Some shocked Wii U owners spread the word this morning that Paper Mario Color Splash, the only remaining big Nintendo-published Wii U game of 2016, was playable today despite it not technically going on sale until October 7.

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It’s common these days for retail copies of games to find their way to gamers’ consoles prior to release day, but this was something different.

At 5:14 am ET, Twitter user Electivirus posted that those who digitally pre-ordered (and pre-loaded) the game to their Wii U console could play it. In follow-up tweets, Electivirus showed the game running on a Wii U.

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Usually pre-loading a game spares you from having to wait for a download to finish on launch day but leaves the pre-downloaded game inaccessible until launch.

We weren’t able to check on this until 7:57 am ET, but Nintendo apparently pulled the pre-order option by then. The Wii U eShop was still topped with a banner encouraging people to pre-order the game and pre-load the game early:

But, by that time Color Splash’s store page no longer had an option to buy it:

Some video games come in hot, barely getting finished in time for release and sometimes relying on day one patches to achieve decent functionality. That’s seldom the case with Nintendo games, which the publisher often provides to us in finished, shrink-wrapped packaging or via download codes one or two weeks before release. Color Splash is coming in even less last-minute than that. When we interviewed the game’s producer in June, she told us the game was done. “It’s complete,” she said. Yep. In June.

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Early reports of the game are enthusiastic. Some thoughts from Electivirus, via their Twitter account:

  • “holy fuck this soundtrack is already killing me... LIVE MUSIC”
  • “These in-game cutscenes straight-up look like CG. Crazy.”
  • “Animation smears when Mario jumps or hammers unnnnnnnngh yasssssss this presentation”
  • “The world map is... huge...:
  • “Color Splash’s sense of humor is A+”
  • “Whoa, Color Splash has a neat new manual layout. There’s developer commentary too whaaaaat”
  • “all these randoms asking if it’s as bad as sticker star ...they don’t know that I adored sticker star... lol”
  • “Oh, fuck. I forgot I had a driving lesson today. :/”

It’s likely that Color Splash’s brief early release was an accident, but we must acknowledge that it could also be a clever marketing plan. Many faithful Paper Mario fans have been grumpy about the direction the franchise has gone in, moving more toward action game and away from its role-playing origins. That led to YouTube trailer downvotes and social media complaints about the new game. What better way for something like that to become desirable? By accident or design, it can’t hurt to make it something you’re not yet supposed to have.

UPDATE - 6:52 pm: Nintendo says it was indeed an accident (not a stunt!). Their statement: “For a brief period of time, Paper Mario: Color Splash was inadvertently made available to the public via Nintendo eShop on Wii U, and a small number of consumers were able to purchase and download the game. Access to the digital version of the game is no longer available. The digital version of the game will be available for download in Nintendo eShop on Wii U, and consumers can purchase the physical version at retailers nationwide, when Paper Mario: Color Splash launches on Oct. 7.​​”

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Note: Best of luck to Electivirus with that driving lesson today!