I feared it would be this way. I’ve owned Paper Mario: Color Splash for years but never completed it, having once attempted it but gave up after only a few hours and did not return to its sickeningly colorful delights…until now. Lo and behold, all of my fears were confirmed. Intelligent Systems stuck with the same formula from the previous game in the franchise, Paper Mario: Sticker Star (already a red flag), and managed to make Color Splash exponentially worse.
If you haven’t read my Paper Mario: Sticker Star review (linked above), I would highly advise reading it before going any further because I will be comparing the two a lot in this review. Color Splash is essentially a carbon copy of the infamous 3DS game, hitting all the same beats due to Intelligent’s decision of sticking with their same boring formula from the previous installment, so I find it nearly impossible not to compare and contrast the two.
So if I’m claiming the two to be one in the same, how are they any different? If there’s one thing Color Splash has over its predecessor, it’s the fact that it is a little more open (heck, maybe even more open than Super Paper Mario?). Although it is admittedly still obscurely linear for the most part, Color Splash offers a kind of open-world feel in both its overworld and individual levels that Sticker Star didn’t adequately have, which is a quality I find a game needs if it is to be classified as “adventure.”
But like I said, that is one thing — and it happens to be the only thing — that Color Splash has over Sticker Star, because otherwise, the two are virtually the same. To list some similarities beat for beat: the cutout ability (equal to “paperize,” and still not fun), card-based battle system (equal to sticker-based battle system), “things” that can be utilized in combat and be applied to the levels to eliminate roadblocks (same as “things” from Sticker Star), and singular partner, Huey, who thinks the player is inept so he gives unsubtle advice, constantly gets overly angry, and nearly sacrifices himself in the final boss battle to help you beat it (equal to Kersti). Plenty of other noticeable, formulaic aspects are present but you get the idea.
Of course, the game looks and sounds great, but that’s to be expected. The rest of the differences stem from the gameplay side of things. One element is the combat, which felt unique to Sticker Star but was brought over to this game for no sensible reason. The timing techniques are still there, but so is the inability to pick the enemy you want to attack. This form of turn-based combat turns stale and frustrating after a while. The only real reason the card system seems to exist was so the Wii U gamepad could have a purpose other than just being a controller.
And speaking of combat, something I decided not to mention in the Sticker Star review is the boss battles. Specific “things” are obligatory to beat every boss, otherwise they are impossible to beat. This method of beating bosses completely defeats the purpose of everything that ever used to be fun about Paper Mario boss battles. Adversity is thrown out the window in exchange for a mandatory approach, which makes the player feel like they didn’t accomplish anything other than use the right “thing.”
Battling enemies in general is no fun in Color Splash. Progression no longer exists (neither did it for SS) and the problem with it is that fighting enemies feels frivolous. In previous Paper Mario games, running into enemies sometimes wasn’t fun, but at least the player still got rewarded for it. The only times Mario gets any serious upgrades in this game is when you save one of the six paint stars (again, equal to the six royal stickers). As a result, common battles feel like a farce, so they discourage the player from ever wanting to engage in battle.
A major issue with this game, though, is how much it doesn’t believe in its player. From the get-go, Color Splash proceeds to provide the player with tin-eared, passive-aggressive instructions, first through Huey, and then through any way it can. Never had I felt like I’d been treated with such incompetence that I got vocally frustrated and tremendously irritated.
The entire game maintained this attitude, but I want to describe an instance which acted as a nail in the coffin for me. There’s a section in a lava-filled level where Mario encounters irregularly shifting platforms. Like a natural gamer would do, I walked up to the NPC (a snifit) standing before the platforms. As it turns out, the snifit tells you exactly how to get across the shifting platforms. Isn’t this supposed to be a video game where I learn and discover things on my own? Is that not what video games are? Why is the game putting this mysterious obstacle in front of me if the game is going to tell me exactly how to conquer it? Not even Sticker Star (which had the exact same obstacle!) reached these condescending lows.
Mostly everything gameplay-wise in this game sucks. The base adventuring remains as drab as ever (filling in colorless spots is straight-up not fun), and in all honesty, there just doesn’t seem to be a real goal with this game at all. What exactly is supposed to be fun here? The series has reached such an aimless stand-still at this point. Much of the design is once again lazy, having the audacity to pull the “invisible block” trick again from the last game. There’s an infuriating sequence where you must cook pizza for a bunch of toads, but the cooking timer has the most unforgiving grace period that I had to make the pizza four times!
There are two instances where I can praise the game for its gameplay. The first contained a completely blacked-out area where you had to repeatedly use your color hammer ability to find a correct pathway through the pitch blackness. The second was in the final level where you discover that you’re able to lure bob-ombs to destroy crates blocking your path. These examples and the hotel level are the only cleverly executed sequences in the whole game. They are regrettably largely overshadowed by the rest of the monotonous bore known as Paper Mario: Color Splash. I will probably never play it again.