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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

The Great Perhaps Review — Perhaps Not

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The Great Perhaps gameplay screenshot 1

Warning: The article contains discussion on the subject of suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling, The International Association for Suicide Prevention provides contact information for help across the world.  

One common piece of advice for budding comedians is to never ‘punch down’. The target of a joke should be someone of a higher status or privilege than the joke teller, rather than a person within a marginalised group, such as the poor, the disabled, or the mentally ill. While this is not a hard and fast rule to comedy success, with shows like South Park using shocking moments to illuminate larger problems within society, without a deft hand, punching down comes across as cruel or offensive. The Great Perhaps, the first title by developer Caligari Games, makes an off-colour joke about suicide in the first five minutes of the game, setting a confused tone for the rest of its three-hour playtime. While this puzzle platformer shows some potential with solid puzzle design and great art direction, its terrible writing taints the entire experience.

The initial foot-in-the-mouth moment happens in the game’s animated prologue. Kosmos is an astronaut in a space station orbiting the earth. During a typical day, his communications with Earth are suddenly cut off, and he sees black smoke spreading across the globe. The station automatically puts him into cryogenic sleep, with instructions to wake him when returning to the surface is safe. Upon awakening, he discovers that over 100 years have passed. Kosmos is in despair, realising that everyone he ever knew or loved is dead, including his wife and children. He asks the ship’s A.I., L9, to vent all the oxygen in the ship, ending his life. She refuses, saying that the task is illogical. He asks again. She tells him to ‘nut up’ and to go explore the Earth. Kosmos reacts in astonishment, not at her cruel words, but at the fact she has developed a sense of humour. Magically cured of his suicidal ideation by her sassy insults, the pair decide to go explore the Earth and see if anyone survived the apocalypse.  

Those whose lives have not been touched by suicide may find difficulty understanding why this moment is so offensive. This ‘nut up’ attitude stems from this belief that those suffering are not trying hard enough to get better—that one can just think themselves happy. Men especially suffer due to social pressure on them to not express their feelings, resulting in a suicide rate three times higher than women. Telling a suicidal person to ‘nut up’ would make them more likely to go through with their plans, not laugh. Real treatment takes a lot of hard work with support from both loved ones and mental health professionals. 

This monumental lack of understanding permeates the game, although thankfully not as egregiously as the initial example. The flat intonation of Kosmos’s narration initially seems inspired, a man who has stepped back from the precipice of self harm but is still deeply troubled. However, the content of the writing actually shows that he is really cured, despite the monotony of his voice. About half an hour into the journey, he and L9 encounter a man about to jump off a roof, upset that no one likes his writing. He invites Kosmos to jump with him, but Kosmos proclaims he has ‘better things to do’. A callous attitude for a man who, within the last day or so, was in the same position. He manages to help the man by showing that his book will be successful in the future, handily sidestepping any real understanding of how to defuse such a situation. One does not need to be an expert on mental illness to write about the subject, but a modicum of research, understanding, or respect would have gone a long way. The Great Perhaps seems uncertain if it wants to be mysterious or funny. One moment, Kosmos will be lamenting the downfall of humanity; the next, he is riding an ostrich. L9 switches between making jokes and acting like a cold machine. The game is disjointed and lacks the emotional weight to support the story it is trying to tell. 

The gameplay of The Great Perhaps fares better than the writing. A two-dimensional sidescroller with light puzzling, akin to Inside or Limbo, the game’s unique hook is the lantern Kosmos finds that lets him briefly travel back in time. The lantern button can be pressed for a glimpse of the past world, then held down to travel into the past for 20 seconds. For the most part, this mechanic works well, using the lantern to get around locked doors, bring objects between the past and the present, travel down a metro tunnel without getting hit by a train, or eaten by mutant rats. However, in some instances, the mechanic can be fiddly. The transition between worlds is fairly slow, so for sections where one has to swap to avoid a danger, the sluggish transition is frustrating. L9 will warn the player of a danger, but she usually warns too late for the player to perform the switch and save themselves. If this shifting function was on a toggle, rather than button press to turn the lantern on then press and hold down the button again to switch worlds, a lot of frustration could be mitigated. The time in the past would also benefit from being a bit longer. Throughout the campaign, several pipe dream-type puzzles appear in the past world, with the player needing to rotate tiles to form a continuous line from point A to point B. Getting kicked out of the puzzle every 20 seconds because of the time change was annoying. 

Kosmos has some finicky movement, which is not a problem during the standard object puzzles, but is an issue in the handful of chase sequences dotted through the game. One section is set in a tight apartment building that requires him to push a cart, climb on it, jump to a ladder, jump across the gap, throw rocks to knock down the next ladder, scramble up, and run up two sets of stairs before reaching freedom. An already tricky sequence is made worse by Kosmos constantly getting stuck on objects. The enemy is close behind him for the whole sequence, so the sequence has little room for error. A bit more space between Kosmos and the monster would allow for collision-based delays.

Along with an autosave, The Great Perhaps has a chapter-based system as well. This system can be helpful if the player finds themselves in a soft-lock situation, which happened once during the review playthrough. In one section of the game, Kosmos needs to prevent a bank robbery in the past. A vital object—a large stick of dynamite—managed to phase through the floor and out of existence, making progress impossible. The autosave occurred after the dynamite escaped the confines of the world, so the only option was to load from a chapter. Thankfully, this chapter system was in place, otherwise the whole game would have needed to be started over. Perhaps a ‘reset screen’ option in the pause menu could be a helpful addition to prevent this problem in the future.    

The world of The Great Perhaps has a pretty, cartoon aesthetic, with the transition between the past and the present showing a stark difference in how the place has aged. Lots of menacing creatures have emerged since the fall of mankind, with two-headed rats, giant mole-like beasts, an enormous octopus, and a creepy shadowy humanoid all doing their best to bring Kosmos down. Music is similarly well crafted, with a particular highlight being the escape sequence in a collapsing underground city. Kosmos has to assemble a giant robot to escape, and with each piece he completes, the music increases in tempo and adds more instruments to the mix. On the planet’s surface, the music invokes a sad, lonely atmosphere, trying to insert the emotion this game sorely needs.  

The Great Perhaps gameplay screenshot 2

So much potential is wasted in The Great Perhaps. Puzzle design is solid throughout, but hampered with finicky controls. Art direction is outstanding, but the story that the game is trying to support flounders between ‘funny’ and serious, and is full of clichés. Offensive content notwithstanding, The Great Perhaps is a very run-of-the-mill time travel story delivered in a monotonous tone. Many adjectives could be used to describe this game, but ‘Great’ is certainly not among them.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on Linux and macOS.

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