The Paper Mario series has a rather uneven history. For every real high point like Thousand Year Door, there is a Sticker Star. The recent release of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, a crossover of sorts between the Mario & Luigi series and Paper Mario, did little to rejuvenate the series, repeating many of the problems of its predecessor.
My expectations for Colour Splash
were consequently rather low. The game comes at the tail end of the Wii U's life and with Nintendo (hopefully) focussing most of their attention on games for the upcoming NX, I was expecting another game of the same quality of Paper Jam
on the 3DS. I was wrong, very wrong. Colour Splash
is possibly one of the best games yet released on the Wii U and serves as a reminder of how talented the developer, Intelligent Systems is. Very few games that I have played this year have made me feel quite so happy or entertained as Colour Splash
. The game, although not without some flaws is delightful from beginning to end.
For narrative-driven games, the Paper Mario
series has largely had rather uninspiring stories. This problem is usually overcome by the excellent and witty scripts that keep the player engaged. Colour Splash
is no different in this regard, the story is rather by the numbers although the concluding sections of the game add an element of pathos I have not seen before in a Mario
Initially, the game teases the plot, giving the impression that all may not be what it seems. Although this rather fizzles out, what remains is still interesting enough to push the player towards the end. In Colour Splash
Bowser, covered in black paint, has stolen all of the colour from the world. Mario's job is to restore colour to the world with the help of Huey, his paint-can sidekick.
Colour is restored by hitting colourless patches with Mario's paint covered hammer. Together, Mario and Huey travel the land seeking the giant paint stars to restore colour to the world. Although the plot is rather formulaic, the structure is anything but. Rather than taking Mario through the usual lands of fire, ice and sand, the world of Colour Splash
is brimming with imagination. Exploration is genuinely exciting precisely because what comes next is often so surprising.
Areas fit together perfectly and the solution to a problem can often be found by revisiting an earlier area. This backtracking, usually a mechanism by which games feel artificially lengthened, feels completely natural here as the game's internal logic for the returning is so consistent and satisfying. This consistency extends to the puzzles in the game which are rarely frustrating and feel just hard enough to provide the player with a feeling of accomplishment when solved. In addition, there is an excellent hint system that gives just enough information to help without spoiling any surprises.
Combat in Paper Mario
is turn-based, via the use of cards. While under attack, the player must choose a card from his/her deck and then Mario will perform the action. So, for example, if the player has a boot then Mario will jump on the enemy, a hammer and he will attack with that. Naturally different enemies are susceptible to different types of cards so it is a good idea to customise the deck for the encounters each stage provides. Cards can be collected in game via question mark blocks, defeating enemies or through purchase in shops.
In addition to the variation in card strengths, the paint mechanic also comes into play as the majority of cards the player finds are black and white. Using these cards in their colourless form is largely pointless as the damage they inflict is insignificant. Consequently, the player needs to use the paint he/she is carrying to colour the cards. This adds an extra layer of strategy to engagements as different cards require different colours so paint levels must be carefully managed. This can become quite troublesome, particularly towards the end of the game when more powerful cards require large amounts of paint to make them effective. However, I enjoyed the way in which it required me to carefully consider my actions.
In addition to regular attack cards, the player also comes across objects in the game drawn from real life. These act like 'summoning' moves in traditional JRPGs. In addition to being useful during battles these 'thing' cards also help the player to progress through the game and are often used for solving puzzles. For example, a character encased in ice in a freezer can naturally be saved by using the 'ice pick' card.
These cards provide moments of genuine laughter as the cutscenes that play whenever the player uses them are excellent because they combine these real items with the cartoon world of Paper Mario
. My daughter couldn't stop laughing the first time a giant electric fan emerged from behind the earth and blew away a bunch of Goombas and Koopa Troopers. Visually the game is wonderful. The Wii U may not be the most powerful machine available, but games like Paper Mario
, because of their highly stylised design, look as good as anything on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.
Although the flaws in Colour Splash
are relatively minor compared with earlier entries in the series, they still exist and slightly taint the experience. There is rather a lack of variety in character designs as the world appears to be populated almost solely by Toads. The story is consequently not quite as involved as, for example, The Thousand Year Door
. However, I would argue that this is not detrimental to the experience as it ensures the game moves along at a good pace, something that games in the Mario & Luigi
series could well emulate.
Combat can also become slightly trying at times. It is not possible to select which enemy Mario is going to attack. This means that the player must more carefully plan the order in which he or she is going to use the battle cards. Although this adds another layer of strategy it can be quite irritating, largely because it is not possible to know the effect of the cards upon the enemies.
Random encounters are fortunately kept to a minimum, but still cause annoyance, particularly towards the end of the game when some enemies appear unavoidable. I would also advise players to change the control method for the cards as using the touch screen only is rather cumbersome.
Paper Mario: Colour Splash
is absolutely one of the best games that I have played this year. There is no in-game timer and I was shocked to find, when looking at the Wii U's own activity app that I had played the game for 34 hours - it felt like half of that. Although the game did irritate me at various points, I was genuinely sad when it ended. Aside from the next release of Zelda
, Colour Splash
is likely to be the final major release from Nintendo for the Wii U. Although it sometimes feels that the machine never really reached its potential, games like Colour Splash
more than justify its existence. Maybe other games this year will be
technically more impressive than Colour Splash
, but I am not sure any will match its heart.
+ An extremely coherent and well-designed world.
+ Card system provides depth in combat.
+ Extremely well-paced.
- Card system lacks some flexibility.
- Character design is rather by the numbers.
- Random battles are still irritating.
SPOnG Score: 9/10