Nintendo and Square wowed gamers by throwing Mario and friends into a little game known as Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars back in 1996. Surprisingly, mixing platforming and RPG elements together turned out to be an excellent idea. Time passed and the Nintendo 64 gained prominence in the market. Super Mario RPG 2 would be showcased at Spaceworld ’97, but the game had a radically different look. Everything had a flat appearance, but tons of charm, this game would become Paper Mario as we know it today.
Nintendo went on to release a sequel on the GameCube called Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. This game borrowed heavily from its predecessor while evolving into a proper sequel. Things would change in 2007 when Nintendo released Super Paper Mario. No longer would there be turn-based battles, instead the game focused more on platforming. Super Paper Mario was good, but never quite reached the same level of previous entries. Now we come to Paper Mario: Sticker Star, a game that many have been waiting for since its reveal at E3 2010. Paper Mario: Sticker Star regained turn-based battles from the first two games, but kept the level structure of Super Paper Mario. However, Sticker Star dropped one of the strongest qualities from the series, its story.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star lacks any kind of depth when it comes to its story. Gone are the interesting partners, bosses with huge personas, and well-written, humorous dialogue. Paper Mario: Sticker Star trades all that in for a more simplistic approach, one that disappoints, unfortunately.
The game begins with the annual Sticker Fest celebration in Decalburg, a town of the Mushroom Kingdom. Bowser crashes the party and touches the centerpiece of this celebration, the Sticker Comet. Touching the Sticker Comet causes it to explode into six pieces – the six Royal Stickers – and ruins the Sticker Fest. One of the Royal Stickers lands on Bowser’s head and he goes berserk with power destroying the Sticker Fest and kidnapping Princess Peach, again. Of course, it’s up to Mario to recover all six Royal Stickers, save Decalburg, and rescue the princess.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there are no distinguishable characters, no character growth, or any depth to be found. It does offer the motivation necessary to complete the objective, which was enough for me to go through with confronting Bowser. Soon after the story begins, you’ll meet Kersti, a royal sticker that will help you throughout the game. She offers hints and is an important aspect of the game’s battle system and the main sticker gimmick, of course.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star breaks up its locations with a world map. There are six worlds in the game with each being broken up into levels; for example, World 1 has six levels. Playing through each level feels remarkably familiar to exploring previous Paper Mario games. I really enjoyed exploring these levels and think it is the highlight of the game. Each level has the specific objective of reaching the Comet Piece, an end level goal similar to flagpoles in other Mario games. What makes these levels fun to explore is the level design in general and their exploration aspects.
There are certain actions that need to be completed before being able to progress; these actions can be best compared to point-and-click adventures. Most can be solved by going into Paperization Mode and either placing special thing stickers (more on them in a moment), or by removing part of the environment to use elsewhere. Regular battle stickers can also be used to solve some of the game’s puzzles, but those moments don’t appear frequently. Some levels may require you to use Mario’s hammer, or his jump in some way. Playing through these levels never gets old either, mainly because there are a variety of gimmicks used to freshen up the game. A good example would be the game show level; I won’t say much, but it is a fun level.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star does away with the platforming RPG battle mechanic seen in Super Paper Mario and brings back turn-based RPG battles from the first two games. However, there are no regular attacks, or partners to use in battle, instead you’ll be planning all your attacks with stickers.
There are two types of stickers, battle and thing stickers. Battle stickers are your regular attack and healing actions. These stickers are found stuck to buildings, fences, in Question Mark Blocks, and a variety of other areas. They come in regular, shiny, and flashy variations, with each variation being stronger, plus large and small versions, the same rule applies. Battle stickers are plentiful and you’ll likely never run out of them. If you do, you can farm them by revisiting levels, or buying them from shops. Thing stickers are made from various real life objects found throughout the game. These stickers are ridiculously strong and serve as puzzle solutions and as weaknesses for bosses. These stickers are a lot of fun to use as each has their own unique, charming animation. Who wouldn’t like to see Bowser baked inside of an oven? Yeah, that’s possible.
Kersti proves to be useful during battles by giving Mario the power to use the Battle Spinner. Each time you summon the Battle Spinner, you get a chance to increase the number of attacks you can use. You gain attacks by matching symbols, match all three and something special will happen. You can increase your chances by spending coins to make sure two symbols always match.
While I believe the sticker system works, regular battles are kind of pointless. Using the sticker system removes the need for Mario to level up and become stronger, which also means there are no experience points to gain. Nintendo stripped away most RPG elements and left just a skeleton in its place. Luckily, you can avoid most battles by walking past enemies, though you gain a lot of coins in these battles which can be useful at certain points in the game. One small RPG element did survive and that’s the ability to increase Mario’s max HP. You can increase Mario’s max HP by finding HP Hearts hidden throughout the game.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star retains the stylish paper visual that makes the series unique. Paper Mario: Sticker Star goes one step further by making the entire game look like a diorama, complete with hints of corrugated cardboard. Not surprising, the diorama style makes Paper Mario: Sticker Star a visual treat in stereoscopic 3D. There are plenty of great pop-out moments and lots of impressive depth, perhaps the best depth effects on the handheld. In addition to its visuals, Sticker Star boasts a great soundtrack. There are plenty of remixed tunes, but there are also a lot of brand new tracks that are pleasing to the ear. My favourite parts of the soundtrack happen during the World 2 desert stages. Throughout most of these stages are pieces of the Shy Guy Mariachi band that will strum along to the tune when you approach them. They will also play unique pieces during battle which is another special touch I like.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a good game with plenty of weird design choices, choices that ultimately hold the game back from being a truly excellent title. Taking away the game’s RPG elements and story are huge, noticeable gaps that can’t be filled in with any sticker. However, the sticker battle system works fine and exploring the well-designed game world is a lot of fun. Sticker Star is also full of charm that can be seen in its graphics and soundtrack. It took me 18.5 hours to beat the game, but I left a few of the unnecessary sidequests behind. You will get more for your dollar if you decide to complete the Sticker Museum or some of the other distractions. Paper Mario: Sticker Star can also be bought on the Nintendo eShop.
Obtained by Purchase