Paper Mario is back with a splash and ready to paint the town red. With a gloriously charming storyline that oozes visual appeal, Colour Splash hits great notes. Yet it doesn’t quite reach the heights of perfection with a lacklustre battle card system that’s just not quite speedy enough.
As the fifth instalment in the Paper Mario series and developed by the renowned Japanese team Intelligent Systems, Colour Splash is visually remarkable. Similar to Yoshi’s Woolly World, the game’s aesthetic appeal is stunning. It’s rigid in all the right places; with wooden boxes, pipes and corrugated cardboard poking out beneath the Shy Guys and their slurping straws. Clouds hang on wires as part of a set piece, giving players a boxed-in look that screams of Toy Story 4.0, while unfurl blocks roll out and physically build a ramp, a wall, a bridge before your very eyes. It’s the Wii U’s origami toy town – and it’s delightful.
Paper is used to such great effect in Colour Splash that the 3D background almost gets lost in the spectacle. Yet that’s exactly how it’s meant to be; awash with vibrant colour, the background folds around the scene as Mario jumps into a wooden barrel and gently pushes himself upstream. There’s often changes of perspective too, where you might have to run from a gigantic Chain Chomp and her pink bow towards the camera, outpace a raging lava pit to clear a course with rocks thrown towards you, or find solace for the housekeeper at Dark Bloo Inn following some spooky activity by a mysterious phone caller. Levels are so intrinsically varied that enjoyment is quite literally around every corner.
But without getting too lavish over the visual aspects, Paper Mario: Colour Splash also has a charming story at its heart. Princess Peach, Toad and Mario arrive on Prism Island after an unusual letter is mailed to them. Shocked to find that the mailed letter is actually a folded up and stamped colour-drained Toad, the group head straight to the centre of Prism Island to unearth the mystery. But on the way, they find a strange contraption asleep. When Mario hits it with his hammer, the contraption springs to life, revealing that it’s a paint can named Huey.
Attaching himself to Mario, Huey and the group head to the fountain only to discover the six Big Paint Stars are gone, with colourless spots dotted around the entire town. Huey is livid and vows that he will help Mario find the six Big Paint Stars to restore Prism Island to its bright, cheery and colourful tone. Yet shortly after Mario finds his first mini paint star, Princess Peach is kidnapped and taken by a black-painted Bowser and his minions onto an airship. And so, as always, Mario must find Princess Peach and bring her safely back to Prism Island.
With over 30 levels in the game, Paper Mario: Colour Splash can last anywhere between 30 to 40 hours. Completing a level will allow Mario to obtain a mini paint star, which opens up a new path or area within the on-screen map. Divided into six different areas correlating to the paint star colours, levels take place in the forest, volcano, desert, ocean, on the beach or at sunset. And while you’ll only be able to collect 9,999 coins at any time, there are plenty of Roshambo temples scattered across the map for quick monetary gain. These Rock-Paper-Scissor mini-games are amusing though largely forgettable, but they do serve a good purpose, particularly towards the end of the game.
Soon after your first run-in with an enemy, players are welcomed with open arms to the title’s battle system. Aside from its clear-cut homage to Sticker Star, battling in Colour Splash is solely card-based with jumps, hammers, mushrooms, fire and ice flower cards all making an appearance throughout the game. Working only on the Wii U GamePad, the turn-based battles are basic attack and defend cycles with players being able to place anywhere between one and four cards in their playable deck before the encounter begins – though it will depend on how many card slots you have unlocked. While selecting your cards can be a hindrance, particularly with 99 in your hand and no option to stack them, you’ll also have to slide your cards on the GamePad you wish to use, paint them to the desired level, and the swipe them onto the battle field. It’s painstakingly slow, sapping the fun rather than just the colour from the game.
For those who are familiar with the previous Paper Mario games or the Mario & Luigi series, using your cards will enable battle actions which must be executed perfectly for maximum damage. Strategically using your cards for the amount of enemies on screen is a must, given that played but unused cards are automatically discarded. From Shy Guys with spike helmets and slurping straws, to mega Goombas, Paratroopers and stacked versions of each, there are enough variations of Bowser’s minions to keep you enthralled.
Battling with enemies is the only way Mario can level up the amount of paint he can carry throughout Colour Splash, allowing players to paint cards that require more for higher attack yields. Each time an enemy is defeated it will leave behind mini wooden or glitter hammers, as well as leftover paint to replenish Huey’s can. Should players find themselves with no cards to hand for an enemy, they can choose to Battle Spin for ten coins once per battle and randomly select a card from the rotating pile. During Kamek’s magically altered battles, where he’ll turn your cards face down or give you six from your hand to play with, Battle Spin can be used to great effect but sadly it’s all too often a redundant feature of the game.
While cards can be found throughout Colour Splash’s enticing levels, they can also be bought from Prism Island with your easy-to-earn coins, as well as sold, or donated to the in-game museum. But perhaps the most interesting feature is the ability to use “Thing Cards”. Seemingly delivered direct from the Chibi-Robo series, Thing Cards often take the shape of household items such as a washing machine, a plunger, a bottle opener or even an ice pick. Bizarrely, lemons, turnips and salt and pepper shakers can also feature in levels, too. Although each Thing Card has a specific use in battle, they are also used as part of Colour Splash’s cut-out technique. By using the GamePad, players must trace their stylus across the screen to physically cut-out a part of the game’s background. It’s simple yet fun and can easily solve the most trickiest of puzzles within the game.
The inclusive humour, the superb music, and the engaging characterisation of Huey, the Toads, and the Shy Guys all add to the beautiful charm of Paper Mario: Colour Splash. With each level so different from the last, there are many that just ooze creativity. Dark Bloo Inn, Plum Park, Mondo Woods, Sacred Forest, and the entire pirate sea voyage are a joy to play through. In many ways, the level design is the real treasure of Paper Mario and reflects the timeless classic it could be if it were refined just a touch more for children and adults alike.
Yet the flaws are quite apparent. From unnecessary thing cards that needlessly lengthen the story, to the frustrating back and forth between Prism Island and the myriad of levels, Colour Splash would be ideal with a handy warp pipe on-screen. There’s also issues with the game’s depth perception too, where a colourless spot hasn’t filled in correctly due to Mario’s position; a centimetre away from the perfect hammer-splash. And with the game’s lack of amiibo support entirely, coupled with the GamePad as the only controller option, Colour Splash doesn’t quite feel complete. It should be said, though, that these issues are paltry in comparison to the game’s card battle system, which arguably becomes the most necessary and mundane feature, crumpling under the pressure.
With the battle system aside, Paper Mario: Colour Splash is filled with vibrant colour, characters and fantastic in-game level design. It may not be on par with The Thousand Year Door, but it’s still an enjoyable journey and, nonetheless, is a must-play for fans of the series. Besides, it’s never paper thin on content.