Though Super Mario 64 is widely, and understandably, heralded as one of the Nintendo 64’s crowning achievements, Paper Mario stole my heart in a completely different way. Taking a whimsical approach to the mascot and his world, the RPG combined turn-based mechanics with a delightful art style I could not help but love. Paper Mario and the Thousand-Year Door continued the offshoot’s strengths. Super Paper Mario certainly received a mixed reaction, but it proved the malleability of this iteration of the Italian plumber. Paper Mario: Sticker Star returns the series to its turn-based roots, but eschews many of its RPG elements for a new inventory-based system. While many of the game’s ideas offer intriguing alterations, Intelligent Systems misses the mark on implementation, making the core mechanics largely unnecessary.
Where in the Paper Mario lore Sticker Star falls is up to the very dedicated to decide, but at the annual Sticker Fest, the Mushroom Kingdom’s many denizens await the arrival of the Sticker Comet. Believed to make wishes come true thanks to its sticker power, Bowser seeks to control the comet, but in the process causes it to break into six pieces. These royal stickers are full of great power, and the comet’s caretaker, Kertsi, beleaguers our poor plumber with the task of collecting these stickers and restoring the space rock into one piece.
The story is as important as most Mario tales – that is to say, not very significant. What the plot does is facilitate the game’s incorporation of stickers. This 2D Mario will still have his trusty jump and hammer attacks, but he cannot simply attack at will. Scattered throughout levels, in mystery boxes and available at stores are stickers representing different attacks. By peeling these objects off of the environment, Mario can use them in battle. Collecting a boot, for example, will allow Mario to pounce on his enemies, and fire flowers, hammers, koopa shells and other items will similarly offer our protagonist a more varied move set.
I rarely found myself in desperate need for extra stickers, but some work better than others in certain situations. Some enemies are more susceptible to particular attacks over others, so if you want to experiment you will certainly have the opportunity. Those familiar with the original Paper Mario will feel right at home, as players can add an extra bit of power to their moves with correctly-timed button presses. Only one sticker can be used per turn, but quickly into the game you unlock the ability to spend coins to earn a limited number of additional sticker slots.
The battle system works well, but without any sort of leveling system, enemies are usually a breeze to defeat. Though some battle options will prove more effective than others, most foes rarely put up an engaging fight. And sadly, for the most part, fights are frequently unnecessary. Granted, you can earn stickers and coins in battle, but I find myself able to complete many levels without ever challenging enemies in the wild. With no experience points to be gained, I found no incentive to partake in these skirmishes, and as they do include the game’s main mechanic, that is a massive disappointment.
The idea of a sticker-infused fighting system is a smart one, and battles can be fun, but they hold little consequence for the experience. For any real challenge when it comes to choosing the right stickers will arise during boss battles.
These encounters play out like puzzles, requiring you to determine the correct special sticker to employ against these massive enemies. You won’t find the necessary stickers simply pasted on a rock or on a wall. The game’s other main collectibles are things you find hidden in certain levels, objects that must be transformed into stickers. I call them things because they are, quite appropriately, called “Things” in Sticker Star, and this category is comprised of real-world items like fans, baseball bats and vacuums, and the list only becomes progressively stranger as you amass more Things.
The main issue that comes into play with these fights, however, is that the game often requires a particular Thing sticker to defeat each foe. You won’t really know what is required of you until midway through the fight after Kertsi intimates the best strategy for winning. This setup left me mid-battle, making a fruitless effort to vanquish a foe who would not perish in this particular fight. I often found myself backing out and either finding the sticker or buying it from a shady Toad salesman. This implementation of the special stickers not only feels constricting, but it marks another example of the game missing a great opportunity to take advantage of its core concept.
Thing, and, to a lesser extent, traditional attack stickers will also come into play while traversing each level. Mario may find himself caught in a sandstorm or unable to progress because of a major impediment. Mario, with the help of Kertsi, can also “paperize” the world, collecting scraps to overcome particular challenges. Notice a bridge missing from the banks of a stream? Find it, go into the paperize mode and paste it back into existence.
These environmental problems yet again offer another opportunity to explore the sticker mechanic, yet the game is often looking for specific items to paste into the world that there is little room for improvisation. And if you come to an impasse, unsure of how to progress, expect to backtrack through every crevice of previous levels to find the missing puzzle piece for each riddle.
Now, it sounds as if I hated my time with Sticker Star – far from it. Charm and vivacity can be found in just about every corner of the title. The papercraft style looks gorgeous in 3D, and is perhaps one of my favorite uses of the handheld’s main gimmick. Depth allows the 2D nature of most objects to stand out, creating a layer world that complements the art style to great effect. The levels themselves are also beautiful snippets of the Mushroom Kingdom, though the title takes far fewer liberties with Mario’s world than previous Paper Mario outings. In terms of gameplay, areas are fun to explore, and even if sticker use becomes limited, finding them still offers an exciting platforming experience. Levels offer plenty of hidden secrets, and I had plenty of fun simply scouring the environment.
Complementing the visuals are a great soundtrack and a sense of humor that delighted me as a fan of this incarnation of Mario. The main town’s theme is wonderfully jazzy, with enough bass to make the Seinfeld theme jealous, and subsequent audio tracks work well in the context of each world. Sticker Star is formatted more like a traditional Mario title than any previous Paper title. From world to world, you will travel through a set of levels, collecting a piece of the Sticker Comet at the end of each and progressing until you reach the boss level. It’s a format Mario fans should be well accustomed to by now, and while the world map is a smart use of the pop-up artwork, it’s a little sad to see the title resort to such a familiar trope.
That is what perhaps makes Paper Mario: Sticker Star such a disappointing venture for a franchise I adore. Well-made, with intriguing levels that work well during platforming sections, a stunning aesthetic design and an enjoyable soundtrack are all hallmarks of this title. And on paper (no pun intended), the sticker idea could have been a great one. Due to baffling design choices, however, it fails to live up to its promise and – even worse – becomes something I could avoid for the majority of my time. Sticker Star may be endearing enough, but a more integral feature set would have made all of those stickers actually mean something.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Beautiful art style only improved by perfectly utilized 3D
+ Soundtrack matches the charm of the writing
+ Levels are fun to explore, especially with a focus on platforming, but…
– …When the focus shifts to battling, the game demonstrates its limits
– Main sticker mechanic often feels unnecessary and offers little freedom
– Great ideas mired by poor implementation
7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star was developed by Intelligent Systems and published Nintendo. It was released on November 11, 2012 for the MSRP of $39.99. A copy was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.