I love Paper Mario. I love Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. I love Super Paper Mario. Each of these games have played a big part in my gaming history, and I rank The Thousand Year Door as my favorite JRPG of all time, hands down. So when out of nowhere, Nintendo showed off a gorgeous gameplay trailer for a brand new entry in the Paper Mario series, Paper Mario: Color Splash, I should’ve been ecstatic. And for a few blissful moments, I was, but as the trailer continued and I watched it over and over again, I realized something heartbreaking.
Paper Mario: Color Splash might be terrible.
Graphically, it looks breathtaking. The music is on point. But what I care about is that ever illusive element that made the original Paper Mario and its sequel so great in the first place, one I wrote about just a month ago, charm. A sense of identity, a real driving force that gave the Mario universe a fresh and humorous identity. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year door took it a step further with a foreign setting populated by locales and situations alien to Mario and company, but he still manages to fit in when taking part in wrestling tournaments above the clouds or uncovering the secret of a cursed pirate haven. They were colorful games populated by colorful characters and colorful settings, and from the admittedly short trailer we saw the other day, Paper Mario: Color Splash shows no signs of any of that.
The main indicator is the character we saw the most in the trailer: Toad. Or rather assorted Toads, not that you would know considering they all looked exactly the same. And I don’t mean similar, I mean the same. This is not new for the Paper Mario series; in fact, the previous entry Paper Mario: Sticker Star was filled with unnamed Toads, only differentiated by the color of the spots on their head. The world was empty, no longer populated by vibrant characters with memorable personalities, but rather with hollow shells, meant to spew off a few canned lines here and there without contributing much to the overall experience.
I know it may sound strange to get your impressions of a game based around the design of a basic NPC, but I want to point out that this isn’t the whole issue, rather just an example. Throughout the minute long trailer we saw warning signs like a hub world devoid of characters, a world map to travel around, and a return to the sticker style of combat seen in Paper Mario: Sticker Star, albiet with a different skin. Honestly, I didn’t mind the stickers as a gameplay mechanic; they worked fine and were a decent replacement for the usual Flower Point seen in Mario RPGs of old, but with the stickers came the absence of yet another element to add to Paper Mario‘s personality, the larger than life and hilarious partners.
It seems like Paper Mario: Color Splash is a retread of the missteps made by Paper Mario: Sticker Star, a horribly miscalculated effort to boil down Paper Mario to its basics, and tear apart everything that made the first two games standout in the procces. Do I want Paper Mario: Color Splash to be good? Of cocurse I do! I hope it’s an RPG that surpasses all of my expectations and more, but realistically, I don’t see that happening. With the way that it’s looking, it seems that Paper Mario: Color Splash will have to join the pile of Sticker Star and Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam as yet another mediocre entry in the Paper Mario franchise.