Release Date: October 7, 2016Platform: Wii UDeveloper: Intelligent SystemsPublisher: NintendoGenre: Action-adventure, RPG
In Paper Mario: Color Splash, the fifth adventure in the stylish turn-based RPG series from Nintendo, Mario and Princess Peach set sail to the vibrant Prism Island after receiving an alarming letter. With the help of a magic paint can named Huey, Mario is soon tasked with rescuing the six Big Paint Stars and restoring color to all the land. Even though Mario’s latest 2D adventure doesn’t pack the biggest punch of the series overall, it does make some much needed improvements over 2012’s Paper Mario: Sticker Star and offers some enjoyable coloring book mechanics across many fun and idyllic locations.
The story in Color Splash is nothing special, but it’s the amusing and incredibly tongue-in-cheek dialogue that comes out of nearly every character’s mouth that gives the adventure its heart. Besides the clever dialogue, the biggest strength of the game lies in exploring the picturesque Prism Island and bringing color back to the land with your trusty paint hammer. Seeking out the random colorless splotches across sunny beaches, rocky archeological digs, and haunted inns to earn that gleaming 100% flag for each level is extremely rewarding, and you’ll uncover many color-drained characters and secrets in the process. Each area is given its own spot on a course map, but with multiple Mini Paint Stars hiding in each location, you can expect a fair amount of backtracking between them in order to acquire important progression items.
The turn-based battles, however, are definitely the weak point of the adventure. As with Sticker Star, Color Splash uses a system of consumable battle cards to represent all of Mario’s attacks, from hammer swings to double jumps, and you’ll eventually even be able to direct Goombas and Shy Guys towards your foes with enemy cards. Before initiating each attack, you’ll have a chance to increase its overall power using your paint reserves, but actually performing them or blocking incoming assaults lacks the inventiveness of button inputs that we’ve seen in past Paper Mario titles or even the later games in the Mario & Luigi RPG series.
Thankfully, if you run out of cards in the middle of a battle, you can purchase additional cards each turn and dispense some extra coins for better odds at receiving your card of choice. You can also stock up on your favorite battle cards at the Port Prisma store in between excursions, and the coins to buy them with are incredibly easy to come by (I maxed out at 9,999 coins for the first time before rescuing the second Big Paint Star).
One of the biggest problems with Sticker Star was that Mario never gained any experience from completing random battles on the field, which made their existence feel completely arbitrary. Color Splash tries to remedy that misstep by awarding Hammer Scrap pickups for victories in battle, which gradually increase the maximum amount of paint your hammer can hold. There’s still no actual XP to be found, but you’ll also be rewarded with more coins, paint blobs, and random battle cards, so there’s definitely an incentive here to engage with every enemy you encounter.
In addition to unearthing environmental secrets with your paint hammer in the world, Mario also has the power to perform cutouts on various backdrop structures in order to advance through seemingly impassable areas. These instances are often used in conjunction with the real-world “things” you’ll encounter along your journey, from an oscillating fan to a curly-tailed piggy bank. For instance, you might need to cut out a portion of that mountain in the distance and replace it with the fan to unfurl a rolled-up bridge.
Most boss fights also require you to come prepared with a specific thing card in order to overcome an otherwise unblockable attack. It’s easy enough to gain information from helpful Toads on which thing card you’ll need ahead of time, but it can still be annoying if you’re forced to backtrack to a previous area in the middle of a boss fight. More annoying are the Roshambo Temple side quests that are scattered across Prism Island, which involve a series of drawn-out rock-paper-scissors duels with no strategy involved other than speaking to the temple’s Toads beforehand to learn which card each challenger is most likely to play.
While Color Splash is still a far cry from the original Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, it corrects many of the missteps made with Sticker Star and offers an incredibly vibrant world to explore with rewarding paint mechanics, even if some aspects of the battle system still leave a bit to be desired. But whether you’re scouring a dense jungle for colorless flowers or listening to a rescued Toad talk about his insecurities and awkward demeanor, there is still much to enjoy on your colorful vacation to Prism Island.
Joe Jasko is staff writer.