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Paper Mario: Color Splash Review – Art Attack

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Ask any Paper Mario fan which entry is the best in the series and most will say the GameCube classic Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Paper Mario: Color Splash is not as good as The Thousand-Year Door, but it is still an incredibly endearing game and worth your time and gold coins.

The first thing players notice is how gosh darn pretty it is. Across this generation, Nintendo’s development houses have proven they are master artisans. Between Kirby’s foray into claymation, Yoshi’s Woolly World and now Color Splash, Nintendo has shown that the WiiU is more than capable of creating incredibly lifelike graphics, just not in the ways that might instantly spring to mind.

The handmade papercraft aesthetics of Color Splash are the most realistic representations of the series’ primary conceit to date. The bright, beautiful character models of Color Splash look as though they have been cut out of foolscap; living in a world constructed of chunky cardboard dioramas, peppered with papercraft trees, green pipes and bridges held together with ribbon,

With Nintendo not content to simply make a lovely world for you to play in, as in Splatoon, the main conceit is to use a great hammer to bring colour into a world that has had it drained by a bunch of shy guys brandishing straws. I would not think about it for too long though or the game’s cheery façade becomes sinister, considering that paint in this world is a proxy for blood. So basically, Color Splash is about vampiric Shy Guys draining the life from scared toad people, and a struck-off Dr. Mario turning up to perform a series of very unorthodox blood transfusions with the heavy end of a mallet.

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During play, Mario uses his magical mallet to splash paint onto toads or certain parts of the scenery until they are fixed. This is accompanied by the occasional item puzzle in which real world items are used to adjust the landscape. There are also prescribed moments in which players use a pair of magic scissors to cut out a part of the environment to form platforms and bridges to allow Mario to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. Thus, the core gameplay is relatively simple, yet strangely compelling.

Sadly, Color Splash retains the most irksome part of Paper Mario: Sticker Star, that being its combat. Although players use cards here instead of stickers, they are functionally identical. During the game’s turn-based battles, Mario plays a single-use card from a deck to make a move. For example, a Boot card allows him to jump on an enemy, a mallet card lets him whack them, and a Goomba card summons a temporary shroo-man shield. Eventually, players gain the ability to use more cards per turn, allowing the chaining of multiple attacks, or the ability to heal the character while remaining on the offensive. Players can also power up cards with paint by touching them on the WiiU Gamepad before flicking them towards the TV screen, with a fully coloured in card doing the most damage. In theory, this mechanic should add a nice risk-reward element, but paint is so easy to come by that it always pays to fully power up your cards before you use them. It also undercuts strategic thinking because, since players must use a card to make any move at all, they will eventually run low and be forced to use a powerful card on a random encounter, or find themselves with no attacking cards at all and be forced to flee (which does not always work).

What is more, the process of fighting even the lowliest henchmen requires a monumental amount of faffing around. First, players must wade through a potentially massive deck to select the desired card, fill it with paint, and then flick the cards from the Gamepad to the TV. Mario then performs the move associated with the card through the help of timed button presses. The process feels overwrought, makes battles seem like a slog, and robs combat of any sense of progression or reward. Color Splash’s combat system is a convoluted step back from that found in The Thousand-Year Door, which, by contrast, was simple, effective, and incredibly satisfying. In comparison, Colour Splash’s battles swiftly begin to feel like a chore, and are constructed in such a manner that it is in players’ best interests to avoid them to conserve cards.

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The ‘Thing’ cards, which see Mario use the power of random household objects to defeat his papery foes, are a high point of the combat system. Seeing minions attacked with lemon wedges, fans, and plungers in ludicrous ways is always fun, sometimes weird, and surprisingly satisfying. Unfortunately, certain cards are required to beat particular bosses, and if a player doesn’t have it in their deck then they have to march back to the Thing card shop in the docks where they first began the game to buy a new one. This process never quite reaches the level of buggering about found in Sticker Star, but it is still irritating.

Frustrating card battles aside, however, the overall experience of Color Splash is an absolute joy. The game’s writing, setting, and narrative are all downright endearing. The Paper Mario games have always been well-scripted and funny, and Color Splash is no exception. the game has plenty of great gags and fun asides that are bound to raise a smile. The quality of the presentation is bolstered by the presence of subtle details, such as the way that Toads crumple with an irritated yelp when struck before flattening themselves out once more, or the flowering of the map into a colourful chart criss-crossed with sticky-tape trails leading from one area to the next.

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Color Splash is one of those games that is very difficult to dislike. Though the combat mechanics are irksome, the beautiful, madcap world and marvellous script keep players engaged and chuckling along. The game may not be The Thousand-Year Door beater we have all been hoping for, but it is one of the most endearing titles to release this year.

Paper Mario Color Splash was reviewed on WiiU with a copy provided by the publisher

Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Intelligent Systems | Genre: Adventure | Platforms: Wii U | PEGI/ESRB: 3+, E  | Release Date: October 7, 2016 | Controls: WiiU Gamepad

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Review

American Fugitive Review — A Grand Tale of Theft and Auto

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American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 1

The original Grand Theft Auto rocked the virtual world with its violent gameplay from a birds-eye view perspective back in 1997. Once the series moved to a third-person, 3D perspective with Grand Theft Auto III, few gamers looked back and few developers attempted to replicate the original style. More than 20 years later, Fallen Tree Games has become of those few with American Fugitive.

Players control Will Riley, a man convicted for a crime he did not commit and filled with the desire for revenge. Once he has escaped from prison, Will must find old friends—and meet some new ones—to run errands and discover the person who killed his father.

The game is played from a top-down perspective in a 3D open world. More reminiscent of Chinatown Wars than the original Grand Theft Auto, the camera adds a level of complexity to American Fugitive, as players often will not see what lies beyond the edges of the screen. While a behind-the-character perspective would, at times, not go amiss, players will eventually grow to familiarise themselves with the camera, respecting the callback to classic open world titles.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 2

The open world itself is also reminiscent of classic titles, with simplified designs regularly complimented by the detailed art style. The game’s animated, cartoon design scheme is fitting of its fast-paced action gameplay, always managing to keep the player on their toes and keen to discover more. Technically, the game plays almost flawlessly, with no significant performance issues to disrupt the player while they explore the map.

Players can explore the rural open world of Redrock County on foot or in a vehicle. The vehicular gameplay may take some time for players to familiarise themselves with, with some overly slippery mechanics leading to some unfortunate collisions, though fitting to the game’s tone. Thankfully, most environments in the game are destructible, so sliding off the road—if the player follows the road to begin with—does not often lead to disaster.

Despite beginning the game as a seemingly innocent man, Will doubles down on his criminal actions once he escapes from prison. Akin to Grand Theft Auto, the player can hijack cars, kill civilians, and attract the attention of police. Most residential buildings in the game can be robbed by the player, often leading to tense confrontations with the homeowners or police, so players must continue at their own risk.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 3

The ‘wanted’ system in the game works similarly to Grand Theft Auto games, with players accumulating up to five stars depending on their behaviour. The stars often accumulate a little too quickly, however, with additional stars regularly added simply for evading police. Oftentimes, the player may possess a full wanted level—complete with large police vans and circling helicopters—within a minute of committing a minor offense. While this over-the-top gameplay design is fitting to the pace of the game, it may lead to frustrations within the main story missions by bringing the player’s progress to a halt.

The missions are also reminiscent of those in Grand Theft Auto, tasking the player with a wide variety of tasks to keep them busy while the story evolves. While many of these missions may seem disconnected to the main narrative structure, they are unique and regularly keep the player entertained, ranging from simple fetch quests and car robberies to full-scale shootouts. The game’s fast-paced gameplay and lack of loading screens also make the poorly-placed checkpoints bearable, especially when the beginning of missions require the player to drive to a certain location.

American Fugitive‘s storyline is simple in design but entertaining enough to keep the player engaged. The game’s ‘cutscenes’ exist in the form of text atop character designs; while some simple voice acting would elevate these scenes with more dramatic tension, they are short enough to maintain the player’s attention and continue the missions at a fast pace. Players will find themselves surprisingly engrossed in the story, wanting to see it through to its full conclusion.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 4

Accompanying the fast-paced gameplay and narrative is the game’s music. From slow, explorative themes to fast-paced tracks, American Fugitive‘s original score is reminiscent of some of the best soundtracks across different media—from television’s True Detective to video gaming’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us. Each song accompanies the gameplay nicely, ramping up and down as the player makes the appropriate actions, and, along with the expert sound design, add the auditory sprinkles atop a visual and narrative treat.

American Fugitive, simply put, is fun. Fallen Tree Games has added its own unique twist to a classic gameplay formula, and utilised a simple but engaging narrative and a beautiful original score to maintain the player’s interest until the very end. Despite a few minor flaws in gameplay, the game stands strong against its competition. Players looking for a fast, fun, and mature sandbox game should not miss American Fugitive.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.

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