Paper Mario Color Splash was announced during the March 2016 Nintendo Direct, and since then, the game has received a plethora of criticism and concerns. Fans have complained about the lack of iconic partners, the battle system, and the amount of generic characters. Even ignoring these criticisms, it doesn’t look good for the next entry in the Paper Mario series given its current direction. In truth, the series is in dire crisis, and here is why.
No Longer an RPG
During an interview with GameXplain, assistant producer Risa Tabata stated the reason for the directional change of the series was that they didn’t want two Mario RPG series (the other one being the Mario and Luigi games). Understandably, it doesn’t make too much sense to have that many RPG series within the same franchise. However, ultimately what Intelligent Systems, the game’s creators, have done is ensure that Paper Mario doesn’t have an identity.
What is Paper Mario Color Splash? Is it an adventure game? Is it an action game? Is it a puzzle game? Is it still an RPG? Heck, is it just a game about finding Toads? No one really seems to know. When you look at past Paper Mario games, they have a clear identity. Paper Mario and Paper Mario The Thousand-Year Door are both RPGs. Super Paper Mario is a platformer and RPG hybrid. But when you look at Paper Mario Sticker Star and Paper Mario Color Splash, it’s not really clear. It looks and plays like an RPG, but Nintendo doesn’t want to call it that.
Instead, the theme seems to be paper gimmicks. In the same interview, Risa Tabata state that, in regards to the future of Paper Mario, “Obviously we have to think of some kind of new paper-based theme” But who wants to buy a game about paper-based themes? Furthermore, Intelligent Systems is missing the point of why fans loved Paper Mario. IGN’s review of Paper Mario [Nintendo 64], which game the game a 9.0, stated “…Paper Mario is a fantastically deep, intuitively designed, and wonderfully rewarding experience complete with enhanced takes on old-school turn-based fighting mechanics and a statistic system that would satisfy any RPG fanatic.” Similarly, Gamespot praised the game writing, “with stunning graphics, excellent sound, and extremely solid gameplay, Paper Mario is a quality game on all fronts.” Neither review indicated that the game was outstanding because of the paper motif.
Wasn’t Paper Mario Sticker Star Successful
“But what about Paper Mario Sticker Star?” you might say. “Wasn’t it successful?” Well, sort of. Paper Mario Sticker Star did as well as any Paper Mario game, but it was not the blow-out success that so many think. Paper Mario Sticker Star sold 1.97 million (As of March 31, 2013) but Super Paper Mario sold 2.28 million (As of March 31, 2008). The differences in sales may be due to a difference in release date (Super Paper Mario release in April of 2007 and Paper Mario Sticker Star in November 2012); nevertheless, it’s clear that Paper Mario Sticker Star wasn’t the model of success that fans believe it is.
Mario and Luigi
Of course, the elephant in the room is the Mario and Luigi series. While fans may not like Nintendo picking which RPG series lives and which one metaphorically dies, their decision to support Mario and Luigi makes sense. Here are the sales of the latest Mario and Luigi titles
|Title||Sales (in millions)|
|Bowser’s Inside Story||4.13|
**Sales are estimates
Bowser’s Inside Story sold significantly better than either Super Paper Mario or Paper Mario Sticker Star. The game may have benefit from the fantastic install base of the DS; however, even Dream Team. which was released on the 3DS, outsold Paper Mario Sticker Star. In that regard, the Mario and Luigi series is selling better than Paper Mario. The only exception seems to be Paper Jam. While it is interesting the title has sold so much less than the previous games, it is ironic that it is the only game to feature Paper Mario.
So the series is in between a rock and a hard place. Nintendo seems concerned with having two Mario RPG series. With Mario and Luigi pulling higher numbers (with the exception of Paper Jam) it puts the future of the Paper Mario series into questions. Nevertheless, Intelligent System’s current solution seems questionable. What made the games great was the wonderful and unique gameplay, not the fact that everything was made of paper. In many ways, Intelligent Systems doesn’t understand why fans adore Paper Mario.
So what should become of Paper Mario. Well, there are multiple ways the series could go. For one, the series could focus on being a console RPG. Mario and Luigi is home on the handheld and its gameplay reflects that. It more chaotic, simple and more action oriented. Paper Mario is more strategic, thoughtful while still adding action sequences, elements that lend themselves better to console. Alternatively, Paper Mario could experiment with a platformer/RPG hybrid. Super Paper Mario remains the best selling game in the series, so Intelligent Systems could find a way to better merge those genres to make a compelling title.
At this point, it doesn’t look like Paper Mario Color Splash will do well. With fans being so negative and the fact that games have, generally, performed poorly on the Wii U, it’s clear to me, that this game will be a complete dud. But where does the series go from here? I would hope that Nintendo and Intelligent System will realize the issue with the game is that it is not what fans wanted. Of course, there is the very distinct possibility that Nintendo will see it as consumers not wanting Paper Mario and pull the plug on the series. It would be sad to see Paper Mario go, and perhaps there is the hope that the series will continue in a different, more interesting form. Regardless, if Nintendo doesn’t recognize these issues than we’ll have a zombie of a series or no series at all.
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