While the main Mario games may be getting a bit stale, the mustachioed plumber has a great stable of spin-off titles in other genres. Paper Mario wasn’t our hero’s first foray into RPGs, but the series became known more for its art style and humor as opposed to any stat-based hooks.
Armed with his trusty book of stickers and a new companion, can Paper Mario: Sticker Star bring the series’ trademark charm to the 3DS?
Paper Mario: Sticker Star starts much like any other Mario game: Bowser shows up and ruins some sort of celebration in the Mushroom Kingdom, in this case the Sticker Fest, a celebration for the passing Sticker Comet. Bowser nabs the Sticker Comet and scatters six Royal Stickers across the land. It’s up to Mario and his new companion Kersti (guardian of the Sticker Comet) to collect all of the lost Stickers and save the Kingdom from Bowser.
Unlike past Paper Mario games, Sticker Star has a world map divided up into six unique worlds than run the gamut of traditional Mario settings. The paperized art style works very well even on the 3DS and there are a lot of nice touches that ties the game together, like all of the coins being made out of cardboard. The music in Sticker Star deserves a special mention because it consists of catchy jazzy tunes. It’s a bit of a departure for modern Mario, but I dare you not to be humming along to the Decalburg theme after one listen.
Sticker Star does suffer from a few pacing issues, most noticeably during the section where you have to find Wiggler’s missing segments and bring them back to his tree-house, or a hunt for hidden Boos in a haunted mansion.
The humor present in the previous games still permeates the story and the localization is sharp. Sticker Star has a great cast of characters from your sidekick Kersti to the Adventure Toad and Kamek Koopa, who you will absolutely hate by the end of the game. In terms of story and presentation, Sticker Star is a definite winner.
The gameplay of Paper Mario: Sticker star is quite a bit different this time around: while venturing through the worlds, Mario will collect stickers from the environment and fallen foes which he can use in battle. These range from jump stickers to more exotic choices like Clone Jumps and Giant Fire Hammers. During the game’s turn-based battles, players can use the A button to either gain more damage from their stickers or block enemy attacks if they time their presses correctly. Thing stickers based on real-world items like baseball bats and radiators can also be found throughout the worlds and these are either used during fights to great effect, or to solve puzzles in individual levels.
Keeping players occupied during random battles is essential because there isn’t any sort of level progression to entice players to engage in combat outside of boss fights. While the sticker-based fighting is fun, making it optional is a strange choice. It’s better to save your stickers and HP for the final boss of a world. Paper Mario puts more of an emphasis on platforming and puzzle-solving, so avoiding the enemies make sense, but it makes later battles feel all the more unnecessary. Thankfully, Mario does become more powerful as the game goes on, even if that fact is hidden from the player. In addition to being able to collect HP-Up Hearts, Mario can become strong enough to stomp earlier enemies in one hit without the need for a battle.
Speaking of the puzzle-solving, Paper Mario does sometimes dip into the point-and-click adventure game problem of having a solution that was obvious to the designer of the game but might be difficult for players to unwind. How are players supposed to know that the vacuum thing sticker is needed to suck up the sand whirlwind and that said vacuum can be found on the Decalburg Docks?
Your companion Kersti also gives you the power to “paperize” which can be used to work your way past certain puzzles. When in doubt, paperize, and what you will need to do will sometimes become clear (Kersti can also be asked for advice if you’re really stuck). During combat, Kersti gives you access to the Battle Spinner, where a lucky spin will allow you to use up to three stickers in one turn.
While using the stickers appropriately and making sure you don’t run out of usable attacks is interesting from an inventory management perspective, there’s very little incentive to fight the random Goombas and Koopa Troopas that appear in the levels.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star is everything you want from a Paper Mario game: it’s got a unique sense of style, the story is funny and engaging and the mechanics work well on the 3DS. Unfortunately, the fact that you don’t gain experience from random battles and some baffling environmental puzzles holds this game back.
If you’re willing to look past the game’s faults, what you’ll have is a fun way to occupy your time if your 3DS has been collecting dust.
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