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‘Paper Mario: Color Splash’ – A Different Coat of Paint

After three years, thousands of angry fans, and a whole new console, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems should have realized that only a true Paper Mario game would satisfy their masses. But, they decided to stick with their guns and keep with the formula that made Sticker Star (the previous entry in the series) so hated.

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After three years, thousands of angry fan complants, and a whole new console, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems should have realized that only a true Paper Mario game would satisfy their masses. Instead, they decided to stick to their guns and keep with the formula that made Sticker Star (the previous entry in the series) so hated. They had something to prove: that they could make a Paper Mario game as fun and endearing as the original two entries while also delving far away from the standard RPG formula. Unfortunately, Color Splash doesn’t prove their point.

Color Splash has two sides to it, and they’re the same that every turn-based RPG has: an overworld and battles. The former is brilliant. Paper Mario is now in high definition and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Sticker Star had a lot going against it, but its visuals were certainly a plus. Seeing these paper, cardboard worlds come to beautiful, fully realized high definition on the Wii U is nothing short of breathtaking. Intelligent Systems manages to pack each level with countless endearing, paper-craft details. The rivers are flowing sheets of paper, the sun and clouds are cardboard cutouts attached to the ceiling by strings, and the background is completely flat, making it feel as though each level were taking place inside of a giant shoe box. It’d be easy just to sit for hours and notice all of the hand-made nooks and crannies. All of this is aided by a soundtrack that is simply whimsical and surrounds each environment with absolute personality, completing this whole aesthetic package.

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Of course, the environments aren’t much without their inhabitants, and each one you meet will either have you actually laughing or experiencing an existential meltdown. The folks over at Nintendo Treehouse really knocked it out of the park this time, as every word slipping out of every NPC’s mouth is genius. Despite the fact that practically every NPC is either a toad or a staple Mario enemy, they all manage to be either wholly unique or just good for a laugh. Yes, this writing may be the best in the entire series, even trumping the original two. It’s what kept me going throughout this journey. It feels similar to the humor found in Pixar and Disney movies, as certain elements are specifically catered towards adults. While the visuals and setting are certainly more child-friendly, some of this dialogue could never be understood by anyone under fifteen.

Sticker Star is bashed for having practically no story, and Color Splash slightly improves in that way. The story has an actual effect on the levels. A lot of Prism Island’s color has been drained, and it’s up to Mario to fix it, so while exploring you can repaint certain spots for bonuses. This is essentially the overarching theme, so a lot of the side quests usually have to do with repainting something or someone. Prism Island is amazingly established as well. Plot threads here and there connect to elements 10 hours later in the game, fleshing out the world and making it feels like a completely cohesive journey.

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Unfortunately, these are the extent of Color Splash’s good qualities. As mentioned earlier, it has two sides: the overworld and the battles. The battles are what make this game so agonizing to play. They’re absolutely broken.

The problems stem from the consumable actions. Once called “stickers” and now known as “cards,” these consumable actions are exactly what they sound like. As soon as the player performs one of them, that’s it. That specific jump, hammer, fire flower, whatever card is gone for good. Clearly, this decision was made with strategy in mind, forcing the player to plan ahead and  use whatever cards to finish the battle as efficiently as possible. But little strategy can be set forth when the enemy up next is completely unpredictable. They don’t know whether or not to hold onto that hammer card just in case it’s the next enemy’s only weakness or use it because their only alternative is a jump card that may be needed for an entirely different enemy.

Then there are the bosses: each one has its own little trick and can only be defeated by using a specific Thing Card that can be found throughout the overworld. Luckily, a Toad can be found who will drop hints as to what Thing Card the player needs and where to find them. This is an improvement over Sticker Star, where the player was forced to wander aimlessly until they came upon the Thing that they needed. Though, this toad can’t help in one area: when during the boss fight to use the Thing Card. As stated earlier, if the player uses a card it’s gone for good, so if they accidentally use that crucial, necessary thing card at the wrong point during the battle, they have to reset and start the entire thing from the beginning. This can lead to some extremely frustrating moments and definitely hampers a lot of the cooler boss fights.

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Color Splash tries to fix this battle system in four ways. The first being the hint Toad mentioned earlier. The second being the expansion of the number of maximum cards the player can hold. The player feels pressure to hold as many stickers as possible in the last game. Color Splash is no different. Even though I could hold 99 cards from the get-go, I still wanted to save every card I came across, meaning that getting into battles was generally frustrating because I had to waste precious cards. In the case of Sticker Star, practically nothing was earned from battles since there was absolutely no EXP, and Color Splash’s attempt at fixing that is fruitless.

This time around, enemies drop upgrades which slowly increase the maximum paint that can be held. Paint is used to power up certain blank cards, so this sounds like a worthwhile solution at first. But, about halfway through the game, I noticed that paint mattered less and less by the minute. Because there are so many ways to earn coins (hundreds can be obtained in the environment, as the prize for winning Roshambo tournaments, or from defeating enemies), it’s easy to buy the pre-painted versions of these blank cards. At this point, I had increased my paint levels to a maximum of three hundred, so I never actually ran out. Items to refuel paint are abundant and paint droplets that fill up the gauges are everywhere. The point is, paint doesn’t matter. And because paint doesn’t matter, Color Splash’s replacement for EXP doesn’t matter, and consequently, battling doesn’t matter.

Finally, Color Splash‘s fourth attempt at fixing the system: the battle spinner. This allows the player to semi-randomly select from an assortment of cards in a slot machine-like fashion. They also have the option to slow down the spinner and flip the cards over, at the cost of some extra coins, basically allowing them to choose their card. This is meant to help the player in case they run out of cards or just don’t want to use one that they’re saving. Keep in mind that because of the huge amount of cash thrown at them, they should have no problem just paying extra and choosing their card. So, if the player is allowed to practically select their next action without really losing anything, why not just import a regular battle system? There’s no point in having these consumable actions when they have access to nearly limitless cards during battle. Granted, the battle spinner can be used once per turn, but often it will have a Thing Card that can wipe the entire field. There’s no point to it!

Color Splash was admittedly close to proving what Intelligent systems wanted, but it failed. It only proved one thing: this essentially broken battle system can never be fixed. Sticker Star didn’t need a fresh coat of paint, it needed to be thrown in the trash.

Ricardo Rodriguez may have a near crippling addiction to video games, but at least he can pull himself away long enough to write something about them. His slowly deteriorating corneas won’t stop him from following his passion, and he’s got a semi-adequate haircut to boot! If you can’t find him withering away in front of a game store at five in the morning, he’s either writing for Goomba Stomp or on his blog flipsidegamereviews.com

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

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AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.

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Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

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