Paper Mario is a series that gained praise for standing out among other RPG’s as a more welcoming and cheery game when compared to the Final Fantasys and other Square/Enix properties. Its humor was something many of these games lacked and it expanded the Mario “universe.” Although I use that term lightly, Miyamoto would rather consider some of these plots non-canon because of how out there they can be.
Super Paper Mario changed the series up with its platforming-RPG gameplay, showing that Paper Mario didn’t have to be just turn-based.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star tries to return to form, but with a bit of a twist and a few too many ideas.
During the Sticker Festival, the citizens of the mushroom kingdom hold festivities centered around the sticker star, although Bowser would rather steal it. In an attempt to do so he ends up crashing into it; absorbing the star’s power. As a result, the five royal stickers are scattered and you must go retrieve them.
Upon the catastrophic destruction of the sticker festival, you meet a sticker that takes the shape of a crown and goes by the name of Kersti. She is essentially your partner and guide for when you are having a bit of trouble. Kersti then instructs you on the ins and outs of holding down “A” to harvest stickers for your sticker album. Once you finish cleaning up the town a bit, and helping out some toads in need, you encounter a tutorial battle.
As everyone may know, recently Nintendo has given hints and help for less experienced players. This game does not do that at all. The tutorial battle only tells you how to choose stickers to attack as well as pressing “A” when you jump on enemies. After this point, the only other elements of battle that are explained is how to use the spinner, which allows you to use multiple stickers at once. After stomping out the few tutorial goombas, you can head to the world map as well as checking out the local sticker shop.
Once arriving on the world map you are given four choices of departure, the first three worlds and the harbor. My reaction was more or less “Oh, I can choose where to go first,” but of course, you actually can’t since there are obstructions keeping you from progressing. I suppose that is alright since the levels are labeled 1-1, 2-1 to imply what order you should obviously progress in, but it leaves you a tad disappointed. This leads right into the next interesting bit of PM:SS – levels! Instead of exploring large areas, you travel through levels in a way that is similar to NSMB. For a handheld format, having levels was a good way to incorporate the pick up and put down play style for some gamers. The levels are not too lengthy and the game auto saves every time you head to the world map, which is convenient for a semi-lengthy RPG.
The major upset for me though, was the lack of originality in what kinds of areas each world was. I honestly felt like I was playing NSMB while looking at this map. You have your grass land, desert land, poison land, ice land and etc. Since the Paper Mario franchise always had such different and appealing places to explore, I had hoped this game would too. It just felt so stale for a game that was supposed to be different from the norm.
One of the first things I noticed once entering level 1-1, was how well the 3D compliments the art style of the game. Seeing as how the characters and set pieces are flat, the 3D helps to make distinguishing depth much easier and also adds to the paper gimmick. The game can really look like you’re staring into someone’s cutesy shoebox diorama. Along with that, if you look at your shiny stickers on the bottom screen and tilt you 3DS, it really looks like they are shining! Neat!
Although not everything is made out of paper, there are a multitude of stickers littered throughout each level for you to peel and pluck for use in battle. At first I was turned off by the idea of having to constantly stop and pick up stickers, but you honestly never notice it. My mind sort of went into auto-peel mode whenever I saw a sticker, making the process more part of the game than a tedious task.
Every sticker that you pick up (excluding key items) is stored on the bottom screen in your sticker album, and can be used in battle. Battle stickers can range from jump to hammer and other usable items. To make it a tad more interesting there are different types of jump and hammer stickers such as the “Line Jump” which allows you to jump on each enemy in the battle a few times. Along with different types of stickers, there is also varying shininess, which determines how much stronger each sticker is.
Now with that in mind, this means that Mario’s power only increases depending on how shiny the stickers are. Here is one of my biggest problems with the game. Because there are no magic points or attack stats which is caused by the sticker system, you also gain no experience from battle. None.
In a game that wants be an RPG and a little bit of something else, going into random battles is absolutely pointless. Throughout the entire first world I was able to avoid almost every enemy other than about three mandatory battles.
I thought “They’re going to give me a reason to fight these battles, right?” Wrong. They fix this by throwing too many battles at you while you’re trying to figure out how to complete stages. Some levels have more unavoidable enemies than others, but even then you can decide to run away from them with no consequences. I think it is always good to experiment and try something new, but when you take away one of the main structures of this game genre it feels absolutely pointless to keep playing it. You may find health upgrades in some levels, which is helpful, but otherwise you would be pretty prepared to just beat the game from the get go. Regardless, the battle system isn’t that riveting, which just makes matters worse.
In addition to stickers, you can also pick up what are referred to as “Things.” Before you say anything, let me elaborate. Things are 3D items that you can pick up and are added to the Things section in your inventory. After acquiring a Thing, you can head back to town and turn it into a sticker. Each Thing can be used in a different way and for different purposes. One of the few uses is as a battle sticker to deal a chunk of damage. These Thing stickers can range from a pair of scissors to a jackhammer among other items. Some of these attack stickers are very required to defeat a boss, but which one you should carry on you, save, or use is sometimes not very clear. Since each Thing is one use, you may have to do a lot backtracking because you have either missed the Thing you need or accidentally used it earlier. The banality of this process is so irritating, especially because you may not even remember where you got some of these Things. As a result of wanting to avoid this grueling process, your Things section stays full with each and every Thing you find in fear of having to go back and pick it up again.
Attacking is not the only thing you need Things for (See what I did there! Ha!). Some are used for solving puzzles in a mode called “paperization.” By pressing the “Y” button, Mario can zoom out from the field of view with the help of Kersti, and affect or fix the environment. When in this mode, you may either notice things that can be peeled, or boxes where stickers can be placed. Some boxes are used to create item blocks to upgrade stickers, while larger boxes are for placing thing stickers. One of the few problems you encounter is an unmovable windmill, which can be affected by placing the fan sticker. It adds another charm to the sticker gimmick.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a flawed RPG, platforming, puzzle solving mess of failed ideas and is lacking in a silly narrative, rather than “Collect the stickers and save the princess go go go.” Nintendo definitely put a lot of work into the game to make it feel solid, and it is, but it just felt too jumbled and flawed that I was so unmotivated to keep going. The cute aesthetic and fantastic music sadly did not make up for the rest of this game’s flaws.
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