(Part 1) (The review exceeded TNE's maximum character limit per post) Paper Mario: Color Splash Draft Review Paper Mario: Color Splash is the newest installment in the long running Paper Mario series, and spiritual successor to the controversial 2012 release, Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Unlike the original RPG games in the franchise, Color Splash opts to be a light action adventure instead much like its immediate predecessor. Upon reveal, many fans of the series were outraged that Color Splash appeared to follow in the footsteps of Sticker Star rather than the original RPG’s, fearing that that the game may abandon the series roots outright; while others were more interested on whether or not the game could improve upon the flaws of those that came before it. I have had the game for a couple weeks now, so let’s take a look at just how Paper Mario: Color Splash compares to its predecessors, and whether or not it has come into its own. The game opens with Peach, Mario, and a nameless toad investigating the colorless cutout of another toad. The only clue to be had is the post marking it’s back, so all three board a ship and head towards where the letter originated; Port Prisma. Upon arriving in the town, they quickly discover that Bowser and his Minion have launched an attack on Port Prisma and its surrounding lands, draining the color from them and their denizens. To top it all off, Bowser has scattered the six big Paint’s Stars, the source of the islands color, to the far corners of the realm. With the help of Huey, a magical talking paint can; Mario sets off to repaint the island, rescue its citizens, retrieve the big paint stars and their pieces, and ultimately stop Bowser and his sinister plan. One of the biggest criticisms that Sticker Star received was its relative lack of interesting story or characters; Color Splash addresses this particular issue moderately well by creating the much needed context for playing that Sticker Star lacked. Every level has its own miniature story to drive Mario towards the small paint star at the end of each; each with unique characters, themes, settings and general problems to resolve. One level you might be solving a mystery at a haunted hotel, the next you might be sailing the seas with a pirate; each level has something to call its own and contributes a great deal of variety to the narrative. Eventually these levels culminate in in a final section for a particular set of themes, and a battle with one of the Koopalings; with a Big Paint star being the prize for victory. The context provided by these miniature stories go a long ways towards immersing the player in the world, and incentivizing them to push onwards. It is a much needed frame of reference that Sticker Star lacked, and In many ways this structure feels like a return to from akin to the original Mario RPG’s Such as the Thousand Year Door. The writing is as sharp as it has ever been, character dialogue is engaging, and the game boasts plenty of meta-humor for those looking for a laugh. Huey, Mario’s partner in all of this, has excellent writing and acts as a valuable foil to Mario’s mute persona. At every major problem or interaction Huey takes up the brunt of the conversation with a bit of useful advice and often humorous dialogue. He also acts as valuable navigator and provides helpful hints or observations when called. However, outside of his original purpose of guarding the Paint Stars, Huey lacks much in the way of personality to call his own; Huey is definitely a huge step up from Kersti, but lacks much of the spark that many of the previous companion characters in the series have had. With all that said; there are still some issues with the games narrative. While the individual levels and areas of the game are filled with interesting characters and dialogue, Color Splash does not have much in the way of an overarching plot. The vast majority of levels (with a few notable exceptions) have little to no narrative connection to the next, while the main story revolving around Bowser is almost non-existent and without any real sense of urgency being given until the very last level. Although the writing is great, the lion’s share of the dialogue is not grounded in the world, and exists solely to move Mario forward or for the sake of a joke. With a few notable exception such as the Pirate and Train themed portions of the game, most levels and characters do not have any significance to the plot and are forgotten about almost as soon as they are introduced. Despite having a modest cast of characters to work with to craft a story, most of the characters in the game have titles instead of names, and with the exception of Huey and one other NPC, only pre-existing Mario characters have the luxury of a name to call their own. Simply put, the game has the narrative to push you forward, but very little in the way of a story to bring you back for more; the game tells the narrative of a paper world, as opposed to using the world to tell a story. Visually the game looks amazing; it is a world made entirely out of paper and polished with charm. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is made out of paper craft materials; the ground, the sea, the sky, buildings and trees, pavement and furniture, even the graphical effects, all of them are lovingly crafted to look like they were made out of paper, and yet nothing feels like it was compromised to accommodate the paper-craft style. The lone exception to this are the “Things”, but more on that later. The world itself follows the themes laid down by most recent Super Mario games (Grassland, Forrest, Desert, Fireworld etc.) with slight changes in-between; however unlike Sticker Star, each of the levels set in these areas are given unique themes of their own that add much needed flavor to the world as a whole. Every level has its own unique assets and style to match its story, which provides a far greater sense of variety than your typical Mario game as of late. Unfortunately this degree of variety is no afforded to the NPC’s in the game, as almost all of them are cut directly from ultra-simplistic designs set forth by the New Super Mario Bros (NSMB) and 3D Land/World series. The entirety of friendly NPC’s are limited to pallet swapped toads and the rare one-off shyguy, with articles of clothing being infrequently distributed among them; while enemy NPC’s are all stock cutouts of their NSMB counterparts, 90% of which being some variation of Shy-Guy. The NPC’s simply feel hollow by comparison to the rest of the world and previous Paper Mario games. When it comes to the games audio, Color Splash does not disappoint. The music is perpetually upbeat and joyous, with a strong line of instrumental and synthesized tracks that impresses a sense whimsy and joy; yet it never feels overpowering and stays in context to the scene around you. Sound effects are equally as energetic and match the theme of the game. Some tracks in the game unlock additional channels as you progress through the game, making the world and music feel dynamic as they change and grow with the player, while others stick to the theme and aesthetic of their respective areas. The sound quality in Color splash is consistently good, and never deviates from the attitude that the rest of the game portrays; although this means that none of the games music ever strives to be more than part of the scene, it never fails to fit in snuggly with the rest of the game. You won’t find the next “Gusty Garden” here, but you might find yourself humming a few infectious ditties from time to time. Everything from the world, to the music, to the interface, and even the games own digital manual (complete with spoilers and flavor text tied to your save file) bare these aspects. NPC’s aside, it is hard to describe the game as anything other than utterly charming. Virtually every aspect of the game embraces it’s paper-craft theme with open arms and runs with it from start to finish; from the broad strokes to the smallest details, It is truly a beautiful looking game.