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Paper Mario has gone in a crazy direction since its original release back on the N64. The first two games are RPGs with partners that usually would be enemies. Super Paper Mario is a platformer with RPG mechanics. Sticker Star used stickers for your attacks and now Color Splash for Wii U has cards in place of stickers. However unlike the mediocre sticker-filled predecessor, Paper Mario: Color Splash plays much better and contains a much more interesting story. Though it wouldn’t have killed anyone if Nintendo would stick to something alongside the originals.
In Paper Mario: Color Splash, the overarching story is standard fare. Mario and Peach land in a area ripe in a certain gimmick (this time paint). Peach gets soon kidnapped by Bowser and the land is missing it’s magical star-shaped power source. However, the adventure you actually embark is actually well written, funny and extremely interesting. You’re at a beach one moment playing hide and seek with a bunch of Toad hula dancers, then helping Toads working at a haunted hotel the next, then traveling with Pirate Toads. You may have seen a common theme – all the NPCs in the games are Toads. Thanks to good writing and proper placement, I could tell them apart.
The world become a part of the adventure too since they embody the paper theme better than any previous installment. The varying and beautiful locales consist of cardboard, as do the coins, strings hold up clouds, and the paint gimmick embody every living creature. You with the power of paint have to fill in blank spots and save unconscious Toads from the loss of all their color. Everything runs really well at a high resolution making it one of the best non-realistic looking games ever made.
The best part is that the game has a semi-non-linear format. Areas that are unlocked could be useless at the current moment, but eventually you’ll get an item or save a big paint star that sparks an “aha” moment and has you revisit the area. It’s not useless backtracking either, most of it is to re-experience a place temporarily and uncover a new area. If a Metroid RPG would ever come out, most of the concept would have been already done in Color Splash.
Combat in Color Splash consists of using your deck of cards. Surprisingly you get access to your entire deck instead of given a hand. Using the GamePad, you select the card (or cards) you want to use that turn and fill it with color. After that, you have to flick them off the GamePad for some reason, and the gimmick wears quickly. Each card you use is disposed of, even if you defeat the enemy before using that turn’s bulk of cards, so selecting cards wisely is key to prevent waste. Overall, the combat works very well, but the battles do seem lonely with no allies joining.
Cards range from attacks by jumping, hammer strikes, Fire/Ice Flowers, and the timing of your attacks after flicking them depends how strong they are. You can also summon enemies to remind you what could have been, and there are “Thing” cards. These awesome Thing cards are the “summons” that take real life objects and use them in an over-the-top manner. Washing Machines turn the battlefield in a soggy and faded mess, Batteries descend from Mt. Olympus and drop lightning, and Piggy Banks breakdance to apparently… break. They’re hilarious and don’t really get old, especially since they’re pricey or timely to replace.
Paper Mario: Color Splash was never super hard that I got really stuck. However some lame out-of-battle deaths caught me in a few snags. The last fight was probably the toughest. I realized the issue was that I didn’t have enough cards to last the fight. After stocking up, I slaughtered it. The biggest challenge was mentally, as I had to rethink how JRPGs worked as I was able to escape from boss fights (and had to) if I didn’t have the right Thing card in my deck.
After the 25 or so hours I dumped into Paper Mario: Color Splash, I see a upward trend coming to the RPG series after the games went off into a different direction. The battle system could have tweaked a bit to be a bit faster and involve more than Mario. The story however had me chuckling and the overall adventure was extremely satisfying. Normally we’d tell you if it’s worth buying or not, but Paper Mario is coming to the end of the Wii U life like the N64 original. If you’re remotely interested, pick this up before the Switch launches because retailers won’t carry it any longer than that.