So maybe the Wii U hasn’t been seeing a whole lot of action lately, and especially with the lack of games, people are simply waiting to get their hands on the Nintendo “NX”. Until that day comes, and it inevitably will, is Paper Mario: Color Splash a great way to fill in the blank spot in your Nintendo life with paint?
For those that don’t know or are perhaps a little younger, the Paper Mario series is an RPG series. The series has always used its own, slightly-altered derivative of the basis formed by Super Mario RPG. This means turn-based combat and action commands are pretty standard fare. The card system that Color Splash uses, however, is both good and bad. The good is that it creates a limited move-set that requires some pre-planning and some strategy. Anytime resources for combat are limited, a person has to consider each move a little more carefully or cards will be wasted. I, for one, enjoyed this strategic approach, and found myself always making sure I had the most useful cards stocked plentiful. And now the bad: not only are many boss fights contingent upon a single card that you may OR MAY NOT have, but the entire card system is operated on the Gamepad. During combat, you look down at your crotch to pick, paint, and deploy cards. I switched to using the buttons instead of the touch screen, but that means you’re looking down at the Gamepad for EVERY combat encounter. Stepping outside combat, the Gamepad is also used for a total-suspension-of-belief cutout mode that is rather odd, and un-mirrored on the TV for some unknown reason. Fortunately, the game itself rounds out its own gameplay by engaging you in a variety of activities that go outside the bounds of combat and into real-time actions. These moments are refreshing and good fun… except that for every refreshing moment of good fun, there is an equivalent moment of completing an utterly mundane task. Sometimes this mundane task is, once again, contingent upon a single “Thing” card: cards that are real-world items that act as ultimate moves. These are often also required for the aforementioned boss fights, and the real pity is that it’s employed as a gimmick. You can’t beat the boss or progress unless you have the specific card or cards. Gameplay in summary is an area full of hit or miss, and is full of inspired moments that almost literally alternate with uninspired moments.
Being an RPG means a lengthy campaign generally speaking. Being a modern RPG means having multiple playthrough variables, giving a player a reason to dive back in usually with a “new game plus” mode. This game is the former: it’s an RPG with a decently lengthy campaign, but for the vast majority of people will be a single playthrough. The journey to the credits is a little over 30 hours, but that’s pretty much all you’ll get out of it. The world itself is a fair size, and through its various fun activities and mundane collectathons, you’ll find yourself busy. However, don’t expect much in the way of “side” quests or other interesting, non-critical content to come back to.
Believe it or not: I’m impressed. Nintendo has a way of doing a lot with very little, and Color Splash is an impressive work of art visually, textually, and aurally. They’ve managed to squeeze indelible charm out of such a creative aesthetic of a 2.5D paper-and-cardboard world and characters that I cannot deny this game has to be played to be believed. Unfortunately, when alpha effects or real-world graphics appear, the framerate takes a pretty hard dive. This can sometimes affect action-commands, but those moments are rare. Moving into a topic often underappreciated is the music, and the music here is a caliber well beyond what I could have expected. It’s a combination of real orchestration and synthetic sounds, but is in every way a work of tender, loving care. If you don’t appreciate music in games, this might be hard to swallow, but this is some of the best music I’ve heard all year, and I will not soon be forgetting this haunting hotel.
Nintendo knows how to deliver charm when it wishes to, and this game holds nothing back in both visual and charismatic value. Sure, the story is pretty standard Mario-versus-Bowser fare (albeit with a tiny twist), but the presentation is utterly striking. Unfortunately, those are its greatest strengths, as the gameplay falters in its own “gimmick” card solution to many situations, and its reliance on the whiplash Gamepad experience. Add in an unhealthy 50/50 split of fun times and mundane tasks, and it’s hard to say they’ve nailed the gameplay department. Top that off with nearly zero replayability, and what you have here is a very small splash of paint in a very big hole. It’s a strategically enjoyable experience with fun activities and unforgettable moments that drags itself down with mediocre design choices.
I give Paper Mario: Color Splash…