"'How much is this one like Sticker Star?' To put it briefly: it's pretty similar."
When Paper Mario: Sticker Star was released four years ago, I was the only person I knew who liked it
. Yes, it was very different than Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, but I felt that if you accepted that as given, it was a good game on its own merits. Not everyone agreed with me, and that's okay.
Now, we've got a new entry in the venerable series, Paper Mario: Color Splash. And the obvious question is "How much is this one like Sticker Star?" To put it briefly: it's pretty similar. Thus far, I've played through the second major section of the story, and the gameplay reminds me a lot of Sticker Star. And unfortunately, the big differences I can point to are changes for the worse.
In Sticker Star, you constantly had to collect stickers, because each attack spent one. You had a sticker book, and as you progressed through the game, you were granted additional pages in the book so you could hold more stickers.
In Color Splash, the stickers are replaced by battle cards, which are still spent when you use them to attack, but which aren't sitting around everywhere in the environment like stickers were. There are some around, but not as many. You tend to get a lot of money instead, which you use back in town to buy more cards. If something happens and you run out of cards, you can use 10 coins per turn to buy a random card, which might be a bargain or might be a ripoff. Additionally, the cards aren't laid out as well as Sticker Star's album was — they're displayed in a straight line of cards that you must use the stylus to scroll through. I really wish I could use the analog sticks or the D-pad to go one by one or the shoulder buttons as sort of "page up" and "page down." When you have built up a store of 70 cards or so, scrolling through them is...not the optimal gameplay experience.
The cards are frustrating, but they aren't the only resource you've got to constantly collect — you also need paint. Each level has areas from which the paint has been removed, and cards must be painted in before they can be used. I'll admit that I haven't run out yet, because it's not difficult to stay stocked up on paint, but it's one more thing you have to keep spending small amounts of time to collect. Between cards and paint, I tend to avoid combat when possible in order to save my resources for when I really have to fight.
On the upside, there have been a number of fun story beats and light puzzles so far, which I assume will continue as I progress through the game. And the presentation is top-notch — crucially for RPGFan, the music is great. Even the opening title screen's music
is worth sitting and listening to. If you fill in all of the unpainted spots on a level, you unlock all of its music at a jukebox back in town, and I really do consider that motivation enough to make the effort on most levels so far.
Overall, I think it's clear that as far as I've played, my feelings on Paper Mario: Color Splash are not as rosy as they are toward The Thousand Year Door or even Sticker Star. But there's plenty of game left to go, and I certainly don't hate it, despite my complaints. Keep an eye out for a full review as quickly as I can manage one.