Review: Paper Mario: Sticker Star

PaperMarioStickerStar

In this latest entry in the Paper Mario series, Nintendo is trying to tap into every current child’s, and many former child’s, sense of wonder and amazement in stickers.  These sticky pieces of paper or plastic, in a child’s imagination, can transform the world.  Glow in the dark stars can make a dark ceiling look like the night sky, trademarked characters can simultaneously decrease a car’s value and turn its windows into a field of impromptu Disney adventures, and previously mysterious, tasty drinks under the kitchen sink can be rendered [Mr.] Yuk-y.  Even more appealing is the prospect of finding a super rare sticker to transform the world.  Can’t you just remember those fond feelings of transforming a plain everyday object into something magical with a simple sticker?  Yeah, me neither. I have vague memories of a time when teachers tried to motivate students by publicly embarrassing the kids in the class that had the smallest amount of Gold Star stickers on a chart, but that is about it.  While mine was not a sticker-based childhood, this is the sense of fun and imaginative frame of mind that Paper Mario: Sticker Star invokes.

In a paperized version of the Mushroom Kingdom, the Toads join their human overlord and her consort (aka Princess Peach and Mario) for an annual celebration. At this celebration a Sticker Comet which may grant a wish to its lucky recipient is supposed to appear. True to form, Bowser shows up, is basically a jerk, and ruins the whole event by disrupting the great magical sticker, causing Royal Stickers to be scattered across the land. And, as always, for good measure kidnaps the princess.  It is up to Mario to collect the grand stickers and save the princess yet again.  This is not the most novel of Mario setups, but the writing is good.  The Toads and few other NPCs that Mario will talk to – more accurately, will only talk to his silent, plumber self – are filled with personality and the localization is genuinely funny. Nothing that would ever venture into the realm of the ROFL, but certainly enough to make one quietly chortle to oneself a couple of times an hour.

When not answering to others what is so funny, most of what players will be doing is exploring the different areas of the Mushroom Kingdom trying to get to the flashy sticker at the end of the level. This will require some mild platforming and, sticking with the sticker theme, sometimes pulling off Bowser stickers gooping up the realm.  Once removed the paper world will spring back to what it once was and Mario can advance.  Folded dioramas animate believably in a display of faux-hand-crafted artistry.  Scattered throughout the world are tons of little decals that can be pulled off and used in various ways.  In exploration, the stickers can be used to temporarily alter the world.  For instance, wind might be blowing out from vents across a path that Mario needs to get across. Being merely paper, any small gust will toss the red-hatted Bro around. To get to his goal, these stickers found in the world can be used to block up the vents and advance.

Many signature Mario foes, in paper cutout form, also dot the landscape.  Whenever an enemy is encountered, it will trigger a combat scene, magically transporting the characters to the demiplane of Encounter, a realm that looks like the main game but is fully separate.  There is no reason the combat could not happen within the levels themselves, but it does make things cleaner to have it in a separate space. The only downside is that many of these fighting spaces are the same so it can get a little dull as their numbers increase. Whether Mario gets the drop on the enemy and hits him first, or gets hit first himself, will determine whether or not one side has an initial advantage in the battle ahead.

And what a battle it will be.  Like a classic Dungeons & Dragons wizard consulting his spellbook for the two pages dedicated to Melf’s Acid Arrow, Mario will choose his attacks from his Sticker Album.  It is here that the tons of stickers he has picked up in the level, or bought from the Toad shop in town, will mostly be used.  The Stickers are primarily little feet or hammers than can be used to respectively stomp and smash Goombas. If a button is pressed at the right time, the attack will do more damage, turning every attack into a timing game.  Some enemies, like Koopa Paratroopas cannot be hit with hammers, they’ll just fly up, and can only be jumped on.  Many enemies have similar limitations and can only be hit with the right kind of attack.  For me, this is one of the game’s biggest frustrations. It is possible to run into a battle, particularly a boss battle, and have a sticker album full of junk that will do virtually nothing to the enemy.  It can be annoying to have to repeat sections of the game just because Mario did either not have the right kind of stickers or did not have enough of them.  Perhaps if there were subtle clues indicating that a boatload of Stomp stickers would be nice to have at the end of the level, things would run smoother, but if there were such clues, I didn’t see them stuck to anything. The combat is usually on the easy side, it is only a chore when the reality of a finite number of attacks from a very limited album sets in.

Another annoyance is that sometimes it is difficult to determine what needs to be done to succeed. The world is structured like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World with a grid-like overworld representing the individual stages where the actual gameplay takes place.  The problem is that in most Mario games, each level is conquerable by itself.  This Paper Mario installment will require multiple visits to some of the areas after certain area specific, puzzle solving stickers are gotten. Rarely is it clear whether Mario doesn’t know where to go, or if he doesn’t have the right thing to get where he needs to.  The few hints that are dropped are not very illuminating.  One’s threshold for annoyance has to be pretty high to really enjoy this game.  Unless you were on the development team, because I’ll bet that then the path to the end of the levels and the locations where to get the special stickers to get there are real obvious.

When the 3DS system was announced, I had my doubts about the implementation of 3D in video games.  The stickers I affixed to that concept read “Headache-inducing,” “Won’t Work,” and “Will Add Nothing.”  This game lets me peel all of those off with the sole caveat that turning up the 3D all of the way did strain my eyes after about twenty minutes (nothing new for the 3DS).  The world is designed to look like everything is made out of paper and that several of the backgrounds are painted cardboard with construction paper stuck to them.  The characters are animated paper cutouts that move throughout their grade school art project world and give the game a whimsical feeling.  This is at a contrast at times with some of the difficulty of the more brutal encounters, but for the most part the game keeps its whimsical paper style.  It looks nice even without the 3D, just less like an interactive diorama and more like just a video game. 

Charming though its characters may be and even with its fully realized paper world, advancing in the game can be difficult. There is no real reason for the difficulty other than the limited amount of stickers that one can carry around. Perhaps this is supposed to add an element of strategy to the game, but what it really does is make the game more tedious.  Even worse, if Mario’s Sticker Album was unlimited, the combat is so simple that playing the game would just be a chore with no tension at all.  Paper Mario: Sticker Star, with its fun visual style and simplistic battles, is probably a game more suited to children than adults.  But anyone that can get past the rough patches should have a good time.

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Pros:
+ A paper world come to life
+ Amusing character interactions

Cons:
– Confusing level layouts
– Simple battles, of which there are too many

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo / Intelligent Systems
Release Date: 11/11/2012
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Game purchased by reviewer

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.