During the most recent Nintendo Direct, Nintendo unveiled the newest entry in the Paper Mario series, Paper Mario: Color Splash for the Wii U. To put it lightly, it was met with an underwhelming reception.
Color Splash is scheduled for release later this year, and not too much of the game has been revealed, so I’m not about to pass full judgement on it until then. However, as it stands, the game is, quite bafflingly, looking to be something of a sequel to Paper Mario: Sticker Star in terms of mechanics and gameplay. Many of Sticker Star’s elements look to be reused or reconfigured for the upcoming Color Splash, with the Stickers of the previous game being replaced with cards and paint.
This is quite worrisome, considering Sticker Star is currently the only flat-out bad Mario RPG to date. And considering the two Mario RPGs that followed (Dream Team and Paper Jam) have simply been “good” and not something more, the Mario RPGs are in desperate need of a reinvigoration, and a follow-up to Sticker Star is the exact opposite of that.
My opinion on Sticker Star isn’t one of a minority either, as most longtime Mario RPG fans share my sentiments that it is a sour note in what was once a lovely symphony of Mario role-playing games. And if Color Splash does indeed serve as a successor to Sticker Star, it will be an absolutely dumbfounding decision on Nintendo’s part.
The first two Paper Mario titles on the Nintendo 64 and GameCube – Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, respectively – are among the most beloved Mario games of all time by fans. With their interactive, fast-paced battle systems, charming stories, and oodles of depth, they were RPGs of such quality and accessibility that they should rank highly on any list of the genre’s finest. While many once-classic RPGs have aged for the worse, the first two Paper Mario games (as well as the other classic Mario RPGs) haven’t aged a day. Their fanbases haven’t exactly been quiet about their desire for a more traditional follow-up to the original Paper Mario duo, and seeing as Thousand-Year Door was released way back in 2004, it is absolutely eyebrow-raising why Nintendo continues to stray further and further with the series.
I hope I don’t sound like one of those entitled, bratty gamers who have already started a petition for the game’s cancellation. For all I know, Color Splash may very well end up being a great game, so I’m not trying to write it off when all we have to go by are a couple of trailers. But judging from what is to be seen so far, it’s giving some very bad feelings of deja vu for Sticker Star. And if that does turn out to be the case, it could crush the reputation of the Mario RPGs.
The last truly great Mario RPG was 2009’s Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story on the Nintendo DS. After that, Sticker Star came along and diluted the Paper Mario series. Dream Team and Paper Jam were decent entries in the Mario & Luigi series, but lacked the quality and depth of Bowser’s Inside Story and its predecessors.
There was once a time when every Mario RPG felt special. The original Super Mario RPG is still one of the most beloved games of the genre, Paper Mario was one of the N64’s best titles, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga ensured that the original trilogy of Mario role-playing games were all unique entities, while The Thousand-Year Door proved to be a substantial sequel. Although Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time and Super Paper Mario weren’t quite up to par, they were still memorable adventures. Then along came Bowser’s Inside Story, which felt like the proper follow-up to Superstar Saga.
Since that time, however, the Mario RPGs have simply become solid but uneventful Mario spinoffs, akin more to the Mario sports titles than the RPGs of old. And Color Splash doesn’t exactly look reassuring.
So where do the Mario RPGs go from here? Well, I’ve always been a fan of the idea of Nintendo working out a deal with Square for a proper sequel to the original Super Mario RPG. More realistically, I’ve also long supported the idea of a brand-new Mario RPG, with no direct ties to any of the existing entries, akin to how the first three Mario RPGs were distinct entities.
That might be the direction Nintendo needs to go if they wish to give the Mario RPG genre a future that can live up to their glorious past. The Mario & Luigi series, while still delivering mechanically sound games, have seemingly run out of creativity. Meanwhile, Sticker Star all but ruined the Paper Mario name, and if Color Splash is anything less than a complete redemption of it, then the series will have completely lost its luster, lest Nintendo finally decides to make a more literal follow-up to The Thousand-Year Door.
The core platforming entries of the Super Mario series are the ones that receive the most acclaim. And while they are deserving of such praise, there was once a time when it could be argued that the Mario RPGs were every bit as great. It would be a truly sad thing if those days were behind us. Sadly, if Color Splash ends up being little more than Sticker Star 2, that may very well be the case. At least as far as the ongoing Mario RPG series go. A complete overhaul is sounding better and better.