REVIEW: Visuals and humor make “Paper Mario: Color Splash” a winner

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  • Nintendo Wii U / rated E / $59.99 / released October 2016
  • FINAL: You NEED this game. 4 out of 5 stars

The paper-crafted visual gimmick may no longer be particularly novel after years of sequels, but the new “Paper Mario” is an adventure worth unfolding. In “Paper Mario: Color Splash,” Mario – like the rest of the game’s cast, the classic video game hero is a two-dimensional paper cut-out – must defend the Mushroom Kingdom from color-stealing enemies. Luckily, he has a magical paint-restoring hammer and a talking paint can for a sidekick.

With an “overworld” map reminiscent of his games in the 1980s and 90s, Mario must criss-cross from location to location while solving puzzles, rescuing hue-drained villagers and battling the baddies. Each level culminates in Mario unlocking a new path to another area, and many puzzles require you to come back later once you’ve found the proper item or ability to solve it.


“Color Splash” has turn-based combat, meaning you attack your opponents and then wait while they return the favor. Attacks are carried out by playing cards, although each move also requires you to jump and dodge to maximize the card’s effect. Hammers and boots are the most common moves, but they spin off into plenty of weird variations like hammers that bounce or metal boots that can pound through enemy spikes. Attack cards are collected while playing, and even though each card is a one-time-use affair, it’s easy to find more and keep your hand strong.

Cards are powered by paint, which is also collected as you explore the kingdom. Using a simple color wheel system, certain colors are needed to power up certain attacks. Your paint meters only show the primary colors of red, yellow and blue, but if you want a fully charged “Hopslipper” attack, you’ll automatically combine hues to generate green paint. If you do not have enough yellow, your green-thirsty card will look like a factory misprint. If you lack any paint at all, you’ll have to field a low-power black-and-white card. Some enemies are immune to certain types of attack or steal from your paint reserves. It’s a clever system that requires you to understand several layers of collectible resources in order to win each battle in the most efficient way possible.

The “Paper Mario” games are noted for being adorably weird, and “Color Splash” holds that line. Even beyond the bizarre ultra-attacks triggered by some cards (for example, using the “Lemon” card transports enemies to a kitchen cutting board where a photo-realistic lemon squirts juice onto them), “Color Splash” enjoys delivering dialogue that ranges from the ridiculous to the meta-textual. In what has become a series tradition, “Color Splash” subverts expectations by playing with the form.


However, “Color Splash” just can’t hit the heights found in some earlier “Paper Mario” releases. For whatever reason, 90% of the game’s cast are Toads (the mushroom-capped background characters found in dozens of Mario-branded games), and they are all written with the same smart-alecky voice. Rather than providing memorable characters that pull from the many species that Mario encounters, “Color Splash” has a hundred copies of the same Toad guy.

“Color Splash” also suffers from Nintendo’s unfortunate addiction to the “GAME OVER” screen. While the game auto-saves frequently and provides points for the player to manually save, there are times when a completely unexpected event can end your game, forcing you to re-do the last few minutes. Basically, if you see a save point, use it, because that’s the game’s way of telling you a progress-endangering event or boss fight is right around the corner.

The cardboard-and-paper world looks great on the big screen, although the game does support off-TV play if you want to stick with the view from the Wii U’s GamePad. “Color Splash” does wonderful things with light and shadow that maintain the illusion of Mario and company being made of paper, not to mention all the origami-esque sculpture and animation tricks.

“Paper Mario: Color Splash” runs about 40 hours, although the visual variety and some unexpected twists help keep it from feeling too padded out. The game is definitely a strong addition to the Wii U library and a nice reminder of what Nintendo can do when they decide to keep it weird.

This review is based on product supplied by the publisher. Images courtesy Nintendo of America.