Paper Mario: Color Splash, a game that often finds itself at the center of debates among fans of the series, is a unique and colorful addition to the Paper Mario franchise. In this review, I, Brighton Nelson, will deep dive into the elements that make Color Splash worth a playthrough, from its battle system to its story, characters, chapters, art, customization system, sidequests, music, and overall quality of life. Is this game just Sticker Star 2? Or is it something so much more? That's what this article is here to judge. Now, without further ado, RPG Ranked presents... a Color Splash Review: Is it Sticker Star 2 or something so much more?
Battle System - 8.5
Yes, you read that right—I enjoy the battle system in Paper Mario: Color Splash. Before you heave me, crush me, stomp on me, and throw me into the pits of Tartarus, let me explain. First, I'll get into the negatives. My biggest problem with the battle system? It's how the cards are handled. Maybe stacking duplicate cards would've fixed many of my problems, but sorting through the cards got incredibly frustrating after a few hours of play. Also, finding inventory size upgrades (or buying them at the Port Prisma shop!) like in Sticker Star would have made this so much better... with Thing Cards and Mushrooms accounted for, I barely had enough room for Attack Cards, let alone support and Enemy Cards! Also, only 9,999 coins? That was not the greatest! I hit that cap before getting the second Paint Star! Lastly, the fantastic Paint mechanic was underutilized, and the lack of damage numbers was a huge gripe for me since I love seeing how much damage I dish out. But even through all of these flaws? I had a fantastic time with this battle system! Once the battle commences after the whole card selection shindig, this feels action-packed and lively. Because of the fabulous cards and the paint (which is like an MP system), each battle felt tactically different. Having three cards available per turn most of the game makes this system much more fun and less monotonous than in Sticker Star. Each battle did give me an incentive to fight, as I would get paint for battling to color the world, cool enemy cards to collect and use, coins to buy more cards, and Hammer Scraps, which give you permanent paint upgrades, allowing you to explore easier and dish out more damage more often in battle. I found myself grinding out battles to get more paint to use insane cards like Giant Fire Flowers and Giant Line Jumps as much as possible. Ultimately, while this game added some quality-of-life issues not present in Sticker Star and couldn't live up to The Thousand-Year Door's battle system, I found this game to have fun and dynamic battles that were worth fighting this time.
Story - 7.5
Like many Paper Mario games, this story is more than the sum of its parts. This game executes a cinematic take on an incredibly uninteresting "beat Bowser" plot, with intrigue found in the backstories of the Big Paint Stars, in the Holo-Peaches scattered across different levels, and through newspapers and letters found in Port Prisma. This game tells individual stories in its levels and chapters, from a level in which you fulfill the final requests of the departed to helping a professor locate his pet; from a level where you feed burger to a dragon to a sweeping pirate tale of treasure and admiration, the individual moments here are incredible charming and full of life. This game executed a straightforward plot well through small doses of intrigue, immaculate worldbuilding, and snappy dialogue. While I certainly won't pretend this game should be praised for its plot, it has a weak plot executed so well—a sentiment I also share about the original Paper Mario. This is leagues ahead of Sticker Star's story, and it perfectly executes what it set out to do, so I think it deserves a solid 7.5 out of 10.
Characters - 7.5
This game may not have as original designs as the original trilogy, but it is a gigantic step up from Sticker Star. While there aren't many named or fascinating characters, there are many memorable and charming ones. From the Shy Guy at Cherry Lake who doesn't want to be harassed to the three Chosen Toads with superpowers; from the archaeologist professor with a pet Chain Chomp to two different, distinct Toad Captains—like master and apprentice; from the six Dark Bloo Toads with different life objectives and stories, to the owner of Mustard Cafe, a very "cool" character who is tons of fun; to the Rock Paper Wizard, the cahmpion of Roshambo, to the Shy Guy on the train; from the toad friends growing the plant at Port Prisma to the Rescue Squad Toads that are full of fun, to Huey, a hilarious and lovable sidekick... this game has some fun characters. While they don't have the depth of many other characters in the series, I love the charm and life they add to the game, so I think a score of 7.5 is fair.
Chapters - 9.5
This will leave people questioning my sanity, but I believe the chapters in this game are the third best in the series, only behind The Thousand-Year Door and The Origami King. Sure, Super Paper Mario has much higher highs but also much lower lows. From trying to unlock tower with three mystical toads to helping a professor's pet through an archaeological journey to receive a bone to utilize in a coliseum, from journeying to an underwater Shy Guy weapons factory, from taking a voyage on the high seas and entering the parallel world; from traveling through many toad establishments (a cafe, a restaurant, and a train manufacturing plant) to a romp through forests, volcanoes, and a circus, this game's areas never get old. While this game didn't have the best chapters in the series, it had many excellent ones, and for that, this deserves a near-perfect score.
Art & Graphics - 10
This is one of my favorite-looking games of all time. While I like the look of The Origami King better than this game, it's marginal. Everything about this game is gorgeous, with the paints adding so much life to the world! Every area has a different color palette, with the Violet Isles and Marmalade Valley being two of my favorites. This game uses its art well, incorporating it into overworld gameplay, abtttle gameplay, and battle animations. This is one of those game series where the art looks timeless and ages like fine wine, and with this being the second-best-looking of the bunch, this game looks phenomenal.
Customization System - 8
I really did adore the cards in this game! I know many dislike how they are one-use, but here's my two cents: partner attacks and Mario's attacks cost FP in the first two entries, which you needed coins or an insane badge setup to maintain anyway—these attacks were also limited. And now that there's upgradable paint, which acts as experience, I don't mind this card system! It isn't The Thousand-Year Door's badge system or nearly as good as that, but it's still pretty great. Compared to Sticker Star, this has much more depth, with Thing Card replicas, multi-attack cards, enemy cards, and a much bigger abundance of support cards. I found myself building some awesome setups! I sometimes like using a singular Tail card to kill a group of enemies. I'd crumple a group of enemies with a POW Block and use an Enemy Card as a partner for continuous strong attacks. Throwing a Koopa Shell and using a Frog Suit to still get a Perfect Bonus. Spam Big Fire and Ice Flowers to decimate enemies. On top of all these fun abilities, there's the Paint system, which is super fun (albeit undercooked) to utilize and allows you to manipulate the power of your attacks. In the end, if we got a couple of permanent upgrades here, like in The Origami King, enemy cards were revamped to either be controllable or much beefier, and the Paint system was tweaked to feel more necessary, I genuinely believe this customization system could match that of The Thousand-Year Door! I really like what Color Splash tried to do, and, in the end, it may not reach the heights of The Thousand-Year Door, but it was a lot of fun.
Sidequests - 7
As much as I love painting the world and becoming the grandmaster of Roshambo, this game definitely needed a wider variety of content outside of the main plotline. I enjoyed collecting cards for the Prisma Museum, but in the end, that wasted a lot of my coins. I loved the little sidequests like switching the two cafe owners between the different shops and the friend sidequest in Port Prisma, but those quests were fleeting and few and far between. In the end, if this game had a few more sidequests to more fully realize the characters and worldbuilding and highlight the other strengths of this beautiful game. While I don't dislike the sidequests present, more of them would've gone a long way to making this game a grander adventure than it already is.
Music - 9.5
This game has a lovely and varied soundtrack that easily rivals the music of its contemporaries. I love that every Paper Mario game builds a different tone with its music. Where the original had simple, peppy tunes, The Thousand-Year Door had a more mature and lively soundtrack, Super Paper Mario shifted to a standout electric sound, and Sticker Star was all about that big band jazz. Now Color Splash? Every song in this soundtrack instantly becomes nostalgic. This soundtrack makes you feel safe at home, granting solace from the pains of the outside world. Every time I boot up this game, the music reminds me that I'm about to go on a fantastic Paper Mario adventure I'll never forget. My favorite songs include Marmalade Valley, a song that simultaneously reminds me of organs at the baseball game, Gravy Chug's theme from Order Up!, and the pizzazz of the Wild West; Fortune Island, perhaps the most slapping pirate story of all time that unironically fosters a sense of adventure like no other song; and Port Prisma Museum, which has instantly become one of my favorite video game songs of all time and a song I frequently play on the piano. While this soundtrack has a song, I frequently play the piano. While this soundtrack has a more significant number of forgettable than some of the other games, the best songs in the game are indeed the peak of Paper Mario music. I pull up this soundtrack more than almost any other game—it's just that phenomenal.
Quality of Life - 8
Some paint spots in this game are obscure, and the Paint Bandit may make you do that again. That's horrible. And the limited inventory for coins and cards was terrible. But other than that (and some of the slow pacing or insane enemy counts on some levels), this game is very well-polished! Let's move on to the verdict because I don't have all that much to say here!
Fun Factor: 10
Overall Score: 85%
Letter Rating: S
This game took everything I enjoyed about Sticker Star and fixed what I hated about it. Paper Mario: Color Splash was a fantastical adventure... and it blew my expectations out of the water! While it isn't the best entry in the Paper Mario series, it certainly isn't the worst, and it indelibly captures everything I adore about this series, even if it is nothing like its roots. As someone who has grown up on Paper Mario and can confidently say it's my favorite video game series, Color Splash is a phenomenal game, an underrated gem, and an entry in the Paper Mario series that I will recommend to all—even if I must shout from the rooftops to convince people of its greatness.
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Primary Version: Color Splash (Wii U)