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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Finally, The Paper Mario: Color Splash Review

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - In terms of action commands, is this EXCELLENT, GREAT, NICE, or just GOOD? ...Or a failure?

After being informally requested for a long time, on September 23, 2016, it was requested (and seconded) by the readers that when Paper Mario: Color Splash comes out, we would write a review of it. Well, REVIEWS TAKE A LONG TIME, so here we finally are.

We have a very extensive and rich history with Paper Mario: Color Splash. When it was first revealed in a March 3, 2016 Nintendo Direct, Ludwig cursed it. That caused an analysis article looking at the first public trailers of every Paper Mario game, where he again condemned Paper Mario: Color Splash for its striking similarity to Paper Mario: Sticker Star. However, by the time the next round of footage came at E3 2016, the entire KoopaTV staff was stunned at how Paper Mario: Color Splash progressed, which forced Ludwig to write an extremely controversial article defending Paper Mario: Color Splash from people who were still criticising it. From between then and the game's ultimate October 2016 release, KoopaTV covered every Rescue V: Fearless Color Defenders video Nintendo put out, which you can find and read on your own time since this paragraph has enough hyperlinks.

Finally, after having beaten the game and spending quite a number of months thinking about it (to make sure we're not in a honeymoon period), we're ready to review Paper Mario: Color Splash. We'll be reviewing it on what the game is, not what we think it should've been. Also, this review is free of spoilers, or at least, if there are any spoilers, there isn't any context given so you wouldn't know that it's a spoiler.

Fast Facts


  • Publisher — Nintendo. Developed by Intelligent Systems.
  • System — The Wii U.
  • GenreAction-adventure.
  • Price — $59.99. You can buy it here.
  • ESRB — Rated E for everyone! Has mild cartoon violence.

The Story, Characters, and Writing

The basic concept here is that back in the Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Peach and Toad receive another Toad in the mail. ...Literally, the paper Toad is the mail. They go to Mario for help, boat over to where the letter came from (Prism Island), and discover a lot of paint had been drained. They meet up with the guardian of the paint fountain, Huey (who is a great character), and embark on a quest to recollect the six Big Paint Stars. In a stunning plot twist, King Bowser Koopa, now covered in black paint, kidnaps Princess Peach, and it turns out that the Koopalings, including me, are guarding the Big Paint Stars!

Paper Mario Color Splash purple violet chapter pirate Toads crew Fortune Island
These are just some of the events that happened in one of the more engaging story arcs.

The overarching story, while it has a couple of twists to it, isn't the focus of Paper Mario: Color Splash's narrative. Instead, the game focuses on arcs that transcend the chapter format of the earlier Paper Mario games. It's a big world here, and lots of characters have many problems. Mario ends up having to resolve everyone's troubles in order to progress, including those from environmental barriers. In Color Splash, unlike previous games, the characters are important throughout the story, not just within the chapter they're introduced. This format is reinforced by the world map, which allows for very easy travel between areas while also alerting you from the map-area what each of the lingering plot issues are with the level.

However, another way of looking at this is that the game is a lot more linear than its non-linear predecessor, Paper Mario: Sticker Star. While you can open multiple paths on the map at once in Color Splash, there's only one true path you can make real progress in. The other paths will end in roadblocks that you'll have to end up taking care of after something else happens. I see this as a good thing, because it's a sign that Color Splash has a much more carefully-developed and existing story than Sticker Star.

The writing in Paper Mario: Color Splash is some of the strongest in any Nintendo game we've ever played, surpassing even Kid Icarus: Uprising. That's very high praise. Of course, know that we're coming from a perspective of self-referential, deconstructive humour, and we love wordplay. Basically, it's like if KoopaTV's writing style was translated to a game. (If you want to know what that's like, why don't you go and play some of KoopaTV's own videogames from your Flash-enabled browser?)

Paper Mario Color Splash outlaw straws gun control
For KoopaTV's own videogame with gun ownership commentary, play Defend Anita Sarkeesian here!

However, like KoopaTV, this isn't for everyone. Some people who don't like a sense of humour in their games and want to be serious all the time won't appreciate Paper Mario: Color Splash. Since humour and charm is one of the strongest suits of the game, if that sounds like you, then you won't like the game.

Also, bigots will not appreciate that most of the non-playable characters are Toads (of Colour). Quite frankly, it should be expected that a genocidal maniac such as Mario will mostly only find the Toads willing to speak with him. There are instances when he gets to talk with others as well, but he ends up eventually killing them if they're not a Toad.


Graphics

This is the least controversial bit about the game. The game looks beautiful.

Paper Mario Color Splash Port Prisma fountain rainbow road upper story view alternate
I don't know how to handle a graphics section picture-wise, so here's a rainbow.

Everything is bright and colourful and fantastic.

I only have one complaint and that relates to gameplay. Colour is an important focus of the game, and the game trains you to see that white is the absence of colour. If you see a white spot, you should paint it in with your Paint Hammer.

The problem is that the game also uses white as a normal colour in the overworld sometimes. You know, because some things in life actually are white.

I don't think the game does a good enough job, in some instances, distinguishing between things that are supposed to be white and things that are white because their colour was sucked dry. In rare instances, there are spots that are white that you're supposed to fill in... in the same scenes as natural white being used as a colour! Frustrating!

...But for the most part, everything is great and the use of colour is remarkable.

Music and Sound

KoopaTV's whole staff already gave Paper Mario: Color Splash a Game of THAT Year award for 2016 for Best OST. Clearly, we think very highly of the game's soundtrack.

Do we regret it? Nope. I still listen to some of the game's music recreationally. Here's another early game example, Cherry Lake:


Love it. As for sound effects... I don't remember anything about them. That's probably a good thing.

Paper Mario Color Splash museum sound room
When you paint in 100% of a level, you unlock all of that level's music in the museum.

There is no specific theme for the soundtrack in Paper Mario: Color Splash. There's some callbacks to previous games (such as Super Mario Bros. 2), but it's not all jazz like Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Every Koopaling gets their own battle music, and it's wonderful.

Gameplay

Because “gameplay” is such a complicated category, it'll be divided into multiple navigable headings.

The Battle System


I've had more or less positive things to say about Paper Mario: Color Splash... until now.

The battle system is... a mess.

To summarise it in case you somehow don't know: It's a turn-based system between Mario and however many enemies he's fighting against. Mario's attacks are expressed through consumable cards that disappear from his inventory after use, and can be filled in with paint in order to increase their power. The paint is akin to a traditional buff spell in a roleplaying game, except you have the choice in whether or not to apply it for every attack you do. The paint is taken from your paint capacity (red, blue, and yellow — different cards need different colours), which is increased as you level up. You can choose how much paint to use on a card — you can choose to be efficient and only use as much as you need. How much will you need? You'll have to figure that out yourself with intuition and practice. Being efficient with resource usage also means not setting up more cards than you actually need — cards you select from your inventory to use for the turn that aren't actually used are discarded after the battle.

Paper Mario Color Splash cards battle screen ready Big Fire Ice Flower paint capacity blue red unpainted
Some cards, such as Big Fire Flowers and Big Ice Flowers, need a LOT of paint to use, even for end-of-game Mario!

In the case of multiple enemies, attacks are applied to whomever is closest to Mario, and then going backwards from there for subsequent cards. (This is opposed to Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, where if you're using a Jump attack, you can hit whomever you want, and Hammers can only attack the dude in front.) When enemies go attack you, you can use Action Commands to guard against them.

The basic kinds of attacks you can do are Jump (for airborne enemies or non-spiky land-based enemies, hitting one at a time), Hammer (for land-based enemies that has splash damage to surrounding enemies upon impact), and Flower (shoots four fairly strong elemental attacks out at enemies). There are many varieties of these attacks, just as there are in other Paper Mario games (just those are represented as badges), and you can choose your favourite flavours from the shop to play the game as you choose. Personally, I like the special defensive items like the Spike Helmet and Frog Suit. I absolutely hate the Tail, though! All of these also have Action Commands.

There are more advanced cards on top of those. These are called Things, based on “real-world” three-dimensional objects. Every Thing has to be used at least once in the story/overworld, and can also be used in any ol’ battle. These are extremely powerful attacks that usually hit everyone on the screen, usually wiping everyone out. Some Things can also inflict status effects on your opponents that you normally don't have access to, or can be used to create a decoy Mario or flee from battle. Fancy stuff. There are also Replica cards that are Things but are meant for everyday battling, and cannot be used in the overworld to solve puzzles, or for story-critical boss fights. (They can be used as normal high-damage-dealing cards in boss fights, but not as the key puzzle-solving element.)

Paper Mario Color Splash Wendy O. Koopa boss fight battle Instant Camera Replica is like a baby toy
Replicas DO get you failure-exclusive witty dialogue, though.

A point of controversy is that some Thing cards are required for certain boss fights. Bosses and NPCs very obviously hint to you which Thing you'll need for which fight, and when you'll need to use it. There's also a Toad in Port Prisma that will tell you which Things you need for your specific part of the story, including the boss fights. Regardless, this turns boss fights into puzzles rather than traditional RPG slugfests, but I think that works for this game's set-up. If the boss fights lack that gimmick, then the battle system is pretty brainless. The most optimal move quickly obvious.

With everything I've mentioned, why don't I like the battle system? Well, it's boring, even with the puzzle element. The fun of the game comes from the next section of the review, which is everything outside of battling. The battles are just here because it's an action-adventure and they need the action part.

Of course, Mario hurting everyone is also characterisation, since he's portrayed as a violent asshole. Which is very accurate to his character. In that respect, battling of course needs to be a part of the game. It's just so slow. Usually in turn-based battle systems, if it's slow, it's supposed to be because you're being thoughtful. Here, battles take a long time but there isn't any thought to it.

Paper Mario Color Splash Princess Peach friend zode jumps on things hits them with a hammer when necessary
Mario is a sentient weapon, which is why Princess Peach hesitates to call him her friend.
There's nothing friendly about him, which is why Mario picks fights with EVERYONE on the island!

Now, I'm a patient guy, but there's no reward or satisfaction after battling. I had so much more fun giving Mario game overs in-and-out of battles than actually winning.

...On that note, there are many opportunities in the story to be killed off out-of-battle. These are legitimately difficult to survive, and I've actually gotten many game overs multiple times whenever these come up. I only got game-overs through battling because I was sandbagging — with the exception of my first try against the final boss. That was hard.

Exploration


The exploration in Paper Mario: Color Splash is actually pretty fun. As mentioned before, your main (but optional) goal, besides getting all of the mini paint stars in a given level, is to fill in 100% of its missing paint spots. Some of these are hidden in frustrating places, while others are in clever locales that are ultimately fair game.

There are many goodies hidden in the worlds, such as secret minigame doors and question-mark blocks with powerful cards. Painting things in the world uses a marginal amount of paint from your reserves.

This is not a very difficult game for completionists, unless you desire to fill up your entire museum. I've done that, and it's not worth it. That goes from exploration to mind-numbing RNG, because you'll be leaving and re-entering areas over and over to try to get special Enemy Cards. Unfortunately, the museum lacks facility-exclusive flavour text, instead giving all of the cards the functional description text you see in Mario's inventory. This is a major oversight and saps the incentive to populate the museum.

The actual locations in the game are a huge upgrade in creativity from its predecessor, and more in line with what you'd expect from a lovingly-crafted Paper Mario game. The colouring and paper mechanics allow for all sorts of twists on traditional settings, and they're just fun to walk through and interact with.

Economy


In Paper Mario: Color Splash, the primary currency are gold coins. These can be obtained by winning battles without getting hit, collecting them in the overworld, and winning Roshambo minigame matches. You use these coins to purchase cards in the Port Prisma shop, obtain Thing cards from the Wringer in Port Prisma because you don't want to re-collect them from their original locations, activate the in-battle Battle Spinner, and some miscellaneous story-driven purchases. 

The in-game economy in Paper Mario: Color Splash is poorly balanced. The reason for this is threefold:
  1. It is way too easy to get coins by playing Roshambo (rocks-paper-scissors that isn't actually luck-based until the final post-game temple — which is INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING). You get thousands of coins a pop, and the max coin count is 9999.
  2. You get more cards than you can use just by getting rewarded for exploration.
  3. It's significantly more cost-efficient to just get cards via the Battle Spinner than purchasing them from the shop. In the shop, you can purchase battle cards unpainted and painted, with painted cards commanding a much higher price. The Battle Spinner allows you to get any card in the game (Things not included, but Replica Things are) for only 10 coins (a fraction of market price), and already-painted. These are contextually useful cards, too, not useless fodder. You can use the Battle Spinner only once per turn, but that's hardly enough of a limitation to balance the economy.
Paper Mario Color Splash Iggy Koopa Golden Coliseum dialogue announcer fifty coins Mario's hat
9999 coins by the second boss, Iggy Koopa, and nothing to spend it on.
A much better financial incentive for his minions would be all of the coins in Mario's pockets.
(Besides, Mario's hat is SCARY.)

You can also consider cards, paint, experience points, and HP (heart points) to be a resource. Cards are plentiful in great variety, as mentioned. You have to TRY to run out of them. Paint is also plentiful: You can hit objects in the environment to refill your paint, and can refill it in-between levels at Port Prisma. It also is refilled whenever you level up, or by using a 1-Up Mushroom (which can be summoned in the Battle Spinner).

Experience points, in the form of paint-capacity-expanding hammers, are as typical in roleplaying games: It's easier to level up earlier in the adventure than later. There's never a real need to grind in the game. You can if you want to, and it's easy to do so, but why bother? Experience points indirectly affects your power, but you'll get the same amount of power with pre-painted cards, which as mentioned, are easy to find.

You can easily restore your health in-between levels for free at Port Prisma. Health can be as easy or as difficult to maintain as you wish it to be, since many enemy fights are avoidable. Getting into more fights will of course drag your health down, but health-restoring Mushrooms aren't rare, either. If you try to fight everyone in Golden Coleseum at your earliest opportunity without a performance-enhancing Starman, for example, you're probably going to get a game-over just by attrition. (I tried.) Your total heart points are increased after every Big Paint Star you collect, instead of by finding heart containers in the field like Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Again, this makes Paper Mario: Color Splash a lot more linear and developer-controlled.

Conclusion

Every part of Paper Mario: Color Splash, besides most of its actual gameplay, is impeccable. It's a big improvement over Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and is what it always should've been.

Unfortunately, that's quite the qualified statement. Gameplay should be the primary reason people play games, yet here it's lacking. The battle system is novel at first, but becomes a boring chore as you go on. You've already figured out the battle system, but it doesn't progress in complexity or introduce new ideas as the game goes on. You've evolved as a player, but the game doesn't evolve with you.

However, I believe that the other parts of the game are still quite good enough that you will be able to overlook its flaws and want to get to the end. Paper Mario: Color Splash is a true example of what happens when developers feel uninhibited and allow their creativity to flow, creating all sorts of wonderful, imaginative situations.

We still feel pretty good about giving it the Best Wii U Game of THAT Year 2016 award.


While this article was always going to EVENTUALLY be written, it formally exists due to people making requests on the Requests page! With this article's existence, there are now no outstanding requests. Perhaps you should... do something about that, KoopaTV reader! Remember, request-making is rewarded in the KoopaTV Loyalty Rewards Program! Ludwig finished Paper Mario: Color Splash 100% in the beginning of February, and it took him almost 57 hours to do so, according to this spoilerific Miiverse post. Maybe you should Follow him on his Miiverse account at PrinceOfKoopas.


For a review written by Ludwig JUST on his own role in Paper Mario: Color Splash, click here.

12 comments :

  1. You actually did it! Quick Q&A though...

    Did the short Gamepad Battery life affect your experience, or did you not mind?

    Throughout the review, I still felt like the developers were limited like last time, but handled it well. Dang you, Miyamoto! He should go into the Film Industry!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Battery life: I keep my Wii U GamePad in the charging cradle at almost all times ever since the battery life got SO bad. It's quite possible to hold the GamePad in this position to play. I switched the controls during battles to button controls (select cards with buttons/D-pad) rather than the touch controls. The default controls are kinda ick.

      Limited developers: Lore states that Intelligent Systems wanted to make this sequel (and decided on it while drunk at a post-Sticker Star party), so their limitations are more-than-likely self-imposed. That said, much of the staff here is different than the pre-Sticker Star era.

      Delete
  2. It sounds like I should give it a chance.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I saw the game selling for $30 at a local HEB Plus. Is it worth for the price?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Leave it to a banker to talk abouto currency.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Does that mean that you think I'm a banker, or does it mean that you believe my discussion on currency was insufficient, and that I should not talk about it for I am not a banker?

      Delete
  5. I object to this whole game on the grounds that when the most gorgeous of Koopalings is somehow (and probably just barely) defeated, it's eluded to that said Koopaling thinks that Mario is kind of cute.
    Blech, ptoo, and might I mention, gack!
    False representation!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Describing the battle system as a mess and Mario as a sentient weapon is...accurate. The exploration is definitely one of the stronger points of the game and the music was honestly either a hit of a miss with me; Cherry Lake was a hit, though.

    I agree that this was the best Wii U game of 2016. However, if one looks at the Wii U games released for that year, it is not really saying much... Overall, I think that this is a fair review.

    --Aisu from Miiverse

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You didn't have to put your name as Anonymous if you sign off at the end of the post...!

      Thank you for the fair review compliment. It means a lot to be acknowledged as... Fair and Balanced. :)

      Delete

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