Could this be Wii U's final stand in 2016 after all? Nintendo showed more in a recent presentation.
On June 30, I was invited by my local Nintendo office to their Post E3 event. They went all out with a rented location and a lot of demo stations to boot. Before we could play anything though, they did something quite unusual. In a room, they gave us presentations on various upcoming games. The first game on the schedule was Paper Mario: Color Splash. Before they started the presentation, I had a lot of bad feelings to overcome when it came to this game. It seemed like we had another Paper Mario: Sticker Star situation, and I really couldn't give it the benefit of the doubt. This has nothing to do with it not being an RPG or anything like that. Plently of other franchises seek new challenges and benefit from trying different things. No, I was more irritated with the lack of challenge in combat and the really obtuse puzzles throughout the Nintendo 3DS title. Next to that, none of the action onscreen seemed special to me, and that was a major buzzkill.
The major focus of the presentation was a secondary look at the Bloo Bay Beach stage, where various Toads are prepping themselves for Oceanfest. The Nintendo Treehouse staff showed off this level in a very condensed form at E3 2016, but the Nintendo of Europe rep stopped and interacted more with the environment. This was a nice change of pace, as this is the way I tend to play games. The biggest thing I noticed was the wit of the characters. Yes, these are mostly Toads we are seeing, and none of them are wearing cool outfits, but they at least had a personality, which is something that was heavily lacking in Sticker Star. An example of this is when you’re heading toward the festival. Initially, it appears that only one Toad is in your way to the next area. When you pass him though, a whole stack of these mushroom men pop out and become quite upset with you.
The game uses its visuals and overall presentation to benefit the gameplay experience. The environments are effectively built on various layers, which makes it all stand out and pop. Puzzles and a little secrets are well hidden in the world, and you might have seen one example in the Treehouse footage. By going into a cavern and pulling on a vine, a secret compartment opens up and reveals various goodies to you. Other such spots aren't as obvious, and they go hand in hand with another new mechanic. The cutout powers allow you to remove pieces of the environment and this allows Paper Mario to move freely over 2D planes. I don't want to go too deep into every single piece of gameplay I have seen, but with the right amount of variety, these levels should become more entertaining to explore.
This all mixes together well with how the battle system has evolved from Paper Mario: Sticker Star. In that game, there was no reason to participate in the battles you were faced with. It really felt that you were just using stickers, and leaving the results to chance and fate. Thanks to the new color-using mechanics, there is an actual strategy neccessary to succeed. Granted, it is not the same as the Role Playing Games, but I do find the take intriguing. Color Splash uses a variety of cards for its battle moves and you’ll be collecting these all throughout the game. You have a nice variety of jumps, hammers and even enemies to help you through those hard times. Next to timing your button presses, paint management is crucial for survival. Every card uses color, and if you don't plan ahead accordingly, you will find yourself with no means of attack. Luckily, you can choose to only paint the cards a little bit and take a gamble on a move that is a bit weaker.
But how do you get these colors you ask? Well, you’ll need to interact with the environments. You will have to knock down coconuts from trees for yellow paint, flowers for blue, and grass for a shade of green. It also possible to find random paint drops in the world or gaining additional paint by filling in blank spots. To be honest, this is the one aspect that seemed to drag the experience down. Outside of some coins and additional items, I am not quite sure what purpose filling those blank places serve. There might be a reason they want to remain silent about for now, but time will tell, I suppose.
Speaking of stuff that dragged the game down, the “Things” return to the dismay of most. The way you approach them has been cleaned up a lot though, and it doesn't bother as much as it used to. In Paper Mario: Color Splash you pick up the Thing, squeeze the color out to refill you bars, and it is immediately turned into a card. While I have not been able to confirm this, it seems that the Things remain in your inventory. This would not only be neat, but it makes a ton of sense as well. You are throwing away a lot of color just to activate them, and there is no way you want to risk losing all of that. There are small things that make this game standout, and this whole experience could turn in a huge positive surprise for me.
There is enough to wonder about with Paper Mario: Color Splash though. While the dialogue presented was amusing, I am not sure how the overall story will pan out. The goal is to collect the Big Paint Stars and bring color back to Prism Island. How much deeper will this whole set-up go? I’m not jumping up and expecting originality, mostly because Morton was one of the bosses that they showed off. It is certainly making use of the standard Super Mario character line-up, but maybe the environments can twist it up enough to make the journey welcoming. The map is at least showing that they are going for more varied designs, which fits together nicely with the beautiful look of the title. Another worry for me is that the world isn't connected once again. Just like Paper Mario: Sticker Star, these are self-contained levels. I am neither here or there on this design choice, as it is more important what they end up doing with it overall.
With Huey as a partner, I hope that Paper Mario brings its color back with this new title. I liked many of the things they showed, but playing it myself is what matters at the end of the day. The Battle Card seem better integrated and the Things seem not nearly as bad as in Sticker Star. There are worries, but we will have to see if those get taken away with time. The game isn't completely out of the clear, but I am at least more interested than I was a few months ago. That is already a huge improvement in my book I suppose. Paper Mario: Color Splash is a solid three months away, so I am hopeful that we will learn more soon.