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Paper Mario

puts a new spin on the “Mario Paint” idea. Reminiscent of the adhesive gimmickry of Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Color Splash’s main appeal hinges on the joys of painting blank spaces with reckless abandon. This dependence on game mechanics that aren’t traditionally associated with Paper Mario appears to be indicative of a series that does not want to rely on its 2D charms alone. With that in mind, it’s all the more surprising that painting isn’t Color Splash’s standout feature.

The game begins with a troubling mystery, one involving a missing Toad, a blank letter in the shape of Toad, and a postmark from a seaside resort, Port Prisma. It’s immensely refreshing to kick off the first hour of a Mario game without a Princess Peach kidnapping, but–spoiler!–she does get abducted eventually. There’s more to this story than just a Toad rescue, though. Port Prisma and its surrounding vacation spots have been invaded by a sadistic contingent of Shy Guys. Their lungs are especially large, using straws to suck the color and life out of the environment–and worse, Port Prisma’s locals, who are mostly unfortunate Toads. As usual, Mario’s up to the task of saving the day, but not without a special color-splashing hammer and the guidance of a floating, talking paint bucket named Huey.

As gorgeous as the series had looked on the 3DS–first with Sticker Star and then the Paper Jam crossover–seeing Paper Mario return to a console is an opportunity to see the series’ stationery aesthetic in all its textured, subtly shadowed glory. Like Yoshi’s Woolly World and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Color Splash’s best visual moments are when you have the urge to reach out to your TV screen for a tactile sensation that isn’t there. Some backgrounds even look like the thick paper stock used in high-priced greeting cards. The creative ways different paper products are used can provoke chuckles, whether it’s toilet paper that operates a water wheel or blocky background objects decorated in well-folded gift wrapping. A modest grouping of two dozen strips of green paper can effectively and cleverly convey the visual of a small field of tall grass–and corrugated cardboard has never looked more gorgeous in a video game.

Exploring the 39 other areas beyond the starting hub of Port Prisma reveals the usual gamut of Mario environments, from icy locales to humid tropics. This sense of familiarity doesn’t hinder the enjoyment of traveling through these environments, however, since there’s more than enough detail and imagination to keep your playthrough from feeling stale.

The biggest challenge you’ll face in the initial hour is in having enough paint to thoroughly color the first few regions. Your hammer can only hold so much paint and select areas will use up one of your three main colors, which are red, blue, or yellow. The best short term solution is to smash colored objects for a few droplets of their respective color. This issue is remedied as you progressively enhance your paint hammer to hold more paint. Hammer experience points, in the form of hammer icons, can be picked up as part of a post-battle loot drop. By the time you’ve cleared 20 or so stages, running out of paint won’t be a concern. You’ll also have access to other hammers, like a type that lacks paint capabilities you so can whack enemies without losing paint as well as a hammer that unrolls paper bridges.

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