There are few games in this world that I get so excited for that I’m willing to pay for an entirely new console just so that I can play them. I had previously not owned a Wii U up until this weekend as I thought the whole concept of a tablet/console hybrid would lead to gimmicky gameplay. While wandering around my local gaming store, my boyfriend and I just happened to meander on over to the Wii U section. I noticed a simple little title called “Paper Mario: Color Splash” and after a moment’s hesitation, ended up purchasing not just this game but also a brand new deluxe version of the Wii U. Yes, I know there will be an entirely new console coming out in March but the fact remained that there was a brand-new installment to my absolute favorite franchise of all time out NOW on the Wii U. This need for my fix was enough to drop the money needed to buy this soon to die out console just to get this game.
Now for a little backstory, I have been playing the Paper Mario franchise since the days of Paper Mario 64. As a young girl, my brother and I would routinely visit the Blockbuster at the bottom of the hill that we lived on. Normally we would go immediately to Super Smash Bros. or one of the Mario Parties on the N64. But, it was on one of these occasions that I made the fateful decision to rent the original Paper Mario game and play it over the weekend. I beat it in one weekend and for the following months, this was the only game that I would rent and play. I finally ended up saving enough money to buy the same game from Blockbusters during one of their game clear outs and to this day I still have it.
The Paper Mario franchise is unique in its gameplay, storytelling, and graphics. You control Mario, in a 2D world with 3D elements. The game is a weird child of the original side-scrolling puzzle platformer movements with some vertical elements thrown in depending on the areas that you go in. The battle system is turn based and you engage in battle by either attacking or being attacked by enemies in the field. What makes this game genre stand out from the other Mario games is the writing and storytelling in this game. It’s very clear that from the get go, the writers were basically given free rein to create characters and dialogue for the entirety of the game. In every game, it’s like taking a bath in a google search engine. Characters in the world will routinely not only reference cannon from the past and present Mario games, but also will throw in references to real world problems or occurrences that we, as players, experience as well. The whole thing sounds like a hodgepodge, but it all comes together beautifully and helps build the player/character connection that is so important for an RPG. Finally, just the name of the franchise suggests, the concept of “Paper” is vital to the overall aesthetic of the world. All the characters appear as if they were paper cutouts and even elements of the world react as if it were made from paper.
It’s been unfortunate, but this franchise has been suffering from an identity crisis for the past two installments. I call it the Nintendo Curse, and it’s when a game that has garnered popularity from out of nowhere gets drastically changed in how it plays, to accommodate some gimmicky feature that Nintendo pushes out. Comparing Paper Mario 64 (N64) to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GameCube), it is very clear that the latter is a direct sequel to the first. The artistic style, map design, turn based mechanics, characters, etc. are all very similar. This is not a bad thing. The first game was amazing, and the sequel basically took everything that was good about the first and brought it the next level. I have a theory that it was because this game was released on the GameCube which did not have any potentially gimmicky add-on’s that Nintendo’s executive team could get overly excited about (except for those mini discs).
Then the Wii came out, and that’s when Paper Mario got Wii-erd. We saw the release of Super Paper Mario which took the turn-based fighting mechanic and the unique world design, and effectively through it out the window. Now fans essentially got a pure side-scrolling puzzle platform game. Since it was on the Wii, you now had the capability to rotate your Wiimote and suddenly the world would flip and you would be able to move vertically instead of just horizontally. Just like with the original side-scrolling Mario games, but not like with the original Paper Mario games, enemy battles were now fought live out in the field by simply attacking the enemy rather than being fought in a battle screen. This was not widely received with fans, and although I give the creators props for attempting a new way of battling, I am happy they have since moved away from this. The writing and story aspects were essentially the same, but the gameplay mechanics and the world design were so different that it put a bad taste in fans mouths. Nintendo changed a game to make it “better” even though no one was asking for it.
With the rise in popularity of the Nintendo 3DS, it was no surprise to anyone that there would be a Paper Mario game released on this console as well. This was the first time this franchise made it to the handheld market. Initially, a lot of fans were excited for sticker star as it looked like the game was moving back to its roots. No longer were we forced to deal with the Wii mote gimmick of flipping your control to get to other portions of the map, instead, the maps appeared to be designed in the same manner of the first two games. However, in true Nintendo fashion, they realized that the 3DS had two screens to utilize and decided to bring this into the game. The battles went back to a turn based system, but this time instead of choosing your attacks and then deciding which enemy to use the attacks on, you had a sticker book. The sticker book was essentially the screen in your palms and the stickers in the book were your attacks that you had to attack the enemies. You would attack in consecutive order, down the line of enemies, using the stickers that you had in your book as if they were normal attacks. You also had what were called “Things” that were 3D objects you found throughout the world that could turn into stickers. You would use these stickers to solve puzzles throughout the world as well use during boss battles. Since most boss battles had a one-shot mechanic that could only be countered by a certain “Thing”, it was of the utmost importance that you kept track of these. Not only that, but this games story was literally thrown out the window by creator Shigeru Miyamoto. It has come to light since Sticker Star’s lukewarm reception that Miyamoto informed writer’s and developers of this game that “story wasn’t important” to this game. The lack of story and the gimmicky use of the 3DS dual screen capability caused this installment to be the least well received of the Paper Mario franchise.
Needless to say, Color Splash had its work cut out for it. At this point in time, the fans and the developers are at odds as to where this genre should go. Developers are continuing to try and utilize the usage of their systems mechanics whereas fans just want to the games to return to their roots. When the initial trailer for Color Splash was shown at E3, many fans were disappointed as it appeared to just be a rehash of Sticker Star in the battle system. This was a fair disappointment, as the battle system in this game is annoying, to say the least. To attack an enemy, you now select a “Card” from your “Hand” (IE your Wii U gamepad). The whole concept of Color Splash is repainting the world of Prism Island, finding the missing paint stars, and defeating Bowser who has covered himself in Black Paint. This paint concept bleeds into the battle system as well, and before you can play your card you must then “Paint” it with your stylus. Once painted, you then flick it towards the top of the Wii U pad and then Mario attacks. This is the only part of the game that feels remotely gimmicky, and I honestly wish they would have done away from this as it is a big part of what is holding this game back from true potential.
Honestly, this is the only part of the game that in any way feels gimmicky. The story, though not nearly as in depth as the first two games are charming and the world feels alive. I had an odd relationship with this game during the first little playthrough because it was still so different from what I know this game has come from. Initially, the game appears to be another sticker star with its weird battle system and no story whatsoever. For the first two chapters, the story is very disjointed and one can’t help but feel disconnected from the world that they are trying to ultimately save. Around the second chapter, the writing starts to pick up and at times you feel as if you are back with the original Paper Mario games. This is such a nice relief and I hope that with the next installment we as fans finally get the game we have been asking for. The only disappointing part of the story is the fact that the only NPC model the creators used in this game were Toads. Yes, they give the Toads unique personalities, but all toads are the same and have the same underlying characteristics. Not only that, but frankly, no one gives a damn about Toads.
With this latest installment of the Paper Mario franchise, I can’t help but wonder where the series will go next. The thing is, although, at times gimmicky in true Nintendo fashion, this game is surprisingly a lot of fun to play. I’m overall satisfied with my purchase, and although the replay value is just not there unlike its predecessors it’s a step in the right direction that this franchise has been missing for a while now. The Switch is scheduled to come out sometime in March of 2017, and with it the death of dual screen capability and/or motion capture. I’m hoping by making this “Switch” the Nintendo higher ups are done playing games with their fans heartstrings and begin to get serious about making their beloved franchises shine. For Paper Mario: Color Splash, I’ll give them an 8 out of 10. It was a genuinely good game, but I’m a little afraid of where this series will go since this is the third game in a row that has incorporated the gimmicky game mechanics. With the Switch, I’m not seeing how they will manage it at this point in time, but Nintendo is always full of surprises…