The Paper Mario series is a venerated series of games reaching back towards the Nintendo 64, and has been consistently released on every Nintendo home console since then. Developed by Intelligent Systems, the same developers responsible for the Fire Emblem series, these games have kept gamers entertained for years with amazing charm, hilarious writing, fun gameplay, and engaging story. However, many fans feel as though they’ve been on a rollercoaster in regards to this series, especially when it comes to gameplay. The series started off as a legitimate RPG, shifted into a platformer in the third installment, and became something else altogether after that, with opinions flying in every direction in regards to each of the games, though leaning towards positive for the first two games.
There is one consensus among fans though: Paper Mario Sticker Star sucks. While I personally enjoy the game for what it is, I can see why people hate the game so much, since it completely lacked any semblance of story and had an absolutely tedious battle system. Unfortunately for these fans, they would soon discover that the newly announced Paper Mario game, Paper Mario Color Splash would follow in Sticker Star’s footsteps, and have none of the battle mechanics that were in the first two games. Fortunately for these fans, they would find a fun and charming game in spite of its flaws, if the were to give a chance.
I’ll start with the positives, and there are some surprisingly strong ones despite following Sticker Star’s model. First of all the game is gorgeous. Like, it’s just downright purty. The environments and characters are all very simplistically designed, but there’s just enough complexity and variety to catch your attention and engage your senses. The use of actual papercrafts and other mundane objects in the creation of these environments is just delightful, and it gives these environments many charming little details. For instance, “rougher” objects like mountains and steel are made of cardboard, something much tougher than paper. It really pushes the paper theme to the logical limit, and it’s done so well that I don’t even mind that this is the second Wii U game to have an aesthetic like this, the other being Yoshi’s Wooly World. I see that the Intelligent Systems has taken some pointers in animating colored liquid from the Splatoon devs, as the paint looks fantastic, which is nice in a game centered around the stuff. The way it dries on any surface (or character) you put it on is oddly satisfying, and even works surprisingly well as a game mechanic.
The game doesn’t just look gorgeous either; it also sounds gorgeous. The soft to hard jazzy theme from Sticker Star makes a pleasant return, and it even come with a little more variety to really bring the world to life. From the playful violin of the title screen to rock and jazz infusion of the railroad, I can assure you that this game’s music is veritable treat for the ears. Even if you don’t believe me, take a listen to it on Youtube, you won’t be disappointed (my personal favorites are Cherry Lake and Island in Violet).
Unfortunately for Color Splash, things get a little mixed (this is great pun, trust me). Unlike Sticker Star, there is an actual story this time, and it actually has engaging characters to boot. It also has the same battle system as Sticker Star, and like that game, there are a few issues with that. The story has more positive qualities about it, so let's talk about that first.
Like I said earlier, the big difference between this game and Sticker Star is that this game has an actual story and development. Thankfully, the story itself is just fine, and I would even say it’s on the same level as the first two Paper Mario games, though nowhere near Super Paper Mario. The setup is a rather standard “Mario (with companion) goes to various colorful locals to collect artifacts” so that the story stays nice and simple and keeps a good pace. The various locals you visit are all quite varied from each other, and even deviate from the standard Mario settings that have become staple, such as the grassy plains and deserts, though there are still some of that to an extent. The greatest improvement from Sticker Star however are the characters, mostly because we actually have more that 4 relevant characters this time around. The most pleasant surprise was Huey, your partner throughout the game who just so happens to be a sentient, talking paint bucket. There’s a lot of back and forth between him, Mario (even if it is silent) and the other characters, and it’s pretty fun to watch him talk and get roughed around sometimes. The minor characters are no slouches either with some standouts being the Rescue V Toad squad, a squadron of Super Sentai (think Power Rangers) like Toads who end up being about as useful as any other Toads. All in all, the whole story and the writing was a pleasant step up from the last game. There were moments where I was in stitches, smiling ear to ear, and even a bit touched by what was happening. It overall left me in a good mood after every play session I had.
Now for the biggest point of contention I have with the game: the gameplay, specifically the battle system. The same battle system carries over from Sticker Star, and that game legitimately has one of the worst battle systems I’ve ever seen in a game. The biggest problem wasn’t the disposable attacks or the glaring lack of partners, both of those are design choices I could see working if implemented properly, the biggest problem was how useless the battles themselves were. To clarify, there’s no experience systems in these games; the power of your attacks are determined by the the attack itself, which were Stickers in Sticker Star and now Cards in Color Splash. A normal Jump card will do more damage than a Worn Jump card for instance. What do you get from those battles then, if you don’t get experience? Nothing. You don’t get anything, except coins to and maybe some dropped attack commands. This made battles absolutely pointless, not very good for a game focused on such battles. Unfortunately, Color Splash didn’t do much to fix this. While enemies do drop special items, specifically ways to increase the maximum amount of paint that you can hold, it does little to mitigate the feeling that it’s better to just avoid fights altogether than waste your time. Another returning feature from Sticker Star are the Thing cards, special cards that have powerful effects inside and outside of battles, and they once again make the game a bit too easy, despite how expensive they are. The game tries to offset this easiness by making some of the fights puzzles that can only be beat by having the right Thing card, this only feels pointless and frustrating, especially since the game outright tells you what Thing card you’ll need in advance.
Another issue with the game is replayability. There’s literally nothing to do after you beat the final boss. There are no special sidequests, no special challenges involving the battle system like the Pit of 100 Trials from the other games, nothing other than some tedious collecting. Well, there are some Rock-Paper-Scissors challenges, but I’m sure you can see how ridiculous that sounds. I think it would have been perfectly possible for there to be some special super challenges somewhere in the game, such as refighting bosses with a particular set of cards the game gives you, or maybe fighting a boss under a time limit. Hell, the Pit of 100 Trials would have a been a great fit for this system, as you would have to go through a huge gauntlet with only 200 potential actions, so you would need to be truly strategic about how you use your cars, you wouldn’t be able to use a Thing card every battle.
All in all, I would call my feeling about Paper Mario Color Splash mixed (still a great joke), though leaning towards positive. As a sequel to Sticker Star, this game is an absolute improvement. This game fixed so many issues I had with Sticker Star, made so many improvements on things I actually liked about that game, and is, in my opinion, a worthy successor to the Paper Mario Series. However, I can’t overlook some of these flaws, some of them even fundamental, and there are some things that left me sorely disappointed. However, at the end of the day, this game made me really happy every time I played it, and never failed to put me good mood, and what more could you ask for in a game?
And if you really want a number score, I’d give it a 7 or 8 out of 10.