Did you know that Paper Mario is just sixteen? Thinking about that Nintendo 64 cartridge, nostalgia and memories come together; the impression, in writing this incipit, is that an avalanche of years has passed, yet no. Just sixteen have passed - we repeat - just sixteen. Of course, it is no small thing: some readers were not even born, other children or barely teenagers.
However, it is an incredible amount of time if we stop to analyze what is left today of that non (or at least less) mainstream videogame era. Well, a little bit, just a few survivors who are still struggling to break through the wall of anonymity of the new generations of players. Because the bulk of those who play video games today, either for personal reasons or for affinity of taste, will hardly ever have seriously put their hands on an exponent of the Paper Mario saga. And this the developer Intelligent Systems knows. The gaming industry needs economic sustainability, but also quality to please historical fans; and then you need ideas, you need the experience of knowing how to tell a story without boring anyone who is living it. Everything is even more difficult if the graphic style used winks at targets of players not easily categorized, in the same way difficult to satisfy in their search for the pleasure of playing. Paper Mario: Color Splash goes exactly in this direction, taking a step forward towards a difficult horizon: the search for a niche of connoisseurs, more than ever desiring a product that is not perfect but more than appreciable in the sum of its parts.
While not perfect, Paper Mario: Color Splash entertains with unsurpassed craftsmanship!
If you have followed news and previews, if the general chatter about the title has fascinated you so far, then you know very well that the focus of Paper Mario: Color Splash is not the combat system. Warning: this absolutely does not mean that the attention devoted to it is little, nor that the craftsmanship of the developers has failed for once. Is that It is clear how much this time Intelligent Systems wants in the first place to let you enter a world and tell you a story in the style of Paper Mario. And then - and only then - let you use the GamePad to give free rein to their extraordinary authorial madness.
What awaits those who will trust the team is a carefree, vibrant world, delicate in affirming itself with a sublime artistic style but very, very funny and refined in the proposition of dialogues and scripted interventions. And then, well, everything else comes. We understand that we might seem reductive, but we see no better way to present the new effort of Intelligent Systems than to say what it really gave us and is still giving Paper Mario: Color Splash, that is, many pleasant moments, able to make us smile. and encourage us to wait with trepidation for the next line of dialogue. There is little to do: on a narrative level this is a product written and orchestrated with great competence. There is no cinematic research, you will not find pomposity or Hollywood recipes, only and exclusively a superfine grace in proposing a constant whirlwind of dialectical ideas, brilliant exchanges, puns and funny characters. It is from this substrate that we must start, otherwise the risk of trivializing the design choices adopted is just around the corner. Starting from the least memorable part, the fight.
Decks and blows
Against all odds, Intelligent Systems uses the card system of its predecessor Sticker Star without losing some rhythm game traits typical of the Mario & Luigi saga, but further simplifying the factors in the field. With a maximum of 99 cards available, the deck can be scrolled on GamePad, the card will then be placed on a board with variable slots. Then the color phase is activated - collectible by interacting with almost every element in the levels - which will determine the strength of the blow, and in succession the activation of the chosen cards.
Each phase is carried out by pressing the "Done" button, with the result that the flow greatly relaxes the management of inputs. If we combine the almost non-existence of any advancement factor - except for life points - we come to the conclusion that combat is a planet unto itself, where collecting stronger or already colored cards becomes a sufficient (unnecessary) condition to advance without major problems. This is not necessarily a criticism, simply a line drawn under the concept expressed above: considering the original combat system of the first Paper Mario, deepened with the Millennial Portal but then abandoned and made more casual with Super Paper Mario - a platformer for all effects - and veered to a card system with Sticker Star, the direction of the team is clear. Unfortunately, the intended simplicity of the system puts the side to fairly immediate gameplay strategies: as soon as you have enough coins to buy the desired cards, progressing through the levels becomes more of a proforma than anything else. Fun, sometimes sparkling but clearly an accessory part of the entire system, which directs the real playful fulcrum to the evergreen backtracking, exploration and a couple of goodies.
We were saying, the back tracking, just that element so strictly a child of the level design. If this works, the rest is cascading. Fortunately, the skill of Intelligent Systems - now a master of level building given the recent and successful puzzle experience on Nintendo 3DS - is second to many others. The choice to set up a Super Mario World-style isometric map is not trivial: each level is so limited in its size, setting, in its activatable elements and peculiar characteristics.
All factors that help the team in the narration, proposed in leaps from one level to another, from one character to the next, with in between brackets of non-pioneering but absolutely tantalizing gameplay. Let's add the element of color, in every sense: the ability to use the hammer to paint or complete layer sections without paint - incidentally, taken away guess by whom? - provides the player with a completist scale that will make him alternate between progress and stop in levels already visited. Furthermore, since we are talking about paper, Intelligent Systems inserts a slightly minor but welcome gameplay feature: the scenario scissor. In the face of certain situations, the GamePad becomes a palette where you can cut out parts of the screen to allow Paper Mario to advance or certain triggers to be activated thanks to the use of specific cards. In conclusion, it is clear that there is nothing epochal in all this, but it is precisely the developer's ambition not to go in a direction that undermines what has already been acquired by fans, with a view to usability that manages to address multiple ranges of personal data. The team seems to want to whisper a number of pleasant elements to be savored individually that put together enrich the picture, succeeding and winning its bet even if not at the table.
There are two elements instead in which Color Splash really shines: the script of the dialogues and the technical / artistic system. For the first, it is easy to say: applause to anyone in Frankfurt who has taken care to carry out the localization because the landing in Spanish is to be applauded.
The puns, the jokes, the intelligent reflection in the common talk of some lines of dialogue made universal in an absolutely non-trivial way, the phrases and personality of Tinto, Mario's assistant, the sympathy of the Toads. It must not be easy to make people laugh with such innocence, yet Color Splash will give you spontaneous smiles, always correct in the choice of the dictionary, suitable and usable by all ages. Looking instead at the artistic side, we are again faced with excellence, once again with a cartoonish style, once again with a unique paper personality that envelops every element of each scenario. The faces of the supporting actors, the postures of the enemies, the environmental and architectural elements are rendered with such attention to detail and with such aesthetic taste that you will have to work hard not to get attached to the visual proposal of Color Splash. Last sound note: the in-house composer of Intelligent Systems has hit the mark again, with a lineup that makes excellent jazz his favorite base on which to build the arrangements.
It might seem to go against the trend, yet Paper Mario, since that distant 2000, hasn't changed one iota. Each chapter has always been an ideal mirror of the release platform, sometimes winking at the most other times declaring their love for the fundamentalists of the paper world. For depth, Color Splash is not the best Paper Mario, but it is an excellent Paper Mario: intelligent, not trivial, seasoned with successful ideas that clearly say how much the team wanted to give a light but very pleasant experience. Of course, once you have discovered a couple of tricks it will not be difficult to advance, but it is all part of the desire for a homogeneous and balanced dough which is true, it will not give incredible peaks, but it keeps the gameplay and narrative bar always on an inch high standard. . Add a splendid technical and sound sector and you will understand why for just € 50 it makes absolutely sense, for anyone with refined tastes, to treat yourself to a few tens of hours to fully savor the new creature of the talented Kyoto affiliate team.
- Technically sublime
- Excellent localization in Spanish
- Full of ideas, excellent amalgamation ...
- ... but without exaggerated playful peaks
- Easily assimilable combat system