It all began with one Nintendo 64 game in 2001: Paper Mario. It was considered by many to be the spiritual successor to Super Nintendo’s Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Its charming art style and excellent battle system carried over to the GameCube with a sequel titled The Thousand Year Door. After the Wii’s release, Nintendo chose to reinvent Paper Mario and made a platforming adventure game with Super Paper Mario. The general consensus was that the game was the black sheep of the franchise, which is why so many had high hopes for its newest installment on the 3DS Sticker Star. Instead of a return to glory, Paper Mario has gotten himself a bit sidetracked.
It honestly does seem like Mario intentionally lets the princess get kidnapped, because it seems to be happening every year. Maybe it’s his way of making sure he always has a job. This time around, Bowser has crashed a party in the Mushroom Kingdom called Sticker Fest, a joyous celebration of magical stickers. He charged the shiny Sticker Comet that fell from the sky, which apparently made the comet furious. It blew itself into six pieces, spreading five in lands far away and donning its sixth and most powerful piece on the top of Bowser’s head. It’s at this point that Bowser casts tape, sticking everyone to objects and then making off with the princess. Yet again. After being crumpled into a ball, Mario begins his newest journey to gather up the Royal Stickers and rescue the princess. Yet again.
If you’re familiar with Paper Mario, the first major change you’ll notice is the battle system. Gone are the ways of attacking with jumps and hammers and using Flower Points to execute powerful attacks whenever you want. Now, every single attack – be it a normal jump or a mega-powerful hammer blow -requires a sticker to use. Each time you use a sticker, it disappears, so it changes the dynamic of the game a great deal. Not only do you have to think more about your attacks, but you must pay extra attention in the game world to collect and replenish your supply. You also have a sticker album to store them, and space is limited, although you get new pages each time you defeat a boss. It may never happen, but there is a potentiality to run out of stickers, forcing you to either run or die.
The sticker-based combat is fun, and it’s always exciting to come across brand new stickers and try them out in battle. There’s just one major drawback to this system, though, and that’s the boss fights. Not only do these giant ultra-shiny versions of themselves have enormous HP (we’re talking in the hundreds), their defense has been ramped up reducing your powerful stickers to nothing but tickles. In order to efficiently beat these bosses without consuming your entire stock of stickers, you’ll need to find a particular “thing”, such as a baseball bat, turn it into a sticker and use it at precisely the right moment. More often than not, the game will never give you hints of what to bring to the fight beforehand, and your shiny sticker sidekick Kersti is practically no help at all throughout. This means you’ll need to encounter the boss, try to fight and see what the weakness might be, and then run and look for the proper thing to turn into a sticker. It disrupts the flow of gameplay, but thankfully, the world is so much fun to run around in.
The level design is the game’s strongest asset. Although you’ll come across the standard desert, jungle, forest and ice levels, the layouts are fantastic and contain a wealth of variety. There’s a good deal of platforming and puzzle solving and seeking out hidden areas, and it’s made all the more fun with a new mode called Paperization. There will be times where a hole is in the level, and you’ll need to enter Paperization and press the proper sticker into the gap to make the screen whole again. Mario can also peel off specific objects as stickers and reorient them to clear pathways. Paperization is put to a lot of clever use, and most levels have hidden areas that need secret door stickers to access “things”, so gamers who love to search will have plenty to do.
Another major change to this particular Paper Mario is the exclusion of experience points. You no longer level up, meaning your innate attack and defense no longer increase. In order to raise your maximum HP, you need to seek out HP upgrades. There’s no longer equipment to buy to better your stats or badges to obtain to grant yourself bonuses. Everything relies in the power of stickers, so to fight more powerful enemies, you’ll need more powerful items. This can at times make you feel like you want to avoid monsters, since there’s no real incentive to fight them. They do drop coins and some drop rare stickers you can’t find anywhere else, but there also times where the game throws more enemies your way than you have stickers for so there are moments where it feels like you’re simply wasting stickers.
The game does a pretty decent job of being liberal with its sticker distribution, though. You’ll find stickers stuck to just about every wall you come across, and you’re rewarded many coins for getting Perfect Bonuses by beating enemies on the first turn and clearing goals. You shouldn’t ever find yourself in a situation where you can’t afford to buy certain stickers. Also, coins play a very helpful part by fueling the Battle Spinner in combat. It takes three coins to start it up with more coins to stop two slots and slow them down, and if you match two or more symbols, you get to use extra stickers per turn. If you’re lucky enough to hit the jackpot, you’ll even get bonuses related to those symbols.
The real downer to this game, though, is the lack of story. Paper Mario has always been loved for its witty and hilarious writing, and although not entirely absent, it is sparse. There aren’t many non-playable characters to interact with and Mario’s nefarious antagonist Bowser is only seen at the beginning and the end. What’s worse is the attitude-prone overgrown turtle doesn’t utter a single character of dialogue! The world is also structured using an overhead map similar to 2D Marios, so the game moves at a very fluid pace. This, in conjunction with the lack of writing, ultimately changes the feel of Sticker Star from an RPG to an action-adventure game.
Paper Mario has always been known for its wonderful art direction and it’s at its peak with Sticker Star. Mario looks as cute as ever in flat-as-paper 2D, and the environments, objects and a few bosses and monsters are clearly made out of corrugated cardboard giving the game extra dimension. It’s loaded with wonderful special effects, and the shiny and flashy stickers and enemies provide the eyes with that much more twinkle. The 3D effect is also put to great use making the game look like a shoe box diorama or a paper theater at times. There are also a couple of attacks that can send enemies flying right out of the screen at you.
Sticker Star’s music might just be heralded as the best of the series. There are a lot of newly composed songs with a mixture of nostalgic arrangements from countless other Mario games. The music’s always suited very well to the given world’s theme and it’s full with jazzy notes, upbeat tempos or in the case of the haunted Enigmansion, dark and spooky. Sound effects are also as great as they’ve ever been in a Paper Mario game, filling your ears with bits of audible delight every time you perform an action.
Your enjoyment of Paper Mario: Sticker Star is going to be correlated to how well you can accept what kind of game it is. It’s no longer a traditional RPG with the lack of leveling and no partner tagging along keeping you company. You may or may not care for the consumable sticker battling system. You might dislike how the world is set up, segmented into levels like a 2D platformer. If you can embrace these changes, however, you’ll find that Sticker Star is a very fun game to play. If you’re hoping for a return to the franchise’s roots, however, you’ll be a bit disappointed. Still, Sticker Star does enough things right to make it worth playing for any 3DS owner.
Graphics and art style are fantastic | Excellent level design throughout | Liberal with stickers and coins so you should never run out
Stickers can be wasted, discouraging some monster encounters | Kersti's advice is almost always useless | Bowser's lack of dialogue makes one of the franchise's stronger characters extremely shallow
Born and raised in Denver, CO in 1979, I've been playing games since I was old enough to hold a controller. I was weened on Atari, then Nintendo and Sega, and currently own just about every console and handheld made. I'm an avid hip hop fan and I love to read books. Favorite authors include Dean Koontz, Stephen Hunter, and Christopher Moore. I'm also an avid movie watcher and I try to collect as many Blu-Rays as I can.
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