Where can Paper Mario go from here?

colorsplash

Reviewers are feeling a mite uncharitable about Paper Mario:Color Splash. The papercraft world is gorgeous, the dialogue is hilarious. But that combat system.

Helpless Mario can’t act on his own, instead playing cards for every action. Cards that need to be scrolled through, one by one. Cards that need to be selected, painted, then flicked upwards to start combat. Really, it’s not a terrible system, just a bit overfluffed. If you look at it from the outside, it’s more or less the same as Paper Mario’s combat has always been, excepting Super Paper Mario on Wii.

A large part of the problem, though, is that players don’t feel rewarded. Color Splash does away with almost all the series’ roleplaying game elements. There are no level ups, no badges, no flower points. Your reward for using cards to defeat enemies is that you get new, different cards. They might not even be more powerful than the cards you used during the battle.

This isn’t a problem with Color Splash so much as it’s a problem with every pure roleplaying game ever made. Barring the occasional eccentric oddball (Chrono Cross, I’m looking at you), the point of battling, the enjoyment of battling, is not the battle itself. It’s the reward. That experience meter that ticks up, granting you extra power so you can, I dunno, be more powerful. See those numbers go up. Get excited.

Paper Mario has found itself in a hard place. The Mario and Luigi series has become Nintendo’s flagship Mario roleplaying game, and Paper Mario has become… what? Looking at Color Splash, it’s clear where the series’ strengths now lie: great worldbuilding and dialogue. Paper Mario gives players a chance to explore the hidden, personal side of all of Mario’s friends and enemies. That’s a pretty powerful thing.

Color Splash is a modern adventure game with an RPG battle system thrown into the mix, a holdover from a different game altogether. I don’t want to overstate the case: battles in Color Splash are really not that bad. But I just want to solve puzzles and talk to Toads, dammit! Because that’s where Color Splash shines.

If it can’t be a roleplaying game, please don’t make it play like one. A pure adventure game where Mario colors the world and has ludicrous conversations with piranha plants is good enough for me. Perhaps he could –gasp!– solve altercations by taking advantage of environmental puzzles. Make it a pure adventure game, and double down on its strengths.

But maybe that would be boring. I’ll admit that I’m not an adventure gamer, plus, Mario has always been an action series. So put that hammer to use, Nintendo, and make an action adventure game. Nix the turn-based battles but bring back the badges; let Mario hammer blocks and stomp Goombas in real time. And for god’s sake, let Peach in on the action.

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