Mario Color Splash is a clever, bubbly and often funny adventure that blends a few lightweight role-playing touches with platform and puzzle play. Thus the game features Mario, but unless you have seen any of the previous RPG epics, the play is quite different, often slower and delivers turn based combat.
In Color Splash Mario and his friends are transformed into a two-dimensional paper form and travel to an island called Port Prisma, a place made of paper, cardboard and paint. This last element, ‘paint’ is the lifeblood of all and you get to mess about with it heaps in the game, with often surprising results too.
The animation is really quite enchanting with ‘cut-out’ characters that look like walking stickers being central to the game’s story and graphic style. Indeed Color Splash looks like it has been lovingly made by a skilled artist working with scissors, glue, paper and cardboard. The impact is remarkable too and the way the unusual world can change and be explored because it is made of paper is really clever.At times as a part of play you are encouraged to bend the cardboard, roll it or even cut it out, revealing some quite amazing surprises.
Sadly, despite all of the colour and charm things are pretty worrying in this seemingly bright and happy realm. A horde of hood wearing ruffians called Shy Guys have armed themselves with straws and are draining attacking the island by sucking the live giving colour out of everything and everyone they come across.
Thankfully Mario is able to take these minions and their larger masters on in a battle based adventure that uses the Wii U controller. He is also helped by a talking paint can and the fact that one of his weapons is a hammer that can cover areas with paint, bringing them back to life with splashes of colour.
The combat is cleverly integrated into play with great use (for once) made of the Wii U touchpad. Once into a battle, you must use the touch screen to pick from a deck of ‘attack cards’ and each of these conveys different bonuses.
There are jump attacks, allies you can call to help, hammers you can wield and even fireballs you can summon. These all have different effects and some attack types will be better suited to a particular foe, so there is room for strategic decisions here.
On top of this the game makes clever use of the Wii U controller’s touchpad in other ways too. You can use it to play a ‘paper rock scissors’ game for extra coins when you compete in ‘Roe Sham Bo’ tournaments. Plus, there will also be moments in the game when you can cut out sections of scenery and must trace a line along the image of the backdrop as presented on the touchpad. All of this stuff fits in with the art and craft theme in the game and makes for an adventure with plenty of charm and surprises.
Color Splash has a great sense of humour and while you have to read a fair bit when you meet various characters along the way, they often have oddball and amusing comments to make. There are plenty of hints too for you to glean when chatting to the various folk you come across.
The game employs plenty of carrot and stick inspiration to keep you moving forward with sub quests, new powers to learn and ‘paint stars’ to collect, which in turn signal the completion of an area and often access to new territory.
The only really significant chink in the armour that we could find is that the combat system is a little one-paced and battles can feel very similar. They also chew up tons of time, as you are often mobbed by roaming assailants, even when you revisit areas previously conquered.
Counter-balancing this is the way the game has the power to truly surprise you. There will be plenty of ‘oooh wow’ moments when the game world is transformed and sometimes sees the landscape literally turning itself inside out as the paper based nature of the environment is cleverly used pull of some quite amazing transformations.
The use of paint in the game is also inspired and almost every object is sopping wet with the stuff. All you need to do to access it is wack the scenery with a hammer. You’ll need to do this often, as you will need paint to supercharge your cards in battle as well as solve many of the puzzles the game throws your way.
Even though the Wii U may be edging towards the end of its life cycle, it is great to see a game that feels fresh and imaginative and has a sense of humour. Paper Mario Colour Splash has a strong sense of identity and blends some lightweight RPG elements with other adventuring tropes into a game that feels unique on the WiiU roster. The game may require some patience, but once you persevere you will likely be hooked.