Review – Paper Mario Color Splash

Announced completely out of the blue and briefly mentioned, Paper Mario Color Splash is finally here (or was if you pre-loaded the game, oops.) after being met with great disappointment from the reveal. Now that this playthrough is over, is this really just Sticker Star in HD, and did they truly learn from their mistakes?

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Detail:
  • Unlike Sticker Star’s complete all-jazz soundtrack, Paper Mario Color Splash manages to have some tracks that are a lot better than I thought it would be. I expected an all orchestral or another jazz soundtrack, and I was proven wrong. A lot of the music is downright enjoyable to listen to.
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With the focus on paper toned down, it almost fits right in with the older titles

 

  • As stated by Risa Tabata, they’ve put a lot of work into the graphic visuals of the game, and they look wonderful on screen. Some areas however, felt completely fake to me by over-abusing the paper diorama style, which I honestly was never a fan of the instant it was introduced in the last game. When toned down, some areas in the game look as if they completely belong in the previous entries in the series. But other than that, it does look quite wonderful.
  • One good improvement to the Things, is the ability to pick them up to instantly add them to your inventory. There is no need to return to a certain area to just turn them into cards to use. You can also get Replica Thing cards from the battle spinner, but they are only usable in battles.
  • Unfortunately, my praises end here. This game has a LOT of problems. The story writing, is the most mediocre part in the game by far, despite being told that there is a story to the game. Half of the events in the game are thrown together with little to no reason, with hopes that it all sticks together. On a stormy night, Mario is greeted by Princess Peach and Toad, who carries a mysterious letter which is revealed to be a colorless Toad, with a stamp pointing towards Prism Island. They then set out to the island to solve the mystery behind it. After watching the intro, you are left bare with no new information for hours until after you defeat the first boss. When you bring back a Big Paint Star to the Prisma Fountain, you are shown a memory of what happened before Mario arrives to the scene. As said before, you are left with no updated information, as the memories repeatedly show things you already know that happened in the plaza. A better solution to not keep the player with no info, would have been to show different periods of time after the Big Paint Stars were separated, possibly showing more behind the scenes content. You are completely left in the dark with no story progression for almost the entirety of the game, until after you grab the last Big Paint Star. Outside of the lack of story writing, there are several unexplained plot events, massive plot-holes, and what I consider to be the most weakest and disappointing plot twist in the entire series. In the end, the story experience was the weakest one I have experienced by far, especially after a big deal was made of it by the development team.
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The joke is that it’s a predictable paper joke. It’s not that funny.

 

  • The humor is one of the many problems I have with the writing here. Much of the writing depends on a stream of endless lazy paper and paint jokes, fourth wall breaks, random humor, cheap laughs by the character doing something completely stupid, or cringe-inducing dialogue and scenarios followed by Huey explaining the joke. Every character tries amazingly hard to be cheeky and predictable, to the point where all NPCs are the same exact character. All of the jokes come off as uninspired with no actual substance to them, and after the jokes wear off, the experience afterwards is left feeling completely empty.
  • To the very end, I could not understand the cut out ability. Was it perspective based? Line based? Almost half of the scenery of the game could fall under usage of this ability, making it almost confusing to really understand what to use it against unless you hit a dead end and press Y as a last resort.
  • The Roshambo temples contain a rock paper scissors mini-game, which is a way for Mario to win coins and special battle cards. Each temple has three rounds before you fight the Rock Paper Wizard to clear the area on the map. There’s not much else to say about it, but it’s honestly the perfect way to grab thousands of coins before moving on, which is ridiculously easy to do in this game.
  • Much of the battle-card selection returns from Sticker Star, but this one introduces enemy cards. When you use an enemy card, it spawns an enemy which essentially acts as a shield, and attacks with minor damage for one turn. Since enemies will immediately kill off the the enemy you put on the field, it makes the card useless. You also can’t use these or special boss cards you get from Roshambo Temples in boss battles as they run away the instant you summon them, making their overall use in the game very low.
  • Unfurl blocks are a new game mechanic where you need to strike an certain symbol object in a 20 second time limit to unfold it into a new item to progress in the level. At a certain point in the game these segments got amazingly aggravating for me as many enemies surrounded the path and damaged me, which immediately wears off the power.
  • One interesting event was having a special enemy spawn on the overworld and attempt to take the level’s color. Considering that the enemy is defeated almost instantly when you enter battle, the good moment dies off fairly quickly. It can… also spawn on the opposite side of the map, and well, you can’t do anything about that because of slow movement.
  • You can fill in spots of missing paint on all of the levels to complete an area’s painted rate. Filling in the world felt like something to do at first, but then became a boring and repetitive slog about four hours in. The fill in detection is also a bit wonky as if you miss a tiny pixel, you need to waste paint to fill in that very tiny spot to complete it.
  • Frame-rates come to a complete halt when you manage to be on screen with hundreds of enemies, sit around smoke, move in certain locations, and even when you hit certain objects with your paint hammer.
  • As we were previously told on reveal, the entire cast is nothing but Toads. I expected some variation at least, but the design decided to be lazy instead. When the best you can honestly do to create a sage-type character is shove a key-stem on top of a Toad’s head, recolor the body, and call it a day, you can tell no effort was made to variate the one-person cast. That one train owner who talks tough, and the professor are two of the many Toad characters that have no character design at all to compliment itself with. Color Splash manages to have such a large cast of copy-pasted characters, but doesn’t even take advantage of designing them a bit further.
  • After watching the complete Rescue V series, some hope was gained from me to at least see some characters having a specific build up in the game. Of course, my hopes were dashed as Rescue V acts completely different, and serves only one awful purpose, which I will touch on at some point later. Huey might not be badly characterized or a complete irredeemable jerk like Kersti was, but he does remotely nothing the entire game for me to consider him likeable. Huey manages to completely top Starlow in Mario & Luigi Paper Jam as the role of Mario’s mouthpiece, and only serves the purpose of explaining everything humorous that happens around Mario, and giving the answers to obvious dull jokes in the humor itself. Aside from the ending being completely predictable, there is no character development for Huey to make an impact on me as a whole, and there aren’t many moments that make you bond with him properly. The cheap emotional pull at the end also didn’t affect me, as there was remotely no build up tied to this part. A better idea to play this out with would have been to slowly ease the player into his role in the story after a bullet bill falls onto one of the levels. Instead of giving very long and poorly controlled mini-games, this could have been the perfect opportunity to give more insight behind what happened with more scenarios and situations placed throughout the game. Since the game does not bring this up again until the very end, the ending barely has much of an impact as it’s trying to have.
  • With the only major improvement of the battle system being raising the amount of battle-cards to 99, it still suffers from many of the problems Paper Mario Sticker Star had, plus an entire league of new problems, such as the Battle Spinner. While the Battle Spinner gives you the ability to get new cards in battle, which you can use coins to buy new cards with, the game basically hands out free powerful cards. Since running out of coins to get them with nearly isn’t a problem as it should be as the game hands out coins like it’s nothing, it makes this system completely broken.
  • To actually attack in this battle system, you need to select the card, paint the card and press more on-screen buttons to confirm before flicking upwards, which is more steps than needed to perform one simple task a single button press could do in this type of format. Even when switching the control scheme to Touch + Buttons, it’s still ridiculously tedious just to attack a single enemy. If you happen to also end a battle with a few cards that haven’t been used, they’re gone forever, sorry.
  • Also tied to the battle system: you get Hammer Scraps after each battle to increase the amount of paint your hammer can hold, which merely serves as “artificial experience”. Considering that it is nearly impossible to run out of paint since you can get paint from almost any object in the game, using 1-up mushroom cards which are found almost anywhere, or getting free paint refills at random on the map, it essentially makes using the battle system, and getting Hammer Scraps pointless. But, this is fixed entirely, as it forces you to fight enemies every 10 minutes. Battles then start to drag on and on, making me want to fight less. Enemies also tend to do massive amounts of damage for completely no reason at all ranging from 16 to 90 and 10 to 50 for blocking. It’s completely asinine when you’re against a group of enemies that do nothing but high damage.
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Battle spin is deactivated, your run button is disabled, and these annoyances can easily waste needed cards or cause you to game over at random.

 

  • Eventually, Kamek does show up in this game. However, his purpose is to appear at random intervals during a battle encounter and use his magic to alter your cards. This ranges from, making you blind so you can’t view your cards and changing them to a single type, to holding your entire card inventory hostage and replacing them with six moderately weak cards, making you lose them all unless you win the fight. This is just punishing the player for something completely unfair that they can’t control.
  • Thing requirements return for boss battles in this one, and almost every single one of them has a Thing Card needed to defeat the boss that you find earlier on the path or need to go out of the way to look for if you have no clue what to use or used it earlier after finding it. To top this off, if you don’t have the correct Thing card, or use a Replica to guess where you need the Thing Card, you will be automatically faced with an instant death resulting with a game over, and there is no way out of this event if it happens. It’s way more of a glaring flaw here than in Sticker Star as you could still defeat those bosses (and be scolded for not using a Thing), but if you don’t have a Thing here, you’re dead with no form of escape at all. To make matters worse, the game has the complete audacity to mock you for it. Outside of Thing cards, you will actually need to have a single set of cards (such as hammers) for once as jumping becomes useless for the entirety of a boss fight. If certain requirements aren’t met (such as dodging), the entire battle will reset. This is not a test of skill, but unnecessary padding.
  • The environments might look nice, but a complete majority of the game consists of nothing but endless backtracking and artificial padding, which is majorly worse than the segment of searching for General White. You finish one area and need to return to a past location, only to wander in a different direction elsewhere before you go back onto the main path. You then rinse, and repeat this process for the rest of the game. At some point you come across the Rescue V members, who serves as nothing but a giant progression wall, as you need to find them all in order to progress at all. By the way, these numbers range from 10 to 31. When you also make it to the end of a battle or an area, more enemies or events are thrown at you to keep you from moving on, forcing you to have to battle even more enemies or go in a completely different direction to backtrack later to finish the level or area. It drags down the entire experience as it gets repetitive the more it’s done throughout the game to pad out the length. It takes six hours alone to get to the first boss, and it’s the most unrewarding task I’ve ever done.


Sorry, but this isn’t good design, no matter how you look at it.

  • Aside from padding, some puzzles in the level design require you to take massive amounts of damage to move on and get certain items, or have hazards that do high damage to you with almost no way around it. There are also certain segments in the game where you’re forced into a QTE (quick time event) like section and if you fail to react fast enough, you are instantly killed and forced to a game over. I’m sorry, but am I even playing Paper Mario anymore? About six or more of these exist, and it all ends up as stupidly frustrating to get stuck into a badly placed beginner’s trap just to die right on the spot, even if you hit a save point right before it. There’s even an area where you can get game overs for even just picking the wrong answer to a required quiz question, where you might not even have the required cards to answer while the game makes fun of you for it! Paper Mario Color Splash in general just has a habit of saying “screw you!” and follows that up by crossing way past the line, and repeating these situations as much as it takes to make you furious. All of this just boils down to completely awful game design: needing to take high amounts of damage in a scripted event just to get a required item or leave, not having required cards and being treated to death instead, and punishing the player for no remote reason whatsoever in other areas.

Conclusion:

In the end, Paper Mario Color Splash went from being a game I attempted to give the benefit of the doubt and to quote, “give the game a chance”, to being a massively disappointing experience that managed to make me more upset and bored than happy and excited for a new entry in the Paper Mario franchise. I became increasingly furious by the time I reached the 5 hour mark, and it only grew worse for the rest of the game, especially with the sad attempt at story writing. After everything I went through, I was left with the most depressing, repetitive, uninteresting, and shallow trial and error experience, as this game managed to be even WORSE than Paper Mario Sticker Star in its gameplay alone. Color Splash may be filled with good looking environments in spots, and have a good music selection, but the large amount of awful game design choices easily makes this the worst game in the series.

"Massively Disappointing"



This is a "differently formatted mini-review" of Paper Mario Color Splash by Reinamoon.


 

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