As you may have guessed by now, I was one of those people who really disliked the Paper Mario series’ change in direction since Sticker Star. The lack of interesting characters. The New Super Mario Bros style visuals. The stuff regarding to Miyamoto meddling in its development.
And when Color Splash announced and looked like Sticker Star 2, I hated that too. I thought it was a terrible idea. That it’d fail miserably. That the only way to save the series was to post GIFs and photos under the hashtag #MakePaperMarioGreatAgain.
But then I thought…
Why be so negative without actually playing it? After all, you know what that Super Paper Mario joke said, right? The one about complaining on message boards about games you’d never played. Why should I complain about a Paper Mario game without playing it?
So I bought it, played through to the ending and decided to give my thoughts on it. Was it really a better game than I expected?
Well, sort of. Some of Color Splash was great, some was terrible.
On the positive side, I thought the aesthetics here were great, and that the team really nailed the look and feel of the Paper Mario series. You had interesting levels like a train going through a desert at sunset, a quiz show and a Metal Gear Solid style military base. You had an amazing soundtrack that fit every single level and fight perfectly. And the humour? Well it was as good as I’d expected it to be.
However, Color Splash then kind of falls apart in terms of gameplay. Why? Because the actual level design and its puzzle solving don’t really work go well with the battle system.
The former works really well. The puzzle solving with the paint hammer is intuitive and easy to get the hang of (you don’t even have to select colours this time around), the levels are varied and filled with unique designs and set-pieces (like say, a dragon chase or the ground being rolled up around you) and the places are filled with secrets to find in general.
But then you’ve got the whole battle system. And unfortunately, this is where it kind of falls apart.
Because as ‘fun’ as it can be, the battle system is brainless as hell. You have a ton of HP, so the enemies are pretty much never going to kill you unless you’re a terrible player. Attacks can be blocked, but it’s so easy to do that enemy attacks are dealing only half damage right off the bat. And while using cards is easy with the touch screen, it’s also painfully slow. You can’t view them in multiple rows, you had to use about three or four actions per card played and with the low enemy HP, it all means you’ll spend more time selecting attacks than actually fighting anyone.
What’s more, it falls apart even worse when Kamek enters the picture.
This is cause Kamek does one of two things:
A: Turns all your cards over so you can’t see which card does what. Annoying (especially if a powerful Thing card is in your inventory), but not a huge issue.
B: Limits you to a certain few cards, takes away all others, and only gives said others back if you win.
And it’s the latter which has serious problems. Why? Because the developers forgot to check if the cards you have actually let you WIN the current battle.
Which means you can be stuck fighting a whole team of spike covered enemies with jump stickers (hey, mandatory damage taking!) or a whole team of flying ones with hammers (they can’t hit flying enemies). You can’t get new cards, you can’t run, you can’t choose to do nothing and you can’t heal. Well, until you’re out of cards. Then you can run again, at the cost of losing your entire ‘deck’.
It’s annoying. Just like the bosses being weak to Thing cards again. Don’t have the right card? Well, the boss will one shot you later in the battle. Like this:
It’s still a step up from Sticker Star (many Things are found right on the path to the boss, or even in the same level), but it’s still silly to have an RPG game boss where a certain tactic is mandatory to win at the cost of certain death. Replicas don’t work here either.
Either way, it means the battles are the absolute low point of the game, and after a certain point, become more of a chore than fun part of the game.
Still, Paper Mario Color Splash isn’t a bad game, just a flawed one that honestly isn’t worth buying at full price.
I’d been looking for an excuse to go back and play the first Paper Mario, and this Game Club was that excuse. The Thousand Year Door was the first Paper Mario game I’ve played, and I’ve since played all the other games in the series, apart from Color Splash because I don’t have the space to download it on my Wii U. It was tempting to compare this game to TTYD, but in the end I don’t think that’d be a fair comparison. However, I can’t help but look at this game as a veteran of the series.
Paper Mario had quite a slow start to it. There’s quite some time that passes before you get into your first non-tutorial battle, and it still takes a while longer after that before you can use action commands. Staying interested during that time was done solely through the hope that the game would get more interesting as it went on. Thankfully, it does. The badge system is a great way of adapting the way you play, and Mario’s friends each have their own ways of helping in fights, though it does feel like there’s a bit of a balance issue sometimes; as of where I stopped to write this, it feels like Kooper and Bombette are significantly better in battle than Goombario or Parakarry. Their only disadvantage is that they can’t hit flying targets, but Mario can cover that just fine. Still, Goombario is invaluable in his ability to scan enemies, which I will do for every single enemy, no matter how pointless. It didn’t matter to me that each of the Koopa Bros. had the same stats, each one had to be Tattled. And Parakarry is useful for… well, you use him to fly over gaps.
The story has felt pretty standard so far, but what I do appreciate is the world. The towns I’ve visited so far have each had a distinct feel to them, and the NPCs in them are more than just hints on how to progress. A lot of time was spent having Goombario tell me about each NPC I came across. I also appreciate the sense of exploration. Even if the paths are ultimately linear, finding little side paths with treasure that you can only reach with your friends is a nice touch, even if it can have dangerous consequences. I was roaming around the sewers of Toad Town, and ended up in a tough battle against a Blooper that I had no idea would be there. It took all of my healing items just to survive that one…
Even with all the nice things I have to say about this game, I’ve had some less than stellar moments so far. Almost everything that happened in Dry Dry Desert just wasn’t fun for me. The desert itself took way too long to go through, and only had two enemy types before you reached the ruins (and one oof the enemies in the desert gets repeated in the ruins!). I’m typically never one to run from battles in RPGs, but I started to actively avoid fights where I could. It didn’t help that I suffered my first Game Over here, after I accidentally chose Focus instead of Refresh and lost to a group of Bandits (though that’s more on me than the game; I’m surprisingly stingy when it comes to healing items). I even managed to trip myself up in the ruins themselves, as I traced over the whole place twice before I realized that I had already picked up the key I needed to continue. Plus, the sidequests involving delivering Parakarry’s letters pretty much just amounts to back-tracking to places you wouldn’t have much of a reason to go to otherwise, and one particular chain of letters has gone on for so long that I’ve yet to even complete it for fear of running out of time (it has to do with fishing, so if there’s some grand prize for completing this and not just another Star Piece, please tell me).
With all that said, I’d say that this game definitely still holds up today as a pretty solid game. If this was my first entry to the Paper Mario series, I’d definitely have wanted to play the next game. It has its faults, but it also has its charm in its battle system and world. Sure, some of Mario’s friends don’t have much of a personality to them (I dare you to tell me what Bombette’s personality is), and traversing the large landscapes can get pretty tiring if played for long sessions (the Speedy Spin badge feels like a requirement), but there’s nothing that’s significantly ruined the fun of this game for me. If anyone here is interested in Mario RPGs and hasn’t tried this one yet, they owe it to themselves to get it on the eShop.