Paper Mario is a personal guilty pleasure of a Mario spin-off. It has always stood out for mixing together platforming with RPG elements, and an anarchic, almost nihilistic, sense of humor. Sticker Star is the first time that this series has hopped to the mobile platform that is the 3DS. Was anything lost in the transition? If so, how much cardboard and paper will it take to repair?
The Mushroom Kingdom is celebrating its annual festival of the passing of the great Sticker Comet. Everything seems well, up until Princess Peach gets ready to make a speech. Without missing a beat, Bowser shows up and gets ready to wreck the place. He starts by pulling the great Sticker Comet out of the sky, which leads to a nasty outbreak of magical stickers. Since this is the Paper Mario world, that’s a pretty big deal since everything is made out of paper. So, it comes down to Mario to clean up the mess left by Bowser and save the day yet again.
Gameplay should be familiar for anyone who has played a platforming game before. You run, jump, solve puzzles, and make your way to the goal at the end. With each level finished, you progress on a world map, complete with five distinct worlds, all to find five special items that will help Mario save the Kingdom. There is a major change to the combat system. When Mario attacks, or is attacked, by an enemy, the game shifts to a turn-based combat system where Mario and the enemy trade blows complete with health bars.
In this respect, there are two big changes. First, every single attack Mario can do is determined by what stickers he has in his stickerbook, stickers that you discover scattered throughout the levels. Once you use a sticker, it vanishes, so you have to search for more once a fight is over. Yes, it can get tedious, but part of the fun is finding better stickers than the ones you had before and choosing how to use them later on.
A second, potentially more controversial, change is that turn-based combat and health bars is where the RPG elements stop. You can increase Mario’s health bar by discovering hidden upgrades, but other than that, the only way to hit harder or defend better is based solely on what stickers you use; there is no leveling system. At first, this seems like a hackneyed attempt to pad the game out by the player spending more time searching for stickers as opposed to just going through the level. However, it helps keep things moving from a pick-up-and-play scenario. The levels are designed in such a way that new stickers appear as the player progresses, which helps cut down on the polarizing act of level-grinding for a boss fight. It also helps that special “super attack” stickers can be found and saved. It helps give the entire experience proper momentum.
In place of experience points or levels, each fight you win and level you clear rewards you with coins. These coins can be used at a shop to buy more effective stickers, or used in the middle of a fight to give you a chance to use multiple stickers in one turn. Both, if used properly, can have great benefits if you are in a pinch. Also, each turn-based battle have prompts for Mario to deal more damage or block an attack, adding a psuedo Quick-Time Event element to the fights, which enlivens each fight from being just more than just picking a sticker and waiting.
This isn’t to say the game doesn’t have moments where fetching a specific sticker to proceed won’t happen, because it does a few times, or a level will come down to a prolonged game of “pass the buck,” because some will. What helps these otherwise boring moments is the series’ sense of humor. In a world made entirely out of paper and cardboard, it’s hilarious to see a hurricane level catastrophe happen by a really large fan, or a plague making hundreds scream and run for the hills caused by a water faucet that’s been left on. There are also levels that pull the rug out from under the player from time to time. A personal favorite is a level that looks like it’s leading to an underground sequence, only to have it be the entrance to game show.
For a world made out of arts and crafts materials, Paper Mario Sticker Star looks very endearing. There is plenty of overlapping detail, all complimented with a solid framerate. Using a mix of flat 2-D panels and 3D environments, the graphics helps reinforce the oddity of flat, paperlike people in what is, more or less, a fully functional fantasy world. It also helps that the 3D effect is also used fairly well, but the game can easily played with it turned off.
The musical score is an energetic mix of upbeat trumpets, xylophone, and even some accordion sounds. It’s a joy to listen everytime the start screen comes on.
Paper Mario Sticker Star is a fun experience. That is a solid fact. The entire adventure can take a solid twelve or so hours depending on one’s capacity for puzzle solving or difficulty with certain fights. The adventure as a whole is light-hearted and always two steps away from turning into a full-blown parody, but it’s a line the game walks really well. The puzzles are well designed, the humor is universal and spot on, and the characters you meet along the way are quite enjoyable. Yes, some levels feel padded, but there is enough buffer to have it ignored.
Paper Mario Sticker Star is a handy release for the 3DS. If you have one or need a stocking stuffer for a friend who does, you can’t go wrong with Nintendo’s latest portable experience.
AAG SCORE: 8/10
+ Great Platforming and Combat
+ Clever Sticker System
+ Fun Sense of Humor
– Some Levels Feel Padded
– Controversial Lack of Leveling System