Paper Mario: Color Splash Review

Color Splash

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars began the concept of transforming the world of Super Mario into an RPG series. Though Super Mario RPG never got a proper sequel, its legacy was continued by two series: the handheld Mario & Luigi titles, and Paper Mario. Both series were great in their own right, but it was Paper Mario that felt closer in spirit to Super Mario RPG.

Despite the Mario RPGs being among Nintendo’s best titles – up there with Zelda, Donkey Kong, and the Mario platformers – Nintendo, for reasons that will never make sense, decided to opt out of the Mario RPGs as time went by.

The last two Mario & Luigi titles have basically stripped away the depth in story, characters and gameplay from the first three titles, but Paper Mario has been altered all the more. Super Paper Mario took away the turn-based battles in favor of platforming with RPG elements, though it retained the strong storytelling of the previous Paper Mario entries.

It was Paper Mario: Sticker Star on the 3DS however, that remains one of Nintendo’s biggest blunders. Sticker Star brought back turn-based battles, but replaced the RPG elements with collectible stickers, a gimmick that quickly grew tired and even made battles predominantly pointless, since your only reward for winning battles were more stickers and coins…for buying more stickers. Not to mention the game removed virtually every story and character aspect of its predecessors, leaving it soulless on both a narrative and gameplay standpoint.

Sticker Star was greatly disliked by longtime fans of the series, and when Paper Mario: Color Splash was first revealed and looked to be replicating Sticker Star’s style, it seemed doomed from the start. But does Color Splash fix the many problems of Sticker Star? Or does it fall just as flat?

To put it simply, if Sticker Star broke the Paper Mario series, Color Splash does a pretty good job at fixing it. But even if you repair something after its been broken, it’s never going to look quite as good as it once did.

Paper Mario: Color Splash does adopt much of Sticker Star’s formula. Battles still use consumable actions (here presented as cards), and Mario still doesn’t gain levels, nor is he joined by any memorable partners that can aid him in battle (though his adventure is joined by a sentient paint bucket named Huey, who is a far more charming and funny character than Sticker Star’s Kirsti ever was).

There is a bonus this time around in the form of paint. Mario must paint his cards in battle to fully power them up, and also paint areas of the environment that have been drained of their color using the paint hammer. The inclusion of paint benefits the battle system by the addition of Hammer Scraps, collectible items that are rewarded after battle. Hammer Scraps more or less work like experience points, and when enough are collected, the maximum amount of paint Mario has at his disposal increases. This difference alone prevents the battles from feeling pointless, as they did in Sticker Star, though it sadly cannot change the tediousness of the battles themselves.

Color SplashThere’s no beating around the bush, making all of the actions in battle consumable items is simply bad game design. Sure, the game throws cards and coins at you all the time, so you’re rarely going to run out of actions, but you may easily run out of the cards you need for a given enemy or situation. You’re constantly scrambling to get the right cards, or going out of your way to get enough coins to buy them by the bulk, just so you’re sure to have enough to make your way through a specific section.

To further complicate things, the process of using these cards in battle is just as tedious as anything. You have to cycle through your cards on the Gamepad (which are always categorized, left to right, from oldest to newest), then set up the cards you want to use, tap the chosen cards to paint them, select the “done painting” option, and then finish things off with an entirely unnecessary “flick” motion to send the cards from the Gamepad to the TV. Then, and only then, can you perform the usual action commands in battle. The process can grow old fast, and you may find yourself avoiding enemies just so you don’t have to keep going through it.

Another huge downside to battles is that Mario will automatically attack the on-screen enemies in a set sequence from left to right. This not only removes so much potential strategy in battles, but also means that, should you defeat some enemies too soon, Mario could end up screwing things up (like jumping on a spiked enemy) and the player can’t do anything about it.

Finally, “Things” make a return from Sticker Star, being 3D objects that can be turned into super powerful cards for use in and out of battle. Each Thing includes a hilarious in-battle animation (like a breakdancing piggybank or a tornado-like washing machine), and make for fun special attacks. The problem with Things arrises during boss battles. Every boss in the game must have a specific Thing used against them in order to defeat them. It is mandatory that you have a specific Thing with you during each boss, so that you can use them at the right moment. If you don’t have the right Thing, the bosses are, quite literally, impossible.

Color SplashIf this worked like Mega Man, and specific Things were merely particularly effective against certain bosses, it could be really fun and clever. Instead, you have bosses that are only beatable with specific items. There’s no strategy involved. If you know what Thing you need, you basically have victory guaranteed. It’s yet another display of blatantly bad game design.

Thankfully, this is where most of the complaining stops, because the aspects of Paper Mario: Color Splash that are enjoyable are very much enjoyable.

For starters, there’s a much greater emphasis on story and character than there was in Sticker Star (of course, any story and character at all would be much more than Sticker Star, but it’s intended as a compliment).

The plot is simple enough, with Mario and Peach traveling to Prism Island – a land renowned for its vibrant colors – after they receive a Toad drained of its color in the mail, sent from the island to the Mushroom Kingdom. Once they arrive at Prism Island, Mario and Peach find that the place is being drained of its color by an army of Shy Guys. Naturally, Bowser is up to his old tricks again, and it’s up to Mario, and his new paint bucket partner Huey, to restore color to the island and rescue the Paint Stars.

Color SplashSo the plot itself is nothing grand like Super Mario RPG or the first two Paper Marios, but Color Splash does liven things up with terrific writing and the series’ trademark humor.

Color Splash is one of the funniest games I’ve played in a long time. Whether it’s the visual gags that make great use of the paper motif, or the constant zingers the characters are spouting, Color Splash actually elicited a good number of laughs out of me throughout my playthrough.

Yeah, no kidding. I miss unique Toads.
Yeah, no kidding. I miss unique Toads.

On the downside of things, Color Splash continues Nintendo’s bizarre recent trend of making every NPC a generic Toad, with their only differing features being the colors of their spots and vests. I honestly can’t grasp why Nintendo thinks having every NPC looking like the standard Toad is more charming than the variety of characters found in past Paper Marios. It just takes away personality from the game.

This lack of variety also shows up in the enemies, who are relegated to simply being returning foes from Mario’s platforming ventures. Even the aforementioned bosses are restricted to the Koopalings. I seriously don’t understand Nintendo’s refusal to add new enemies to the Mario RPG series anymore.

On a lighter note, another highlight has to be Color Splash’s aesthetics. The game is absolutely gorgeous to look at, with Nintendo bringing the paper craft visuals of the series to life like never before. There are so many little details all over the place that make the environments pop. You can definitely tell the developers were having a great time thinking of ways to recreate Mario’s world out of handcrafted materials. It’s an absolutely beautiful game to look at, and it’s full of visual surprises.

Arguably even better than the visuals is the musical score. Color Splash follows in the tradition of the Galaxy series and 3D World of integrating a full band orchestra into the Mario series, and just as in past efforts, it pays off beautifully. Color Splash’s soundtrack is often (and appropriately) colorful and lively, but it ends up showcasing a wide variety of styles and tunes. It’s one of the best Mario soundtracks of the last few years.

Much of this review may sound a bit negative, but rest assured, the good ultimately outweighs the bad. Nintendo’s stubbornness may have never been quite as pronounced as it is here, with the continuing of Sticker Star’s infamous template. But the fact that Color Splash can take such a flawed blueprint and turn it into a very fun experience is also one of the biggest testaments to Nintendo’s mastery of the craft.

I very much love most of Paper Mario: color Splash: It looks stunning, sounds great, it’s often hilarious, always charming, and is full of fun little gameplay surprises. But the flaws that are present are a bit too prominent, and you may find that Color Splash is at its best in stages that work as their own, self-contained little narratives, and place the battle system to the side. Still, a tedious battle system is better than the pointless one of Sticker Star, and the stories, characters and writing that are present here help give the game an identity that was lacking not only in Sticker Star, but the past few Mario & Luigi titles as well.

Paper Mario: Color Splash may not bring back the glory the Mario RPGs once showcased so profusely, but its creativity and charm are so endearing that you can’t help but feel it’s getting things back on track.

But seriously, can we please just get a proper Mario RPG again? Please?!

 

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Five Nintendo Franchise I Want to see Receive the Mario Maker Treatment

Super Mario Maker

Super Mario Maker is undoubtedly one of the best modern Nintendo games. In recent weeks I’ve found myself playing it as extensively as I did when it was first released. That’s the kind of longevity and replayability most games couldn’t hope for.

Why is it so addictive? It’s like I’ve said in the past, it turns the process of level editing into something that’s not only accessible, but fun in its own right. And playing the levels of other players provides countless surprises (some pleasant, others not so much).

While there were some limitations when the game first launched (and there still are a few that could be addressed), Super Mario Maker’s updates through the months have smoothened things out all the more, and added some great new features (the Fire Koopa Clown Car allows for more accurate shooter levels, for example).

Playing Super Mario Maker again has made me think about what other Nintendo franchises I’d like to see receive similar treatment. So here are five other such Nintendo series that I would like to see get a “Maker” of their own. They may not all be realistic options for one reason or another. But I want them anyway. Continue reading “Five Nintendo Franchise I Want to see Receive the Mario Maker Treatment”

Can the Mario RPGs Reclaim Their Glory?

Paper Mario: Color Splash

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.

Paper Mario: Color SplashThere 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.

Paper Mario Memories

Paper Mario

I recently began a playthrough of the original Paper Mario on the Wii U’s Virtual Console, and I’m loving every minute of my revisiting of it.

Paper Mario was, of course, the last great Nintendo 64 title, being released months before the GameCube’s launch. In many ways, Paper Mario remains the most timeless of N64 games. I know many would consider that statement an act of video game blasphemy, considering the N64 housed both Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. But with all due respect to those classics (which are two other members of the small club of N64 games that have aged well), they both still look like they were from the early days of 3D gaming, whereas Paper Mario’s unique art style and blending of 2D and 3D gameplay perspectives have ensured it a timeless quality unique unto itself.

It’s not just the visuals that stand out in Paper Mario though. The game’s true genius that continues to endure is how it takes the RPG genre and makes it far more accessible to those unfamiliar to RPGs, while not sacrificing any of the depth of the genre.

"The game was originally going to be an RPG with a Zelda-style health system. That's actually a really cool idea!"
“The game was originally going to be an RPG with a Zelda-style health system. That’s actually a really cool idea!”

As I played through the game’s first chapter, I was taken back to the days of the N64, when seemingly every Nintendo Power issue promised a N64 sequel to Super Mario RPG in its previews sections. I remember at first it was simply titled “Super Mario RPG 2” and featured characters who looked like they were SNES sprites in N64 environments, which I thought was cool, since I hadn’t really seen anything like that (only Parappa the Rapper came close). Some time later it was renamed “Mario RPG 64” and “Super Mario Adventure.” This game had a long production history, as I remember seeing some early screenshots here and there for years before the game finally saw release at the end of the N64’s lifecycle.

I remember I couldn’t wait for new information about this game, but for years I rarely ever seemed to get new info (I was young, and the internet was still pretty young itself, Nintendo Power was all I had).

I have a lot of history with the original Super Mario RPG, it was the first RPG I ever played (and despite my love of Paper Mario, Secret of Mana, and others, it remains my favorite). Although it became obvious at some point that this new Mario RPG wouldn’t have any direct connection to the original, I honestly didn’t mind. It was a different time for Nintendo. Most new entries in their series seemed to be starting fresh, as opposed to direct sequels. So this was the closest I was going to get to a Super Mario RPG 2. So any new information I could scrounge up was like finding buried treasure. It was awesome!

The officially-titled Paper Mario would finally get some new life around the time most Nintendo fans were gearing up for the GameCube. Perhaps not the best timing, but I didn’t care. I was excited for the GameCube, sure. But Luigi’s Mansion, Super Smash Bros. Melee and a little oddity called Pikmin were lucky they were released near the end of 2001. Because for me, the first half of that gaming year was all about Paper Mario.

"I truly do miss Nintendo Power..."
“I truly do miss Nintendo Power…”

I remember how excited I was when I received issue 141 of Nintendo Power, and it had Paper Mario on the cover! I poured over that issue (more accurately, the article on Paper Mario) countless times. I was eleven-years old at the time, and my brilliant little adolescent mind was completely absorbed with this Paper Mario. I would even end up ordering the soundtrack from Nintendo Power (it still sits proudly among my favorite CDs)!

To finally have my hands on so much information on this elusive game was a thing of beauty. I simply couldn’t get enough of it!

I remember when the game was finally released, it completely lived up to my expectations. I know you’re probably wondering how much expectations an eleven-year old could have, but I had a ton of them! Paper Mario was a blast and, at the time, I may have called it my favorite game ever (I can’t quite go that far now, since there are some classics that shine a little brighter and even a few modern titles that take some of that cake). It was wonderful.

Its sequel, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door would hit the GameCube three years later. I remember being really hyped for a sequel to Paper Mario, but somehow my hype just wasn’t quite the same (perhaps I was getting older and less enthused about things, or maybe it had something to do with the fact that each Mario RPG before it was unique unto themselves, so a direct sequel at that point wasn’t as surprising). Most seem to think The Thousand-Year Door is the better game, and I can understand such claims. The story is heftier, the writing has more personality, and there were even some fun tweaks to the battle system. But for one reason or another, the original Paper Mario always stuck with me more. I like that it was – more so than any other Mario RPG – a Mario RPG.

Paper Mario
“Swift justice!”

By that I mean it is the most literal translation of Mario into the RPG genre. Super Mario RPG is more akin to Mario meets Final Fantasy, the Mario & Luigi games are something of a self-parody, and the Paper Mario sequels would, understandably, take the series in new directions. But the original Paper Mario is Mario thrown into a role-playing game, pure and simple.

Bowser is the bad guy, the adventure spans across the Mushroom Kingdom and familiar environments (fire, ice, tropical island, etc.), Mario’s allies could be summed up as a Goomba, a Koopa Troopa, a Bob-omb, and so on. I adore its simplicity and directness.

A hefty fourteen years have passed since Paper Mario’s original release, and although I’ve replayed it on the N64 and Wii in the past, playing it again on the Wii U still takes me back to those early days. I may not quite see it as the “best game ever” anymore, but it’s still a landmark title in my gaming life, and it remains a personal favorite.

Once I finish my current playthrough I’ll write a full-on review for the game. But for now, I’m just relishing the memories, and enjoying how well Paper Mario holds up.