Review: Paper Mario: Sticker Star sees the brilliant return of our favorite paper plumber
The Paper Mario series was one of those Nintendo experiments for Mario games to branch out of their platforming foundation. While a Mario RPG wasn't a new idea at the time, thanks to the amazing Super Mario RPG on the SNES, it did feel like a fresh take on the Mushroom Kingdom that fans didn't even know they wanted. Enter Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the latest entry in the Paper series for the Nintendo 3DS. Is this latest Mario adventure brimming with charm and innovation, or is it just paper thin?
Sticker Star features a somewhat familiar formula to the first Paper Mario game for the Nintendo 64, as well as its Gamecube sequel. A narratively focused adventure that's filled with silly antics, humorous dialogue and light RPG tropes that will satisfy those looking for something other than running and hopping from level to level.
The big focus here are obviously the titular stickers. Everything from the narrative, solving puzzles and battling revolves around them. It all comes together through the Sticker Festival, which of course is crashed by none other than our favorite villain, Bowser. Not only does he shatter the Sticker Star, but the Royal Stickers end up scattering across the land, which means Mario must put aside his festive mood and set out to collect all of the Sticker Star pieces and Royal Stickers, and once again restore peace back to the Kingdom.
So what is it about these stickers exactly that makes them so darn important? Literally everything you do requires you to use them in some sort of manner. Sometimes you'll need to find a bridge sticker in order to cross a chasm, or use a secret door sticker to unlock an inaccessible area which yields some great rewards. Outside of exploring though, these stickers will be the key to your survival in battle.
Each sticker is essentially a move that Mario can use offensively and defensively. Each sticker also has multiple variants. A regular boot jump will stomp on your enemies but a line jump boot will do damage to each enemy on the screen, though it does get weaker after every enemy you stomp on. Stickers also have various degrees of 'shinyness' and the shinier they are, the better their damage output.
Though battles are much more hands on than just selecting a move and watching Mario execute it. While it can certainly be played that way, you simply won't get the most out of your attacks. By pressing the A button at specific times during your attacks, you can power them up and even get some extra hits out of them. Using a flower sticker will allow you to spit one fireball on an enemy. However, if you press the A button right as Mario shoots it, he then shoots a fireball at every single enemy. It's undeniably a great way to provide engagement for the player, in an otherwise somewhat stale JRPG formula.
Another pretty cool feature is the slot machine system that allows Mario to perform up to three attacks sequentially. Mid-battle, you can spin a slot machine and depending on whether you match two or match three, you'll get up to two extra sticker slots to place move stickers in. It's not easy to match all three by default, though you can pay a little extra gold coin to make the first two match up every time and even slow down the slot machine to make the third one easier to match up as well. Queuing up three attacks can result in some devastating damage when combined with the precision timing of the A button.
Aside from move stickers, you also get stickers of 'Things'. These include items like a fan, scissors, lucky cat, and more. These can be used to solve various environment puzzles but for the most part, these stickers can do devastating damage to bosses, that are otherwise very hard to defeat on their own. Don't worry about using and losing them either, as they can be rebought at a store in the main town for a fee. They do take up a larger space in your inventory, which means initially you'll have to carefully plan out which stickers you're willing to leave behind in order to have these bigger ones in your inventory, though as the game goes on, you do acquire more pages, and inventory management becomes much easier.
This isn't New Super Mario Bros. 2, but coins are just as important in Sticker Star, as they were the main focus of that game. You'll find that you'll be spending coins left and right on new stickers, rebuying 'Things', spinning the slot machine, paying off Goombas and more. It's good then that the game is quite generous with coins, and even rewards you with them the better you do in battle.
Puzzle solving is just as much in the forefront as battling is. You'll be tasked with many environmental puzzles that have a seemingly easy solution, but are sometimes quite hard to figure out. That's not because of the difficulty of the puzzle itself, but rather the fact that it's sometimes hard to see exactly where you need to go. I've been stuck on numerous occasions, but one of the most frustrating times was in the Yoshi pyramid. I literally walked around in circles for over an hour, until I finally realized there was a door literally behind a column, and I only stumbled upon it on accident.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star is, as you'd expect, filled to the brim with witty dialogue and humor. It's hard not to smirk at what each character has to say, whether they're aligned with the good guys or bad. It's this charm that undoubtedly helps the somewhat lackluster narrative.
It's almost necessary to play with the 3D effects on, especially since the whole game revolves around 2D characters. There is indeed a nice depth of field with it on, but even more so than that, it allows you to see pathways and doors much better when they're behind something.
The game looks incredible, though not in the way you'd expect. It certainly doesn't push the 3DS's graphical capabilities to the max, but its simplistic, paper mache and cardboard aesthetics give it that DIY look that the game is going for. Mario is supposed to be out of paper after all, and it's great that the same elements are seen all around the environments as well. Bushes and flowers are merely cardboard stand-ups, the background hills and mountains are all cut up paper, and even the UI like your health bar is a simple strip of cardboard suspended by two pieces of string. It's simple, but gorgeous.
My biggest gripe with the game however, aside from the sometime hard to see passageways, is the fact that there is no level or experience system built into the game. Mario doesn't become stronger by defeating enemies, or learn new attacks as he goes on. Literally it all hinges on finding and using increasingly better stickers. This makes battles seem rather unnecessary. Why go into battle every time you run into an enemy when there is essentially no reward for doing so? The only incentive you really have is acquiring new stickers and gold coins, both of which are definitely important, but in the grand scheme of things, I have no real incentive to pummel every enemy in the level.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star was definitely worth the wait, ever since the first time we saw a teaser for it at the unveiling of the Nintendo 3DS. It does cut a few corners in its RPG mechanics, but comes together like a beautifully folded piece of origami.