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Paper Mario Color Splash

On a dark and stormy night, the famed hero of the Mushroom Kingdom receives a message from the mysterious Prism Island. The message? A Toad that has been completely drained of his life and color. What nefarious scheme is at work on Prism Island? Will Mario be able to solve the mystery AND keep the love of his life safe from the hands of the schemer?

Paper Mario: Color Splash is the fifth installment in Nintendo's Paper Mario spin-off series of the main Mario franchise. The game was developed by Nintendo and Intelligent Systems for the Wii U console. The game was released in the US and Europe on October 7th, 2016. While both Australia and Japan saw their version of the game released on October 8th and 13th respectively. Color Smash is also the second Paper Mario title co-directed by Naohiko Aoyama and Taro Kudo. Aoyama (who originally began as the art director for the series) and Kudo (who had worked as a designer for Super Mario RPG), took over the series direction from the original director, Ryota Kawade, as of Paper Mario: Sticker Star.

One of the aspects of the Nintendo company that I have admired for a long time is their capacity for creativity. How they can make games tied to their flagship franchises and make them not only fun to play but also visually interesting. This took on a whole new meaning when the first Paper Mario game was first released on the Nintendo 64. Giving Mario fans a twist on the story they already new but in a world made entirely of paper. Though the immensely successful game and several of its sequels have continued to push the limit on paper inspired gameplay, Sticker Star's lackluster release gave many fans pause. Had the spin-off series finally out of steam?

Maybe not as much as people might think.

To be fair, Color Splash is still far from capturing the same magic that drew so many fans to this franchise in the first place. Past installments found ways to shake up the traditional Mario story, (Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach/hatches an evil plot, and Mario must foil said evil plot and save the Princess) with twists, turns and even alternative villains to keep the story fresh. In Color Splash, while the air of mystery does help draw players in, the story eventually becomes incredibly straight forward, much in the same vein of the original Mario games.

Though what the game lacks in overall plot, it more than makes up for in it's wry and witty writing. Major props has to be given to Taro Kudo, the writing staff, and the localization crew for really making the dialogue exude sassy charm and the all important Paper Mario series' meta sense of humor.

From random Toad NPCs, Shy Guy enemies and even the game's main supporting character, Huey the Paint Can, all of the characters are given enough of a personality to set them apart and conversations with them will lead to quite a few laugh out loud moments.

However, the humor in Color Splash is not just limited to the dialogue. Scattered through the game are plenty of visual gags that are sure to delight players. For example, playing through one of the underground levels Mario takes a quest to rescue a squad of Toads, who were all ambushed by color sucking Shy Guys.

 As you track them down, the music stops in one particular area, giving an uneasy feel. After further exploration find a corner of the cave where a Toad is being sucked dry of his color, which the perpetrator, eerily looks back and slithers toward you, triggering a boss fight. All the while a Psycho-inspired track plays throughout the fight. It is outrageous moments like this that will catch you off guard and make each level unique and break through the monotony of battling.

Speaking of which...

The battle system used in Color Splash is still turned based, much like previous installments. However, instead of having a basic move set and partner characters, players must use collectible cards around the levels. Once a battle starts these cards must be colored in with the game's paint mechanic and only then can they be used to counter and attack foes.

While certainly not the worst card battle mechanic I've ever seen, that alone is not enough to keep the battles from slowing the action of the game down to a crawl. Which is made even worse when you are constantly running into foes to battle. Made even more annoying when you use up certain cards then encounter an enemy that can only be dealt with that exact type of card (i.e. a shy guy with a pointed helmet but all you have left are jump cards).

On the plus side, each new card you gain access to is sold in the main shop and money is made so readily available that buying new ones isn't difficult. There are also unique objects in the game, identified as “Thing” cards which can be found in the levels and used as trump cards in boss battles. Though the game doesn't go out of its way to explain why only certain Thing cards are effective on certain bosses more than others.

Still, this entire concept of using cards to battle really doesn't add much to the game. All it really seems to serve is just to add another reason for Mario to exhaust his constantly growing stock of paint, which also must be used to restore places and people who have been sucked dry of colors. This aspect of the gameplay, coloring in the environment and solving puzzles to gain access to new areas is where the game really shines. Not just though how fun the concept is, but how it is animated.

A large part is due to the game's overall design. Much like how Kirby's Epic Yarn took the idea of making a world entirely out of yarn and fabric, Color Splash has taken the design of the Paper Mario world to new heights on the Wii U.

Everything from the moving water, mountainsides, and deep woods, every environment looks like it was authentically created from paper and cardboard. It also behaves as such. Flapping in the wind when a strong breeze blows through the map, sagging and bleeding colors when it gets wet, and crumpling and contorting under the right conditions. Same goes for the use of the paint mechanic. When Mario slams his hammer down on the ground, a variety of different colors of paint goes splattering all over. If it is a spot that has lost color, it will be filled with the color that it was missing, which soaks into the ground, just like the actual texture of paint and paper.

Again, large round of applause for the development staff for making the game's presentation the best in the series.

And if that weren't enough, the animations created for the “Thing” cards do not only match the game's great animation quality, they are so over the top hilarious that they have to be seen to be believed.

Though Paper Mario fans might still be split down the middle on how Color Splash compares to the rest of the series, there is no doubt that the folks at Nintendo and Intelligent Systems put a lot of great work into the game's level design and comedic writing. If you're not into card battle systems (of which you will be using constantly) I suggest giving Paper Mario: Color Splash a pass. However, if you're a fan of game design and enjoy exploring unique levels with humorous characters and dialogue, then this latest installment of Paper Mario has got you covered.

Paper Mario: Color Splash is available on the Wii U at your local game retailer and Amazon.