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

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.

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.

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!

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Read this next

Worried That Games on the Nintendo Switch Look Like Wii U Games? Don't Be

"Is Nintendo porting Wii U games to the Switch?" Nope, they're all-new. But don't be fooled into thinking the Switch is woefully under-powered.

Paper Mario: Color Splash Wii U Review: Flinging Hue, Throwing Shade

Mario's latest is a beautiful, rollicking adventure that's been folded, spindled, and mutilated by questionable design choices.

Paper Mario's Evolution from RPG to Adventure Game Draws a Line to a Forgotten Corner of Nintendo's Past

The series' gradual genre shift may be unpopular, but it's not unprecedented.

A Conversation With Paper Mario: Color Splash Producer Risa Tabata

The game's green producer talks about the RPG that has some Nintendo fans seeing red.

Borderlands 3 Pandora Typhon Log Locations

Here’s where to find all of the Typhon Logs on Pandora in Borderlands 3.

The 16-bit Console Wars Return on Axe of the Blood God

The Blood God drops listeners in a time warp back to 1994.

More Previews

For Honor Preview: A Whole New Sword Game

Jaz plays Ubisoft's upcoming sword fighting game, and talks to creative director Jason Vandenberghe about how it was developed.

Dragon Quest VIII 3DS Preview: New Characters, New Dungeons, New Challenges, Black Sabrecats

Though Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for the Nintendo 3DS isn't a ground-up overhaul the way Dragon Quest VII 3DS is, there's still tons of new stuff to get excited about.

Will Final Fantasy XV's Big Twist Ruin The Game?

Early details about about FFXV's endgame have emerged, to much consternation.

Final Fantasy XV Travel Diary, Final Day: Stray Thoughts and Observations

There's still plenty to see and do in Duscae, but it's time to close the book on this massive RPG (until November 29).

More on Wii U

Stardew Valley Fish Guide

Fishing is one of the best ways to make money in Stardew Valley. Here’s all of the info you need to know.

Zelda Breath of the Wild Walkthrough - All Story and Side Quests, Shrines Guides

Here's our full Zelda Breath of the Wild walkthrough, detailing how you can complete story and side quests, as well as conquering every Shrine in the game.

Zelda Breath of the Wild Master Trials DLC - Where to Find Midna's Helmet, Travel Medallion, Tingle Outfit, Korok Mask and More

Here's where you can find all the Zelda Breath of the Wild Master Trials DLC items, including Midna's Helmet, the Travel Medallion, Tingle's outfit, the Korok Mask, and more.

Zelda Breath of the Wild Champions' Ballad - How to Start BOTW DLC Pack 2

This is our guide on how to get started with the Zelda Breath of the Wild Champions' Ballad DLC pack.

More Role Playing Games Games

Borderlands 3 Pandora Typhon Log Locations

Here’s where to find all of the Typhon Logs on Pandora in Borderlands 3.

The 16-bit Console Wars Return on Axe of the Blood God

The Blood God drops listeners in a time warp back to 1994.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Has a Classic Mode For Proper Turn-Based Combat

You don't need to worry about all that newfangled action combat.