|System: Wii U|
|Dev: Intelligent Systems|
|Release: October 7, 2016|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Cartoon Violence|
All these things point to an adventure game masterpiece, and it would be if not for a few elements that drag it down. For the "action" part of the action-adventure formula, you'll be engaging in the typical turn-based/timed button press combat system we've seen in all the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario games. This one is a fairly stripped down version of the format, with a limited number of enemies on screen and only one simple block move that can help you take half damage from your foes.
The main gimmick is that all of Paper Mario's attacks come in the form of consumable cards that you can paint before throwing out in order to do more damage. At the start, you can play one card per turn, but you'll get more per turn later on in the game. Your paint supply is a limited resource, which I believe is meant to inspire strategic decisions in battle. In reality, though, paint is super easy to collect in the levels and can even be recharged in the middle of battle with a 1-up card. So instead the paint mechanic becomes just one extra step you need to take every single turn of battle. Card collection itself can be fun, as it helps you change up your attacks, but the attendant inventory management can be a pain. If you happen to be running low on cards at the end of a level, that means interrupting the flow of play to head back to the main town and buy more cards. It's not a game-killer, but it's a nuisance.
The main issue with the card battle system is that it only hits its sweet spot for a while in the middle of the game. At the beginning, when fights are dead easy, it's just dull. In the mid-game, battles become more like puzzles, daring you to select the correct cards and successfully pull off their attacks in order to end fights as quickly as possible (monsters start doing some pretty major damage mid-game). That's fun for a bit, but later in the game I increasingly found it a chore to flick through my extensive deck, pull out individual cards, hold down my stylus color them, and THEN flick them off the touch screen every single turn – and that's the process with the fast battle option turned on. Several simple changes could have alleviated this, like shortcut buttons to help you navigate your deck faster or unlimited-use cards for basic attacks, but we're simply not given those labor saving choices.
The consumable card system also hinders the fun of puzzle solving. A major problem that people complained about in Paper Mario: Sticker Star was the "thing" stickers, objects used to solve puzzles in levels and boss battles. You never knew which "things" you'd need ahead of time and the stickers were consumable, so if you didn't have the right ones, you'd have to exit a level or lose a boss fight, then backtrack to town to get different ones. Color Splash uses consumable "thing" cards and solves the backtracking problem with an NPC who straight-up tells you which "things" to put in your inventory for the puzzles ahead. He's optional, but there's really no other way to pack the right "things" ahead of time (taking all of them would use up around a third of your deck space and isn't really viable). It's unfortunate, because there are clever hints about which thing to use baked into the levels and boss fights already. If only the "things" weren't consumable, these puzzles could have stood on their own. Fortunately, "thing" cards are only used in a small number of puzzles, so you'll have plenty of other chances to solve things on your own.
Beyond the issues with the card system, the worst design choice in Color Splash is the lack of character diversity. Nearly every character in the game is a Toad. Sure, some have slightly different personalities and some wear funny hats, but in the end, they're all Toads – silly and rather incompetent. It's monotonous and such a drastic contrast to the tremendous creativity seen in the level design that it feels like it was imposed from outside. Heck, we don't even get to see new enemies or bosses anywhere in the game. They're all brought over from previous Mario platforming titles. Is no-one but Shigeru Miyamoto allowed to add new characters or monsters to the Super Mario universe these days? I sure hope that's not the case, because that over-familiarity is a black mark against an otherwise wonderfully novel world.
Paper Mario: Color Splash has a lot going for it. Most of the time, it's the kind of game that simply brings a smile to your face as you enjoy the fresh world and amusing dialogue. If it weren't for the tedious side effects of the card system and the disappointingly unoriginal cast, it could be a genuine Game of the Year award contender. As it is, it's still thoroughly worthwhile for its enchanting paper world (and the attendant tunes) alone. This game is about 80% whimsy, wonder, and silly grins – which makes it worth your while to put up with the few ways that it doesn't shine.
Date: October 5, 2016