Developer: Intelligent Systems / Publisher: Nintendo / Played On: 3DS / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Everyone [Comic Mischief]
Nothing can stop Mario from bashing Goombas, adventuring all over the Mushroom Kingdom, and putting Bowser in his place time and time again. Not even being paper thin. Paper Mario: Sticker Star is the latest entry in the popular Paper Mario RPG series that takes the plumber out of his familiar platforming roots and places him in a turn based RPG.
It’s the Sticker Fest in the Mushroom Kingdom! Mario, Princess Peach, and the Toads all come out to celebrate the passing of the Sticker Comet, which is said to make wishes come true. Naturally the thought of having one’s wishes come true is too good a deal for Bowser to pass up, who crashes the party. Upon touching the Sticker Comet, Bowser causes the celestial body to break up into many pieces that scatter themselves across the land. Not only that, but the five powerful Royal Stickers have been blown away as well. Bowser, overcome with power from the Royal Sticker that landed on his head, swipes up Peach and escapes before the dust settles.
In the aftermath of this incident, Mario meets Kersti, a crown-shaped sticker and the caretaker of the Royal Stickers. Seeing as her beloved Sticker Comet and Royal Stickers have been tampered with, Kersti is upset and tasks Mario with recovering each sticker and stopping Bowser. The story is predictable, and the only flaw I have with the game. I anticipated the usual: Bowser kidnaps Peach, Mario must recover some object, Mario defeats Bowser; the story in Sticker Star doesn’t offer anything to hold onto. There is no sense of drama while exploring the world. Aside from the beginning and end of the game, there is no mention of Bowser or Princess Peach, so your ultimate goal seems distant and forgettable.
That being said, the writing and dialogue of each character you run into is of the quality you’d expect from the Paper Mario series: humorous quips about being made of paper, puns galore, and a handful of sarcastic Toads. The storyline isn’t the highlight here, but rather the dialogue between Mario and other characters.
There are two main aspects of Sticker Star: battle and exploration. As the title implies, stickers play a role in both. Mario can use a variety of stickers in battle, ranging from series staples like the hammer, and familiar power-ups like the POW block, raccoon tail, and fire flower. Some of these stickers come in shiny and holographic rainbow form (much like the stickers we all remember ogling at in our youth), and these more rare versions of stickers deal more damage than their vanilla counterparts. As with past titles in the series, timing plays a role in combat as well. Hitting the A button at the right moment can deal more damage or allow for multiple attacks, keeping you more involved in the combat. Even with the stickers, series veterans will find the combat system very familiar, and that is certainly not a bad thing. The first half of the game is almost insultingly easy, giving you plenty of stickers to use in battle and not too many difficult enemy encounters. The latter half of the game ramps up the difficulty to a much more competitive level and requires a lot more strategy to come out victorious.
Outside of combat, Mario will encounter countless stickers stuck to the walls, hidden under rocks, and plastered on a helpless Toad’s head. Peeling off these adhesives are oftentimes rewarding, unlocking hidden pathways and staircases that allow for more progress. The way the game implements stickers in nearly every facet of gameplay is charming, and finding and collecting new stickers is strangely satisfying.
Everything in the world is made of paper, from the enemies you fight to the worlds you explore. The only items that aren’t made of paper are simply called Things. These Things range from everyday objects like vacuum cleaners and scissors to more obscure objects like shaven ice and a mountain goat. Things can be converted into stickers to use in battle, as well as to aid in exploration. For example, placing an air conditioner sticker in the background can cool off a river of lava.
These situations offer a sense of puzzle solving to the game, but the execution of these puzzles aren’t done as well as they could have been. Since you can only get these stickers in one or two specific locations, you’ll oftentimes have to leave a stage entirely just to return later with the proper sticker in hand and replay the stage to where you left off. This backtracking is frustrating and forces you to repeat the stage. Another skill Mario can use is Paperization, a mode that freezes the action on screen and lifts Mario and Kersti out of the frame and allows them to grab and manipulate objects to open up new routes. I enjoyed the puzzle elements, but since you can only carry a limited amount of stickers and you aren’t given any hints on what sticker you’ll need to progress through a level until you actually get there, expect a healthy dose of backtracking and replaying levels.
The story takes around 20 hours to complete, but there are extras to keep you playing after completion. A sticker museum tasks you with collecting and archiving each of the nearly 100 stickers in the game. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there’s more to do in the game as well beyond completion of the story. Overall, Sticker Star is a good game that offers up fun combat with light puzzle elements, but needless backtracking mars an otherwise fantastic outing.
The paper thin graphical style returns in full form in Sticker Star. Because everything is made of paper (with the exception of Things), the world’s denizens are capable of actions otherwise impossible by mere three-dimensional beings. You’ll run into several characters that have been crumpled up and thrown into the trash, folded and tucked away in a bookcase, or blown away by a strong gust of wind.
It’s a trademark of the series and it is still funny to witness how the characters react to their paper bodies. A great amount of color makes each world unique and a pleasure to look at. Locations range from dry deserts to freezing mountains, and each locale is drastically different from the last. The visuals are a big highlight for the game, and despite being constructed of paper, Sticker Star is one of the best looking 3DS games I’ve seen.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a fun, charming game that is befitting of the series’ unique sense of gameplay. While an unfortunate amount of backtracking and a lackluster story halt the game from being flawless, these are just minor grievances in an otherwise fantastic game. Colorful visuals, satisfying combat, and genuinely funny dialogue make Sticker Star one of the better games on the 3DS and a solid Mario game to boot. If nothing else, it’s a nice game to satisfy your shiny sticker collecting obsession.