Up Up Down Down: Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Over the course of the past year or so, I came to a realization: I’m burnt out on Mario games. Growing up, I absolutely adored the famous video game plumber and was enamored with his many escapades, sporting events, and parties. Then, immediately after playing New Super Mario Bros. 2, which I really enjoyed, I found myself utterly bored with the series. As much as I liked that last game, I didn’t want to return to it. Then Paper Mario: Sticker Star launched for the 3DS, and I was instantly intrigued once again.
Of course, I didn’t pick up the game until I saw it on sale at Best Buy months later, and I wouldn’t actually play it until a few months after that. Now that I have, however, I can honestly say that Sticker Star has rekindled a bit of my adulation of this series and restored some of my faith in the good ol’ gaming mascot.
On this edition of Up Up Down Down, we’re going to discuss exactly why Sticker Star could very well be considered the best Mario game in recent memory, as well as some setbacks that poke out their ugly heads from time to time.
Up Up: A fresh new take on the Mario franchise
If there’s one thing that makes Sticker Star such a victorious entry in the Mario series, it’s the game’s newness. While this particular adventure certainly borrows elements from other games, it just feels like something different. Maybe it’s the whole sticker collection craze combined with the turn-based battles and the inherent platforming that’s fairly light though consistent throughout, but Sticker Star seems like a big deal because it dares to be different from other series brethren. Considering the fact that we’ve seen so much of the same from Nintendo in the past few years, the fresh direction of this endeavor is truly welcome.
Down Down: It’s really not a true Mario RPG
In all honesty, I have mixed feelings about complaining that Sticker Star isn’t like Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64 and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door on the GameCube, but screw it, I'm going to do it anyway. Truth be told, it’s easy to appreciate the bold new direction that this title goes in. Even then, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit to really missing the old style of games like the original Paper Mario. There was something uniquely charming about those games and their more traditional RPG mechanics, and Sticker Star kind of misses some of the fun found in those experiences.
Up Up: Sticker gameplay is rewarding and unique
You could chalk up the whole sticker thing to pure gimmickry, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but doing so would be severely downplaying the awesomeness of this new collect-and-battle system. Taking out enemies in turn-based affairs is completely reliant on the stickers you have on you, and having to seek out, discover, and obtain new stickers is a sheer joy. Additionally, this adds a bit of strategy and tension to the game, forcing you to think about which stickers you need to use and requiring you to make sure that you’re always fully stocked so you don’t wind up unequipped in any given battle.
Down Down: No real incentive to battle a lot of the time
Unfortunately, as much fun as it is to collect and use stickers, you can pretty much skip a lot of battles if you so desire. I personally don’t like doing that, and I try to eliminate any enemies I spot, but the truth is that you can avoid Goombas, Koopa Troopas, and many of Bowser’s other underlings due to the fact that there’s no experience points system or stats to enhance following battles. Some confrontations are scripted and mandatory, but you can definitely get through a huge chunk of Sticker Star without participating in any encounters, which creates a weird and disappointing unimportance in the action.
Up Up: Incredibly charming soundtrack
During the course of your travels, you’re accompanied by a soundtrack that’s just plain fun to listen to. The mix of jazzy beats and funky tunes is ridiculously charming. There were many instances where just hearing the music in Sticker Star slapped a dumb grin on my face. Even the little two-second jingles that play when you win a battle are a joy to listen to.
Down Down: No great characters like in previous Paper Mario titles
The original Paper Mario and The Thousand-Year Door were host to some of the most memorable characters in Mario series history. Aside from your partners, there were loads of NPCs and enemies that were totally hilarious and fun to meet. In Sticker Star, the same doesn’t apply. You get Kersti the sticker fairy, who’s really only an okay character, and a few Koopa henchman, but other than that, there’s hardly any reason to care about any of the cast members. Well, I guess Toad is decent enough what with his dimwitted demeanor.
Up Up: 3D effect makes everything look better
Something felt off the few times I played Sticker Star without switching on the 3D effect. While the game still looks decent, turning on the 3DS’s stereoscopic mode and cranking it all the way up makes for the best visual experience. Because the art style of the game is rooted in papercraft and cardboard cutouts, the whole thing just pops beautifully.
Down Down: A few quirks as far as sticker management is concerned
Going back to the whole sticker theme, it can sometimes be difficult to rely solely on these collectible battle items to succeed. This is especially true later in the game when encounters get tougher and more enemies rush you at once. You need to really monitor which stickers you’re using, and it’s absolutely essential that you go into a major battle fully equipped. Failure to do so can result in Mario getting his paper-thin, adhesive-covered rear end handed to him, which in turn results in your frustration. If you’re not careful, your enjoyment of this title can be tragically stunted.
Left Right Left Right: Sticker Star is something different worth playing
If you’re experiencing Mario fatigue like I was (and even if you're not), I would highly recommend that you play Sticker Star. The fact of the matter is that this game is largely unlike anything we’ve seen before in the series. If you dissect its many parts, you can find undeniable amounts of Mario-ness, but when taken as a whole, this sticker-based paper quest brings wholly original gameplay to a long-running franchise that desperately needs it, essentially making it a must-play 3DS game.
By the way, I dare you to refrain from tapping your foot along with the music. Seriously, it's so freakin' good.
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