Paper Mario: Color Splash: Things

As I follow Mario in his adventure on Prism Island, he comes across an assortment of arcanities that betray the diminutive, hand-crafted nature of this paper world: Things. Everyday household objects—Things can be anything from a fire extinguisher to a radish to a magnifying glass—the ordinary is rendered an oddity as the mundane becomes the grotesque, overwhelming obstacles with simplicity. A washing machine, practical and functional for cleaning clothes in our world, becomes a vortex in this paper one, washing out life-giving paint and turning paper bodies limp and useless. The Things must be found and tamed to grant the player mastery over Paper Mario: Color Splash‘s systems, guiding Mario through to the endgame.

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Paper Mario: Color Splash: Deception

Paper Mario: Color Splash frustrated me Thursday night. A frustration that filled my commentary with expletives and invective, causing me to shut down the stream early while I retired to Twitter to express, via tweetstorm that must have been picked up by the National Weather Service, how I felt it wronged me. I’ve heard stories about Sticker Star, but having never played it myself, I could only trust the reports of arbitrary puzzle solutions and oblique, retroactive clues. I now know those reports to be true. Sit now and listen to the story of my fall. But please understand: My anger stems not from mere loss. I was betrayed, misled by the systems intended to remedy the complaints levied at Color Splash‘s predecessor, ensuring my downfall in a fight I was not equipped to win.

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Paper Mario: Color Splash: Roshambo

As I guide Mario through the various areas of Prism Island, he comes across strange tokens that unlock new locations on the overworld map: The Roshambo Temples. The Toad residents of Prism Island partake in the game Rock-Paper-Scissors with fervent passion, gathering at the stadium-like Roshambo Temples in massive crowds, cheering on amateur competitors and the mysterious Rock Paper Wizards in a weird aberration of a boxing match. Mario is drawn into these tournaments because they’re there—I’ve finished over half of them, to no narrative purpose—bringing him fabulous wealth and prizes should he emerge victorious. It’s a strange spectacle, serving as a microcosm of the dense systemic tapestry that forms Color Splash‘s design.

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Paper Mario: Color Splash: Trial and Error

My travels in Paper Mario: Color Splash have not been one hundred percent positive. When in combat, it’s a tactical platformer, and it does that well. When out of combat, it’s a light adventure-platformer, and it does that well. But there have been a number of occasions where I’ve had to make life-and-death choices on a strict time limit, and the correct answer to those decisions have not always felt apparent to me. The result is several sequences where forward progress is ground to a halt while I beat my head against a problem, resorting to trial-and-error until I unearth what I am expected to do.

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Paper Mario: Color Splash: He Knows About Timed Hits

With a hop, Toad warns away a Goomba: “You’d better watch out, he knows about timed hits!” Fearful of Mario’s (and, by extension, my) badassitude, the Goomba flees without a fight.

This exchange, occurring early on at Mario’s Pad in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, establishes the significance and power of the Timed Hit. If I press a button prompt at the correct time, then a Timed Hit is performed and my party’s various and sundry abilities get a little more oomph, be it an extra punch from Mario, one last Thunderbolt from Mallow, or even Geno’s legendary “9999 Beam.” Where other RPGs are happy to perform actions as commanded, a mechanically satisfying if not engaging activity, this RPG rewards me for understanding not only the statistical mechanics of an ability, but also their animations. Timed Hits take the rote, staid activity of inputting commands and forces me, platformer-like, to engage with the turn-based combat in real time. By the time I reach Smithy in his factory, Mario and his companions are already formidable. But if I demonstrate my mastery of how real time behaves during the turn-based action, they become unstoppable.

No wonder that Goomba ran. It didn’t stand a chance.

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Paper Mario: Color Splash: Favoritism

I wanted to make it a goal with this update not to mention Paper Mario or The Thousand-Year Door while I talk about my experiences playing Color Splash, as I have done in my past three essays. It has seemed unavoidable so far, and I wonder why. So, I will tackle that issue here, and then avoid mentioning those two videogames again in future essays.

While I agree that videogames should be evaluated in a vacuum, I also believe that some exist in that vacuum with one another. It would be unfair, as my 12-year-old fanboy self tried to do, to contrast Ocarina of Time with Final Fantasy VII, since neither is similar to the other except that they star a young blond with an unlikely hairstyle and an overcompensating sword; they occupy separate vacuums. It would be fair to compare Banjo-Kazooie to Banjo-Tooie because the latter builds on the ideas of the former; they occupy the same vacuum, each doing some things better and some things worse than the other. Between these examples, it would be fair to contrast Rise of the Tomb Raider with the 2013 reboot Tomb Raider (two videogames I hope to write about in the near future), since the former builds on the latter, but not to the original Tomb Raider, for though they share a franchise they do not share design philosophies—they do not share a vacuum.

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Paper Mario: Color Splash: Combat

Paper Mario and its sequel, The Thousand-Year Door, feature actionized, turn-based, RPG-based combat systems, and so all subsequent Paper games are doomed to be measured on that yardstick by longtime fans even as the series has transcended those roots. Color Splash does itself no favors by featuring what appears to be a similar system, but so many of its mechanics are obscured or obfuscated it’s difficult to tell to what extent it is ruled by statistics and not platforming skill. To put it more simply: Color Splash appears to have a RPG combat system, but relies more on my performative skill to determine attack effectiveness.

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