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Nintendo Hopes to Keep Paper Mario: Color Splash Interesting Despite Its Limits

The next Mario RPG sticks to the same restrictions as predecessor Sticker Star, but maybe that's not a bad thing.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

The Paper Mario series went from absolute fan-favorite to a series many fans regard with wariness after the one-two duo of Super Paper Mario and Paper Mario: Sticker Star. The former took the series to strange new places, while the latter dialed way back on the narrative weirdness and focused more heavily on its unique sticker system for combat.

Nintendo's next Paper Mario entry doesn't seem likely to turn back the tide of uncertainty. Color Splash for Wii U appears to be a direct successor to the systems and concepts that defined Sticker Star (and made Sticker Star so divisive). It doesn't simply retain that game's resource-based combat system, where even Mario's basic combat actions are metered by expendable resources, it practically doubles down on that concept: Not only does Mario need to use cards in order to perform an action, those abilities' power can be modified by upgrading the cards with paint, a completely separate expendable resource that factors heavily into the game's color-centric design premise.

Perhaps more controversially, assistant producer Risa Tabata acknowledges that Color Splash upholds Sticker Star's decision to cut back heavily on the odd non-player characters of the early Paper Mario games in favor of a world populated by familiar Mario characters: Toads for NPCs, Shy Guys for enemies. "It's all Toads," she confirms.

The decision to scale back to the classic Mario cast was a direct request by Shigeru Miyamoto, who according to a 2012 Iwata Asks roundtable insisted developer Intelligent Systems "complete [the game] with only characters from the Super Mario world." It's proven to be one of the legendary designer's more controversial managerial choices, and many fans were disappointed to see it would be carried forward into the latest Paper Mario. I asked Tabata about sticking with this creative choice in Color Splash, given its unpopularity in the previous game.

"I wasn't really involved with the previous title," she said, "so I can only talk about this one.

"Since this is taking place within the greater Mario world, we wanted to focus as much as possible on the familiar Mario characters. As you mentioned before, when you're limited, that tends to bring out greater creativity." I had commented earlier in the interview that the original Paper Mario seemed to be designed to put a creative spin on the Nintendo 64's constrained technology, and Tabata said those constraints are still important even on far more capable systems. "We had to think a lot about, 'Alright, if it's all Toads, how do we make them distinctive? How do we give them personality?'

"One we thing we decided was that the basic Toad is red, and then if they have something different about them, we'll change the color. And a lot of the personality comes out in the text. You can also use the fact that they all look alike as the basis for jokes. We're really trying to focus on using all these Toads, and other familiar characters, and still creating great variety and keeping things interesting."

I don't know if Color Splash will be able to win back fans who were soured by Sticker Star; personally, I found that game's restrictions and its greater emphasis on player agency interesting. As a fan of Sticker Star, then, I think Color Splash looks fantastic — and Tabata promises that anyone who plays it through will find themselves affected by the story it tells.

"We've done some play tests, and there were quite a few people who cried at the end," she told me. On hopes those will be tears of empathy for the characters, familiar as they may be, rather than tears of bitter fan betrayal.

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Comments 22

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  • Avatar for Michael2 #1 Michael2 2 years ago
    People didn't like how they made keys out of the stickers in the 3ds game.

    Their dual purpose,as battle-system and event items, would have worked were it not for their exhaustability.

    The absence of numerical stats also seemed to be a point of contention with Super Paper Mario and a non-regressive Sticker focus might have soured many more (fans).

    Are any of these things back?
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  • Avatar for Ghopper101 #2 Ghopper101 2 years ago
    I feel like this is a case of not wanting to repeat themselves. It's a good policy for game design, but sometimes I just want to play comfort food.
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  • Avatar for DrCorndog #3 DrCorndog 2 years ago
    You like Sticker Star? But, those types of people don't exist! Jeremy, are you secretly Bigfoot?
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  • Avatar for Pacario #4 Pacario 2 years ago
    There were two main complaints about Sticker Star. One was the battle system. The second was lack of story. If Intelligent Systems can at least fix the latter with a good quality tale, that may be enough to bring the fans back on board.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #5 Kuni-Nino 2 years ago
    Jeremy, you're the only dude who understood what Sticker Star was going for. I bought that game simply because of your review of it back in the 1uo days and ended up having a fantastic time with it. Sticker Star is one of the most unique games I've ever played. There's seriously nothing else on the market like it.

    It's disheartening how bad of a rep it gets from RPG fans. The game isn't bad in the least if you don't approach it like an RPG. It's a different beast altogether.

    Anyways, Color Splash looks excellent so far. The Treehouse stream of it sold me on the game. It's beautiful. The music is great. The battle system still looks strategic and ripe for experimentation. It looks like a it could be the Wii U's final swan song. Can't wait to play it.

    P.S. It's nice to hear from Risa Tabata. In the Treehouse streams, she comes across as a really straight shooter and keeps things real. Her and Aonuma seem like awesome people to talk to.Edited June 2016 by Kuni-Nino
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  • Avatar for InsertTokenz #6 InsertTokenz 2 years ago
    I couldn't help but find it baffling that people felt the need to get so upset about this new Paper Mario game over it's apparent lack of deeper RPG mechanics and more distinct characters, yet somehow completely overlooking the simple fact that the Mario & Luigi series exists out there which has all those elements that they could just be playing instead.

    I was one of those whom enjoyed Sticker Star a great deal, and Color Splash looks to be a fun followup in that fashion. The contrast of the real world objects with the paper environments looks cool, and the gameplay in both the battles and area exploration appears to be solid. Plus, the game makes some interesting usage of the gamepad too, which to me is never a bad thing.
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  • Avatar for docexe #7 docexe 2 years ago
    Wasn’t particularly interested in this game, yet the E3 trailer actually made it appealing to me. I loved The Thousand Years Door and Super Paper Mario, but never played Sticker Star, although I read all the criticisms about it. The sense of humor of the Paper Mario games I liked is still there at least, so I think I will give it a chance.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #8 CK20XX 2 years ago
    Nintendo seems to be going out of its way to be different just for the sake of being different lately, and I don't think it's working out for them, even when the games they produce aren't technically "bad".

    Kirby seems to be the only character in Nintendo's stable who is successfully able to host weird experiments like this and simultaneously satiate fans with his traditional gameplay style. The rest of Nintendo might want to study HAL Laboratories more closely.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #9 LBD_Nytetrayn 2 years ago
    My head hurts...

    This picture has been going around recently, and for good reason. We had Toad NPCs before. They managed to be creative and diverse, adding a sort of richness and depth to the world of Mario that had been lacking.

    This is like taking the Smurfs and saying that Hefty and Brainy and Jokey and Papa and Smurfette aren't valid Smurfs, that only the generic, indistinguishable ones count.

    Worse, this expands to all manner of other species. They were already focusing on other Mario characters! Koops and Kooper and Kolorado and the Koopa Bros. were all Koopa Troopas! Goombario and Goombella and Professor Frankly were all Goombas! Most characters, so to speak, WERE from the main Mario series.

    I can understand maybe dialing back on the likes of Vivian and Madame Flurry and the X-Nauts and all those other-dimensional crazies from Super Paper Mario -- kind of, and more so in the latter case -- but stripping the entirety of the world they'd built, that we'd loved, into an endless procession of drones that are either Toad #_ or cannon fodder?

    No, I don't get that. Not at all.

    For years, I wanted to see the likes of Goombella and Koops and Admiral Bobbery appear outside of the Paper series. Not necessarily the mainline games, but in Mario Parties or Mario Karts or Mario sports, to kind of bring things closer together and spice things up. Instead, this is like some sort of inverse or Monkey Paw version of that wish.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #10 jeremy.parish 2 years ago
    @InsertTokenz@Kuni-Nino I'll post our full Tabata interview after the show — she talks about how Paper Mario is treated internally less as an RPG and more as an adventure game, so you guys are on-point.
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  • Avatar for shurn #11 shurn 2 years ago
    Time to come out from under my rock and state that while at first i was disappointed with sticker star not having leveling or stats like the first two paper marios, i gave it an honest shot and found it to still be a pleasant experience
    If not the exprience i expected. Its still not my favorite in the series (thousand year door) but i thought it was more accessible and faster and still fun. I didnt have to grind which is something i usually enjoy, but to not have it here didnt take away from me enjoying the game (didnt add anything either) i dont have time to give to this hobby these day so the quick pace helped it with earning my favour. It was fun and thats all that really matters with me.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #12 SargeSmash 2 years ago
    I enjoyed Sticker Star far more than I did Dream Team, for the record. Light RPG mechanics or no, I thought it implemented the sticker mechanic and balance far better than I originally anticipated it to. Definitely a worthwhile experience if you've held out based on the Internet scorn heaped upon it.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #13 The-Challenger 2 years ago
    It looks bizarre and beautifully crafted. As for the design choices, I wonder if their tendency to lean on the familiar is a crutch, or if it's just Nintendo's way of respecting the 8-16 bit series.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #14 TheWildCard 2 years ago
    Sorry, can't say that sounds encouraging.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #15 benjaminlu86 2 years ago
    >"complete [the game] with only characters from the Super Mario world."

    Koopas, Goombas, Boos, and Lakitus are all in Super Mario World. I don't understand Mr. Miyamoto.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #16 LBD_Nytetrayn 2 years ago
    @benjaminlu86 Don't forget Bob-ombs, Cheep Cheeps, Ninji...
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  • Avatar for TotalHenshin #17 TotalHenshin 2 years ago
    Despite being just barely on the positive side of the spectrum with Sticker Star, I have to shamefully admit the great art and vivid colors of this game might is what's really compelling me. I'm glad they're doubling down though on Sticker Star's system in the sense that I thought Sticker Star's combat was so simple that it was just boring. By creating other resources to manage and use in battle, and being able to get cards of enemies to use them as aides in battle, it makes Color Splash sound more appealing than Sticker Star's rudimentary "Should I use the silver stamp, the gold stamp, or the beat-up stamp?" system.
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  • Avatar for vikasnegi632 #18 vikasnegi632 2 years ago
  • Avatar for MaskedManClaus #19 MaskedManClaus 2 years ago
    @Kuni-Nino Umm that's like changing the entire format of Halo into say a platformer and then saying "let's not approach it like an FPS, but like a platformer." Really bad logic right there.
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  • Avatar for MaskedManClaus #20 MaskedManClaus 2 years ago
    @InsertTokenz Except that the two series played very differently. That's like saying can Super Mario Galaxy/any other 3D Mario game, because we already have platformers in the form of the 2D series (Super Mario Bros./New Super Mario Bros. series). So no, all the elements that were in Paper Mario were certainly NOT Mario and Luigi, other than the combat being turn-based (which it still is lol, so that point, even if it was in any way valid, is moot). Saying that is just spewing ignorance.

    Why don't we just turn the Guardians of the Galaxy series into a story about Howard the friggen duck because hey...the rest of the avengers movies are about heros/groups of heros anyways. Ya, see how that goes.
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  • Avatar for InsertTokenz #21 InsertTokenz 2 years ago
    @MaskedManClaus From what I played of both series (up to the time of Super Paper Mario at least), they felt pretty similar to me from a gameplay standpoint.

    Both incorporated a turn-based battle system that utilized timed button-press mechanics for attacking and defending, along with specialized enemies that sometimes required special actions performed on them to defeat them. Both involve similar level-up systems allowing you to bump up a particular stat each level. Both had environmental puzzles to solve when traversing their respective over-worlds. Both had equip-able items you could obtain. The only major distinctions lay with the art styles each game series adopted, and the way party members were handled. In the end, both series could be seen as taking the same formula that worked in Super Mario RPG on the SNES, but offering their own slight take on it. Heck, stepping outside of just gameplay to focus on narrative elements alone, both series had even introduced new and unique characters and offered notable hilarious dialog throughout their various entries. It's hard for me not to look at Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi as being "peas from the same pod".

    It's only more recently that the difference between the two franchises started to really take shape as these later Paper Mario games began taking more dramatic risks with how they play. I know there are those people who enjoyed the older Paper Mario games due to their heavier emphasis on the RPG aspects. However, just cause the newer games in that series are trying out new things with their gameplay, it doesn't take away the option that there is still an RPG series with Mario and company out there that still has those similar aspects intact if Paper Mario is no longer cutting it for those individuals.

    When people get so excessively angry about the new Paper Mario games and yet fail to realize this point, it makes them come across like the ones "spewing ignorance".Edited 2 times. Last edited July 2016 by InsertTokenz
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  • Avatar for afraaa #22 afraaa 2 years ago
    I really like sticker star and it's so weird despite my separation from old P Mario ( due to the fact I didn't had those console ) I still have lot of problem with this game .

    GI ain't no problem with changing direction and leaving RPG elements ( I know RPG is the best but I'm saying because I want to emphasis on other real problems with color splash ) painful problem with this game is :

    1 - why we can't browse cards with stick !? this is cumbersome go back and forth between holding game pad with one hand and using stylus and again holding back game pad normally while I want to complete 100 percent of levels as of my style of playing games.

    2- Why there is 4 steps for using a simple card ? they could easily made it quick with fast browsing system ( managing cards with category : hammers / jumps / Big cards / ) . we could select cards easily by category instead of boring browsing every time ( Oh man... ) then paint them and swipe them right away without boring verifying , and if I regret of my choice of cards they could put swipe down gesture to cancel selected cards , isn't it really better way two fast step instead of repetitive 4 5 step !? Sticker star battle system is far more quicker than this and in result I wanted to battle more enemy for fu sake and not missing RPG's sake .

    3 - Why all this toads with same face . I really like toads until I played C-Splash . now I stuffed with toads and I'm not even made to 40% of the game . at least put some glasses on Professor toad for Mushroom kingdom sake ! don't fool yourself Nintendo this is copy and paste . We had old toads in Mario sunshine with mustache , What's wrong with it ?
    there are lof of characters in super Mario world beside toads .

    This is not Good to see hundred of same toads over and over again , it's hurts and you know what ? I'm not even played those two great paper Mario on gamecube and 64 !!!!
    But I am going to play them instead of this game anyway .

    Mr Myamato and Nintendo this is not good design choice for this already great game . there is at least hope .Edited October 2016 by afraaa
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