Paper Mario: Color Splash Wii U
Developer Intelligent Systems Publisher Nintendo Format Wii U Release Out now
Since Nintendo picked AlphaDream’s Mario & Luigi series to continue its fine tradition of irreverent RPGs with timing-based combat, Paper Mario has evolved into something altogether more quixotic – a decision that hasn’t gone down well with those hoping one day to see a follow-up to the peerless Thousand-Year Door. At first, Color Splash looks like little more than an excuse to revisit Splatoon’s gloopy ink tech, with Mario using a paint hammer to recolour a world acned with white spots, but it’s a surprise in several ways. It refuses to back down on Sticker Star’s more divisive elements, but it matches its beloved forerunner for humour and scope, and trumps it for variety. At times, you might even be convinced it’s the best Paper Mario to date – at least when it’s not being the worst.
It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been dashed off in a desperate attempt to give Wii U owners something – anything – to fill the empty winter months. This is a large and immaculately polished game, with the prettiest papercraft universe this side of Tearaway. To some extent it resolves the strange tension at the heart of Sticker Star, where it often seemed better to actively avoid battles than seek them out. Here, by defeating enemies, you earn pickups that increase your hammer’s paint gauge, which means you don’t need to worry so much about topping it up. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that in limiting your supply, Intelligent Systems is creating a new problem just so combat can solve it.
And it’s not as if Color Splash doesn’t have issues of its own. Until you can play three cards per turn, the battle system involves a lot of extraneous faff. As with Sticker Star, you’ll sometimes find yourself without the specific card you need to get past an obstacle or boss, forcing needless backtracking. There are cheap tricks and peculiarly exacting challenges, one of which forces you to spend an in-game fortune to retry. That it involves fighting a sentient sirloin steak is by the by.
Yet you’ll remember these surreal touches long after the frustration has faded. Powered by one of Nintendo’s finest scripts, this is a very funny and unpredictable adventure that revels in wrong-footing you. In one stage, a giant sinkhole swallows up a Toad and your attempted rescue eventually leads to an unlikely jailbreak. A trip to exorcise a haunted inn features two unlikely cameos and concludes with a bizarrely touching tea party. There are multi-stage pirate voyages, genuinely tense undersea gameshows, and much more. With some prudent trimming, this could have been one of Wii U’s best games; even with all those maddening missteps, its moments of sparkling brilliance can make it feel frequently close to essential.
Your paint-can partner Huey is terrific company: his interruptions aren’t too frequent, he’ll only provide hints when prompted to, and his tantrums are a reliable source of comedy. Let’s hope Aonuma’s been taking notes