By now Nintendo’s Wii U has already begun counting down the days until it reaches pensionable age, ready to take a place in the ‘great console sadly unloved by the public’ retirement home, rooming next to Sega’s Dreamcast. Perhaps the pair can reminisce about how useful their in-controller screens were, or complain of how things were better before Sony and Microsoft muscled in on the console market. But before settling down for a game of cribbage with a mug of hot Lon Lon Milk in hand, Wii U still has a few last cards to play.
First up from the deck is Paper Mario: Colour Splash, which is itself constructed around a card-based battle system. After the relative disappointment of Paper Mario: Sticker Star on the 3DS, hopes were not particularly high for Colour Splash, but in typical Nintendo fashion, the Japanese giant manage to pull out a contrary gem late in the game.
Mario, Peach and Toad head off to Port Prisma, where a mysterious army of straw-sucking Shy Guys dry out the legendary Prisma Paint fountain. Our moustache-sporting hero must set off in search of the colour stars, which will restore the fabled fountain to full working order.
Splashing paint around with his hammer, Mario must restore colour to a world threatened by the onset of grey. There are a few points of reference from other games of a similarly paintbox-minded ilk – Da Blob, an underrated gem from the Wii days springs to mind – but Mario has always been a colourful franchise, and the concept of painting fits beautifully here.
From the outset the game looks stunning, a sepia title screen loading gradually into full colour. The paper-based sprites are colourful and charming as they rustle in the breeze, or fold and crumple under attack, and the cardboard scenery is detailed and mostly interactive, your paint hammer picking up pigment by bashing it out of various objects - so hitting a tree will give you green paint, or bashing a blue flower will bring spots of blue to collect.
Perhaps influenced by Shigeru Miyamoto’s well-known love of bluegrass, the soundtrack is a fiddle-and-guitar infused joy, keeping pace with the action onscreen and providing a thematic counterpoint with the rather playful scripting – kudos must go to the localisation team, as there are many smirk-worthy puns and genuinely funny moments throughout the game. Mario even does a rare spot of plumbing in the Indigo Underground district, employing a plunger to clear a clogged up pipe.
Each locale is distinct and yet familiar – as ever, Nintendo don’t stray far from the desert/ice/underground/fire level template that informs every Mario game – and with the scenery being mainly composed of cardboard, there’s some opportunity for alteration and variation when retracing your steps, the pesky Shy Guys often rolling up paths or blocking off areas by manipulating the environment.
It does seem a slight shame that Toads make up so many of the game’s NPCs, as there are lot of regular Mario cast members who don’t get a look in – aside from the enemies of course, which range from Draggadon to Kamek the wizard, with the usual Goombas and Koopas inbetween. Huey the Paint Can is a newcomer as your guide through the world, and the way his label changes colour depending on his mood is a cute touch.
Some of the more niggling problems with the previous Paper Mario instalment Sticker Star have been eradicated – allowing players to hold 99 cards in their deck eliminates any irritating inventory management, and although it sometimes becomes tedious when an area is overstuffed with enemies, the card combat is surprisingly enjoyable.
Colour Splash is not quite perfect – little frustrations like the imprecise jumping and occasionally confusing placement of objects in the three-dimensional plane sometimes threaten to distract from what is overall a confident and well-crafted title. Despite these minor quibbles, there’s a good amount of content here, and Paper Mario: Colour Splash is a welcome addition to the Wii U libraryReuse content