As a longtime fan of the Paper Mario franchise, I had been looking forward to Paper Mario: Sticker Star ever since it was first announced. Paper Mario titles haves always impressed me with their outside-the-box thinking, clever design, and hilarious dialog. With Super Paper Mario deviating from the style of the first two games, many dedicated fans were pleased to hear that Sticker Star signaled a return to roots of the RPG series. That’s not to say that Sticker Star fits into a mold, as the game’s heavy focus on stickers is a new and all-encompassing focal point. So how does Sticker Star stack up? Hit the jump for our review.
Story And Characters
Sticker Star’s story is simple, but effective, in true Paper Mario style. The game starts out during the annual Sticker Festival. Once a year, the Sticker Comet flies by, granting wishes to all those who witness it. Not surprisingly, Bowser crashes the party, and ends up shattering the Sticker Comet into six pieces, known as Royal Stickers. Five of the Royal Stickers end up scattered across the Mushroom Kingdom, while the sixth lands on Bowser’s head, granting him immense power.
Mario is knocked unconscious during all the commotion, and awakens to find the Sticker Festival in disarray, and Princess Peach missing. Teaming up with Kersti, the sticker fairy who takes care of the Royal Stickers, Mario sets out to recover all the lost Royal Stickers and rescue Peach from Bowser. The story is silly and nonsensical, but that’s never been a problem for Paper Mario games.
Unfortunately, Sticker Star’s story and character development from this point on doesn’t quite live up to the Paper Mario name. Previous Paper Mario titles give you a steady stream of short but sweet story updates in between chapters, but Sticker Star doesn’t really do anything to add to the main plot from here on out. The older games often let the player play as Princess Peach, exploring her captor’s headquarters, and finding out clues to help Mario, but Sticker Star really doesn’t have much story content in between the opening and ending moments.
Similarly, the character depth from previous Paper Mario games is also missing. With a few exceptions, Sticker Star’s nonplayable characters are mostly nameless Toads with little going for them in terms of distinct personality. There are less sidequests than you’d expect from a Paper Mario game, and the lack of character depth makes the sidequests less meaningful. Sticker Star retains the goofy and light-hearted dialog that the series is known for, but not the loveable characters.
Visuals And Sound
Sticker Star sticks (pun intended) to the simple, but charming “paper” graphical style of its predecessors. There’s some jagged edges here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary, and overall it’s one of the better looking games on the 3DS.
One visual area that didn’t exactly blow me away was the stereoscopic 3D. Given the nature of Paper Mario games, I was hoping to see some really interesting uses of the most unique feature the 3DS has to offer, but overall I wasn’t impressed. Use of stereoscopic 3D was fairly subtle throughout the game, and I found the look a little more fuzzy than in other titles. That said, one of the advantages of the 3D effect is in adding more visual depth. I found this helpful in several areas that had platforming.
The music and sound effects for the game are solid all the way through. Each world has its own distinct musical theme and style, offering players a pleasant amount of musical diversity. The sound effects were all fitting and well-done as well.
Classic Gameplay With A Twist
The first thing you need to know about Sticker Star is that stickers are everything in this game. Battles, sidequests, and puzzles are all dependent on your arsenal of stickers. Using stickers as a universal solution may have been an attempt to streamline and simplify gameplay, but in some ways it actually complicates it.
The biggest change that the incorporation of stickers brings about is in the battle system. The turn-based style returns, but everything has been dumbed down to two options: Use a sticker or run. While previous Paper Mario titles gave you the options of basic hammer or jump attacks, various special attacks, or items, Sticker Star restricts all combat to the use of stickers.
Many of these stickers function similarly to items and special attacks of other Paper Mario games, so cutting these options out in favor of stickers seems like a sensible trade. Removing basic attacks from the mix as well just seems like too much simplification, and it can make the game frustrating at times. If you’re running low on stickers, or the stickers you have aren’t effective against a particular enemy, you can’t just use regular old jump and hammer attacks. You’re only other option is to run from the battle.
Removing all combat except for stickers restricts the game in more ways than just battling. Upgrading Mario’s stats and abilities throughout previous games was a fun and rewarding process. While Mario started out weak, his health points, badge points, boots, and hammer all received multiple upgrades in previous endeavors. Of that list, only health points make a return, removing a large chunk of the RPG elements from the Paper Mario formula.
The revamped battle system isn’t an all-around disappointment, as the introduction of the Battle Spinner is one of my favorite features in the game. Players can utilize the slot machine-esque Battle Spinner in order to gain more attacks per turn. Lining up matching items results in players being allowed to use multiple stickers per turn. The Battle Spinner is initially very cheap, but by paying extra coins players can automatically lock two items in place, and even slow down the spinning. The longer the battle goes, the more expensive the Battle Spinner becomes, making it a great way to make use of your coins in battle.
Level Design And Puzzles
For the first time in a Paper Mario game, Sticker Star divides the overworld map up into small to medium sized levels inside of larger worlds, similar to what we’re accustomed to in 2D sidescrolling Mario titles. When you think about the series up to this point, it’s really the logical choice to make. Paper Mario worlds in the past were essentially segmented into “levels” to begin with, but rather than having an easily navigated map to switch between them, hidden pipes were used to move from one to the other. Given that Sticker Star is on a handheld system, the choice to go for a larger number of small levels, as opposed to a smaller number of large levels, is the right choice.
The general level design in Sticker Star is top-notch. The large number of small levels gives Sticker Star the ability to incorporate lots of different and interesting ideas without having any one area wear out its welcome. Pushing the paper theme further than any title before it, Sticker Star has some of the most clever and fun levels to date in a Paper Mario game.
Unfortunately, the fantastic level design is dragged down a bit by the often-frustrating puzzle element. Sticker Star has a heavy focus on puzzles, but unlike its predecessors, it fails to give players an easy way to solve them when they are stuck.
At any point in the game, the player can enter “Stickerization Mode” and place stickers on the map in order to solve a puzzles. These sticker-based puzzles are everywhere, and the sticker you need to solve a puzzle may not even be in the same level as the puzzle itself. If you use the wrong sticker, that sticker disappears. If you find yourself stuck, there’s no fortune teller to give you a clue; you’re on your own. This presents a problem for younger or newer gamers, as many of them will lack the patience to figure out what they have to do.
Along with Stickerization Mode, Sticker Star introduced “things.” Real life objects, such as electric fans and baseball bats, can be found throughout the game. By taking them to one of two select Toads, these things can be transformed into stickers. Like other stickers, these are used both in battle, and in solving puzzles in the level. Only a few of the things are required to beat the game, while the rest are just optional collectibles. Once a thing has been used, it’s not gone forever. Hidden nearby the Toad who transforms your things is another Toad who will sell you the things you’ve already used in the past. It’s a unique way to make use of your coins in exchange for powerful stickers.