpful), and you can flat out ask a Toad in the main town which objects you'll need to take along with you to solve the next major puzzle coming your way. That last part is a sad by-product of the card system that I'll discuss later, and the only sour spot when it comes to the game's puzzles.
Color Splash isn't just charming and entertaining to play, it's downright funny at times. Early Paper Mario games have had a wordiness issue, while its direct predecessor Sticker Star hardly had any dialogue at all. This game finally nails the balance, with jokes that get right to the point and don't overstay their welcome. Some are generally funny, while others are great Nintendo nods like, "What in the Lost Levels is going on here?"
Miniature stories found in each area you visit also make this world far more welcoming and interesting than Sticker Star's, especially because you'll visit many areas a few times in order to fully resolve all their problems and find all the paint stars you need to restore the world's color. Fortunately, the backtracking required isn't troublesome, as the world map helps you get around quickly.
The final thing that makes Color Splash special is its excellent soundtrack. Let's face it, Mario music is great, but by now we've heard it remixed far too many times. Instead of re-re-re-hashing those tunes or attempting to copy their style, Color Splash sports a fully original soundtrack that draws from a ton of musical traditions like folk, jazz, country, and various dance styles. The songs are catchy and extremely varied. I even went to the game's museum, where you can unlock music whenever you paint 100% of the colorless spots in a level, to listen to the tunes on their own sometimes. I never do that.