Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Jun 222020

As promised, I finally did it. I finally played Paper Mario: Color Splash.

When Color Splash was announced, I was less than enthusiastic. My misgivings even made it into a quick shot in one of Arlo’s videos.

Since most people say Color Splash is better than Sticker Star, I decided I’d eventually give it a try. I promised a friend I’d play Color Splash this year, and in light of Origami King coming out in less than a month, I finally set up my Wii U and dove into the highly paper-themed world of Paper Mario: Color Splash.

And you know what?

It is better than Sticker Star!

That ultimately encapsulates my feelings about this game. Did I like it more than the first three Paper Mario games? No. Did I like it more than Sticker Star? Absolutely. Unlike Sticker Star, which I consider completely un-fun and generally a bad game, Color Splash had moments where I was genuinely enjoying myself.

So let’s dig into the good and bad of Paper Mario: Color Splash.

When I say it’s better than Sticker Star, I mean that even in regards to the parts I dislike about it. In Color Splash, you still use consumable items as your attacks. However, your inventory is capped at 99 slots this time, so it’s not a huge deal. Similarly, you still need to use Thing cards to solve puzzles and defeat bosses, but it’s much more user-friendly because 1) there’s an NPC who will give you a hint about any upcoming Things you need, and 2) the large inventory means you can afford to carry a bunch of Things wherever you go.

Combat starts out incredibly tedious, since each attack requires you to select your card, power it up with paint, and then flick it off the screen before you can start using action commands (and that’s with the “advanced” option that streamlines the process), but once you’re able to play multiple cards in a turn and have access to cards with multiple attacks, it feels better.

You do get an incentive for battling this time, since enemies drop hammer fragments that power up your paint gauge once you get enough, allowing you to carry more paint.

Unfortunately, it’s just not fun. Color Splash’s combat is easily the worst part. I quickly began avoiding combat as much as possible, only fighting required battles and enemies I couldn’t get away from in time. (Despite this, I ended up with 9999 coins early on, which trivialized getting new cards and make combat even less worthwhile.)

Boss battles, on the other hand, are much more interesting. Even though each requires a special Thing card to win, several of the boss battles also include some unique mechanics that make them more fun than the normal combat slog.

Outside of combat, each level is filled with unpainted areas that you need to fill back in by hammering them with your paint hammer. As much as I complain about the obsession with paper and cringe at every line about being folded, crumpled, etc., I actually found this fun. It appealed to my sense of order to fill in all the unpainted spots.

Some of the levels had pretty good music, too.

There’s also a roshambo (rock paper scissors) mini-game. You play three matches in each tournament. For the first two, you’re given hints about what your opponents will use. Then the third match is just luck. If you lose a tournament more than once, all three rounds become luck, to punish you for having bad luck. (Fortunately, you can reload your save to undo that.) Then the final tournament is all luck-based, just to make it as unenjoyable as possible.

At least roshambo is optional. Color Splash has two other terrible gameplay mechanics we need to discuss. The first is the Shy Bandit.

Remember I mentioned filling in unpainted spots? Sometimes the Shy Bandit will appear on the world map and target a location. You need to reach that spot before he drains it of color. It’s possible for him to spawn in such a way that it’s impossible for you to reach him in time. Have fun redoing the level to paint it again.

Then there’s Kamek. Randomly, Kamek will appear in battle and take away your ability to flee or get more cards, then do something to your deck, like changing them all to a specific type of card or removing all but a few. At first, I actually liked this. At least it made the battles more interesting. But you know what? It’s possible for Kamek to trap you in a battle with cards that literally can’t defeat the enemy. Your only choice is to lose all your cards or reload your save.

But that’s enough about gameplay. Let’s talk about the “story.”

People are right when they say Color Splash has funny writing. There’s plenty of humor, and some lines really made me laugh. It almost felt over-done, though, like every NPC had a joke, which made them feel less like actual characters. The generic designs don’t help. Toads of the same color are pretty much interchangeable, even when they have a unique role.

Come on, you couldn’t give the scientist Toad a lab coat or glasses?
At least the ship captain had a hat.

Color Splash is strangely self-aware when it comes to this, too. I’m not sure if the writers/localizers were forced to use generic designs and making the best of it by playing it for laughs or if they genuinely thought a world of identical paper people was hilarious, but there are multiple jokes about the Toads being generic, unnamed, and interchangeable.

Toads are portrayed as pretty much 100% incompetent, although the Rescue Squad Toads are so incompetent it’s pretty funny to watch them utterly fail at helping.

Now, for a while, I felt like this was all I was going to get: a world full of characters making jokes instead of having an actual story. The early levels felt more like set pieces rather than actual places with actual characters. However, this got much better as the game went on, with areas that actually did have their own small, self-contained stories.

In particular, helping the ghosts in the haunted hotel and traveling in search of Fortune Island were the highlights of Color Splash for me, because those areas really felt like I’d entered an actual story with actual characters.

Color Splash also has a couple side quests that feature the most heartwarming moments in the game, certainly better than anything in the main story.

And I use the term “main story” pretty loosely. Color Splash sets up its premise and sends you out to fix it, with barely any plot progression along the way aside from each Big Paint Star you rescue showing you a short flashback of what led up to the paint being drained. At least Huey is a better character than Kersti was in Sticker Star, because most interactions in the game are Huey talking to Mario or Huey talking to a character for Mario.

I didn’t think you could take a silent protagonist and make him more silent, but Mario’s inability to communicate disturbed me. In past Paper Mario games, he was still silent, but he’d nod or hold out his hands and the other character would respond as though he’d spoken.

This game has almost none of that. Huey speaks for Mario. Seeing one of the Koopalings and having Huey wonder out loud who that might be while Mario stares soullessly ahead just felt bizarre.

The story has huge missed opportunities, too, because it could have been really cool.

Click for Color Splash spoilers
When I first encountered the black paint, I was actually excited. It felt like a new threat, possibly a new gameplay mechanic, something that would raise the stakes – and then Huey got rid of it off-screen and it never came up again until the finale.

The black paint is just a missed opportunity all around, since the revelation that Bowser is possessed by it goes nowhere. They could have done so much interesting stuff with that.

Speaking of which, remember how the original Paper Mario games had short sections where you played as Peach? It would have been so cool if instead of just getting Peach’s holograms, you got to play as her for short segments and witness for yourself that there was something seriously wrong with Bowser.

(On that note, I felt like the ending was way too hard on Bowser, especially in contrast to something like Bowser’s Inside Story where he gets a cake in the end. All he wanted was a pretty shell. He had no way of knowing mixing paint was a bad thing!)

So, is Paper Mario: Color Splash a bad game? No, I wouldn’t say it is. Is Paper Mario: Color Splash a good game? It’s… a game with some enjoyable moments. As I said at the start, the strongest statement I can make about Color Splash is that it’s better than Sticker Star in every way.

What did you think of Paper Mario: Color Splash?

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  10 Responses to “Paper Mario: Color Splash IS Better Than Sticker Star”

  1. I’m very glad you enjoyed (some parts of) your time with Paper Mario: Color Splash!

    If you’re wondering why you have all of those extra coins, maybe they’re for use in scenarios where you lose all of your cards to Kamek.

  2. […] it was first announced, I considered getting it at launch, but after finally playing Color Splash and learning that Origami King is still definitely not an RPG, I decided to wait. I’ve heard […]

  3. […] to Color Splash’s announcement made it into one of Arlo’s videos, and even though I enjoyed Color Splash more than Sticker Star, I still wasn’t exactly thrilled with it.) But with Thousand-Year Door coming to a new […]

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