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Why I have Hope for ‘Paper Mario: Color Splash’

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Paper Mario: Color Splash has had a storm of controversy swirling around it (thanks to some very vocal critics) ever since the reveal trailer announcing its release aired.

In short, there were a few hasty jumps to conclusions. The initially sparse gameplay footage suggested Color Splash was going to be merely a console rehash of 2012’s Paper Mario: Sticker Star – a game seen by many as a lackluster installment that deviated from the RPG themed backdrop of past Paper Mario games.

As an avid fan of the Paper Mario franchise, I watched the reveal trailer and was admittedly disappointed. My dream of a spiritual sequel to Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door was, once again, set back a few more years. I honestly sympathized with the hateful bandwagon who’ve condemned this game from the very beginning and originally planned to write a cheeky article echoing some of their top complaints.

shots fired

shots fired

Thankfully, I did some homework first.

Seeing that I might regret writing an emotionally-charged article about a game I haven’t even played yet, I immersed myself in all things Color Splash. This means watching and taking notes on gameplay videos from E3, Gamescom, Hyper Japan Festival, and PAX West, as well as reading up on transcripts of interviews with Color Splash director Risa Tabata. To top it off, I played through all of the Paper Mario games released to date – from Super Mario RPG, to the infamous, experimental Sticker Star. Heck, I even threw in Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam for good measure.

I had become one with paper.

Upon completing this investigative quest for knowledge, I came to two conclusions:

  1. Sometimes, nostalgia inaccurately immortalizes games. This topic can be an article all by itself.
  2. I am reasonably hyped for Color Splash. The game clearly has potential.

Edgy, I know. If I listed these revelations in a video, I would probably find myself on the wrong end of a YouTube firing squad. Oh well, I did my own research and am confident in the perspective developed from it. Here is what I found:

Color Splash is undoubtedly similar to Sticker Star – but, fortunately, the similarities are seemingly limited to only the endearing traits. The humorous dialogue, superb musical score, and consistently outstanding aesthetic delivery are definitely present, thanks in part to the return of Sticker Star developer Taro Kudo.

PMCS Atmosphere

By and large, this is where the similarities between the two end.

Using Sticker Star as a case study, Nintendo not only retained what worked, they also improved upon what did not. Here are some of the top complaints about Sticker Star, coupled with what appears to be Color Splash’s attempts to address them. Noticeably missing are the prolific complaints regarding lack of partners, badges, and traditional leveling. Make no mistake, the absence of these cherished elements was (and continues to be) disappointing.

Anyway – FIRING INFO CANNONS:

Bullet Bill Blaster


5 Sticker Star Complaints and How Color Splash Answers Them

Sticker Star Complaint #1
There is little to no incentive to fight enemies in Sticker Star. With no XP system of any kind, encountering enemies not essential to plot progression served pretty much no other purpose other than draining your inventory of stickers, lowering your HP, and wasting your time.

+ Color Splash Improvement
Enemies now drop not only “Hammer Scraps” that eventually level up your paint hammer storage, but also have a chance to drop Battle Cards unique to the enemy species. A coin bonus is granted for defeating an enemy or a group of enemies without taking damage. Also, Kamek the magikoopa randomly appears at the onset of a battle sequence to “curse” you and steal lots of your Battle Cards. Defeat the enemies and Kamek will return the stolen cards along with 300 coins for your trouble. Neat.

Curse Cleared

Sticker Star Complaint #2
Inventory issues make stickers in Sticker Star an obnoxious mechanic – especially larger stickers or “Thing” Stickers. A player can hold up to 120 normal sized stickers in SS, but when larger sticker types are factored in, those 8 pages fill up way too fast. To make matters worse, sometimes missing terrain/architecture vital to level progression take up space temporarily in your sticker pages – making resource management even more stressful.

Note: Come to think of it, inventory issues have been a recurring theme in the Paper Mario series.

+ Color Splash Improvement
Color Splash’s card system will let you hold up to 99 Battle Cards. The key takeaway, though, is that all cards in the deck take up the same space regardless of card classification. This change will definitely be an improvement over the sticker system by hopefully making resource management problems a thing of the past. Fingers crossed.

Sticker Star Complaint #3
The sticker system is overly simplistic. The battle sequences lack depth and boss “Thing” card weaknesses are not hinted at well enough to be utilized consistently.

+ Color Splash Improvement
The new Battle Card system introduces “Enemy” Battle Cards that are replicas of Mario’s enemies. An Enemy Card, once played, serve as an extension of Mario in both offense and defense. The “Battle Spin” system is brought back, but now it’s not the only way Mario can use multiple items in one turn. Additional slots for Battle Cards seem to open up as the game progresses. You can choose to use some of your paint to color a Battle Card to increase the amount of damage that card does. Hints at boss weaknesses to specific “Thing” Battle Cards will be more obvious.

Sticker Star Complaint #4
 Very minimalist setting – too few NPC’s (non-playable characters) and a bare-bones plot.

+ Color Splash Improvement
From the gameplay videos shown, Color Splash seems filled with NPC’s to interact with and feels anything but barren. During battle sequences, even minor enemies talk trash to you and react to taking damage. +1 for immersion. The plot seems to be at least somewhat more in-depth – at least, the game is marketing itself as such. For evidence of this, check out Episode 1 of the recently released Rescue Squad V commercials:

Also, players are promised at least 30 hours of non-completionist gameplay. If this is true, it’s at least on par with Paper Mario 64. AWESOME.

Sticker Star Complaint #5
Exploration in Sticker Star is occasionally tedious and does not feel rewarding.

+ Color Splash Improvement
Rewards are now added for exploration such as the recurring Luigi side quests. Find Luigi hiding out in a level and you’ll get 300 coins for your efforts. Completionists will also be happy to know that the game openly tracks the percentage of spaces painted on each level. This percentage tally really incentivizes exploration and completion. Let’s hope there will be additional, more tangible incentives to accompany that emotionally satisfying “100%” checkmark.

Final thoughts on Color Splash:

I would argue that, while Color Splash initially appears to be the refinement of Sticker Star, it has enough original content and quirks to evade the “Sticker Star 2.0” label that critics are trying to slap on it.

Paper-Mario-Color-Splash-Toad-rescue-squad

It might be unfortunate that Color Splash and the Paper Mario series as a whole remains distant from its RPG roots, but just because a game takes a different path than its predecessors does not mean it will be inevitably bad. Try not to let your disappointment toward the genre deviation of the series rob you of an open minded play-through of Color Splash.

On a positive note, compared to Sticker Star, this game actually has more RPG elements.

This is definitely a step in the right direction.

Personally, I am looking forward to the release of Color Splash this October 7th!

Please feel free to leave any thoughts, observations, or criticism in the comment section below.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. ImTheMan

    December 18, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    And then Color Splash came out and it was Sticker Star 2.0.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror

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Resident Evil 3 Nemesis

If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.

RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.

resident_evil_3_psx_marvin_branagh_by_danytatu-d812bgk-768x480

Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.

The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.

resident-evil-Nemesis-768x402

The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.

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