There are two things to remember about Paper Mario: Sticker Star. The first is that it’s a Paper Mario game, and the second is that it’s a 3DS game. Sticker Star is disappointing for a Paper Mario title but downright amazing when compared to the long line of three dimensional disappointments marched out for the 3DS.
GAME NAME: Paper Mario: Sticker Star
DEVELOPER(S): Intelligent Systems
GENRE(S): RPG, Puzzle
RELEASE DATE(S): November 11, 2012
Paper Mario games have stood out for their cheeky, self-referential and hilarious writing style. The franchise has won this writer’s heart by relentlessly making fun of itself – from the absolute ineptitude of Bowser to the repetitive nature of all Mario games to the fact that no one really cares that much about Luigi. Each game has been filled with characters who have unique personalities and offer an endless line of amusing quips. Sticker Star is noticeably empty of characters – no towns full of koopas or yoshis or bob-ombs, no sidekicks, no transitions to the exploits of Peach in between chapters. This means that the writing has a lesser role and the entire world feels a bit lonely. However, the game earns big points for making fun of hipsters.
Sticker Star is centered around the acquisition and use of stickers, which have been littered throughout the land after the Sticker Star – another one of those regular celestial events that occurs over Mushroom Kingdom – explodes. Bowser, ever the eager villain who just has to touch shiny things, crashes the party and makes contact with the unstable star, causing it to predictably break into five royal stickers that scatter into the most difficult to reach parts of the world. There, they attach themselves to bad guys and pump up their attack and defense stats.
Sticker Star goes back to its turn based battle roots, with a sticky twist. You must use a sticker for every move – shoe stickers for jump attacks, hammer stickers for ground attacks, mushroom stickers for healing, and a long list of special stickers. Every time you use a sticker for an attack, it vanishes. Luckily, there are stickers to pick up everywhere. If you still somehow run out, there are sticker shops. And the number of coins you’ll pick up in this game is ridiculous. You can also use Coins to increase the number of turns you get in each round – up to three if you’re good with a slot machine.
Stickers are also used to solve the game’s many puzzles. Press Y to enter “paperization” mode, in which you can place special stickers to change the game’s landscape or remove stickers or scraps of paper to use elsewhere. You’ll also come across 3D objects like fans and radiators which can be taken into town and flattened into stickers. These can then be placed in special spots that will turn windmills or melt snow to open up your path. Special stickers like the scissors can be used in battle for massive damage, however they take up a lot of room in your limited sticker album.
The sticker motif is clever. I was worried about the idea of having a limited amount of possible moves in battle as I’ve had bad experiences with these kinds of systems. But I should have known that Intelligent Systems would be more careful with their design than Square Enix. Lack of stickers was never a problem for me. The only issue was battle boredom. Normally in Paper Mario games I insist on fighting every baddie in an area to level up, but there is no leveling up in Sticker Star.
You can increase your HP by finding special hearts hidden throughout the levels, but that’s it. No AP, no badges. This does encourage exploration, and there are plenty of cleverly placed hidden rooms and other nooks and crannies to poke around in, which I love. However, engaging in battle has little reward other than getting baddies out of your way. This can make battles irritating delays when you’ve already explored an area to which the baddies have returned.
The puzzles are generally fun – challenging enough to make you proud of your intellect when you’ve solved one. However, there were a disturbing number of times where the progress of the game depended on tiny and easily missed details. Missing a well-hidden light bulb in a desert level disallowed me to get to the boss in the jungle world several levels later. It would have taken me hours of going back and scouring every level to move forward. Needless to say I looked it up on the Internet. Needless to say I was a little pissed.
That wasn’t the only time, either. I’m embarrassed to admit the number of times I had to look up the answer on the Internet, so I won’t, but it was too many for any game. The problem is that your companion Kersti, who is supposed to give you hints, doesn’t. Half the time she gives no hints – just a useless innocuous comment. When she does give a hint, it’s useless. A simple “Hey it looks like you need a light bulb here, I think I saw one in the desert” would have been immensely helpful without making things too easy. Did we forget about the hints until the last minute, Intelligent Systems?
As this is a handheld game, I expected it to be smaller than the rest of the Paper Mario games. In many ways, it is. Fewer characters, fewer RPG elements, only five important mysterious objects to collect instead of seven. However, the world was still extensive while being easy to navigate thanks to the ingeniously simple application of the classic Mario Bros. overworld map scheme.
Best of all, the game was surprisingly long. After two console games that were shockingly brief (Assassin’s Creed III and Dishonored), I was delighted to find that Sticker Star far outperformed my expectations in terms of main story length. In fact, the quality of every one of Sticker Star’s main elements is better than I expected for a 3DS game. This may be the first time that I can say that a 3DS game, without having to rely on multiplayer to keep interest, is well worth the price. As a game that relies heavily on puzzles, replay value is low. But in the midst of the holiday release season, it’s hard to imagine replaying anything any time soon.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star is my least favorite Paper Mario game. It is also my most favorite 3DS game. Seeing as there are only four Paper Mario games and there are many 3DS games, and the other Paper Mario games are fantastic, Sticker Star comes out a winner. I know you’ve been disappointed in the past, but don’t despair. Dust off your 3DS for this one.