Pa­per Mario: Color Splash Wii U

De­vel­oper In­tel­li­gent Sys­tems Pub­lisher Nin­tendo For­mat Wii U Re­lease Out now

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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

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