One great way to describe Mario is to refer to him as a fictional man of many hats. Over the years, he’s seemingly transformed into everything, from a hopping savior to a kart racing superstar, and even a sports hero. In-between, the mustached plumber also turned into a role-playing hero, taking on the title role in games like Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario. Needless to say, he’s been around the digital block quite a few times, though he’s not showing any signs of quitting.
This month, the above-mentioned Paper Mario series returned to its RPG roots with Paper Mario: Sticker Star, following a brief stint in the platforming world. Developed as a Nintendo 3DS exclusive, the game released to a substantial amount of buzz, and for good reason. After all, its turn-based predecessors ended up being beloved hits. As such, lots of hope and high expectations were riding on this iteration, and the question remains as to whether it succeeded in meeting those ideals.
Instead of equipping its protagonist with set moves and upgradeable skills like those before it, Intelligent Systems decided to do something different with Paper Mario: Sticker Star. The result is a rather straightforward role-playing adventure, wherein players must utilize stickers to solve puzzles and fight baddies. Yes, you read that right.
Unsurprisingly, it’s Bowser’s fault that the red and blue clad Italian icon must travel through his colourful world in search of royal star pieces. That’s because the repeat offender decided to crash the community’s Sticker Star Festival, and ended up destroying everything in the process. What was once a stunning centrepiece star quickly became a disassembled disaster, and its pieces were spread throughout the land.
Although the described storyline is rather standard genre fare, the stickers make it interesting. Additionally, during his travels, Mario ends up coming across some quirky NPCs, who help liven the mood. For that reason, those who enjoy the Mushroom Kingdom’s unique type of humour will appreciate what’s presented here.
Since this is an unrealistic video game, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that restoring the special star requires lots of on-foot travelling. You see, in true Mario form, the in-game world has been turned into elementally themed sections, with each one offering different stages that must be completed. If it sounds similar to what you’d find in a game like New Super Mario Bros. U, you’re not mistaken. As such, most players should be familiar with the design. If not, they will quickly learn how things work.
Getting back to the aforementioned disruption, it’s important to mention that, during the chaos, important stickers were sent flying. Instead of staying within the local area, they migrated to distant locations, and stuck to anything they could find. Sure, that sounds weird, but this is fantasy after all, and video games aren’t known for sticking to complete realism. That’s why, in order to succeed here, you’ll be hunting down various types of combat focused decorations with sticky residue on their backs.
Now, you’re surely wondering why the stickers are so important. It’s simple, really: they’re required for combat. Instead of being able to simply select a hop, kick or punch, Mario’s abilities are limited to his inventory. Therein lies a lot of the strategy that is found within the game, because you’ll have to mix and match sticker types in order to defeat different enemies. To say that it’s a unique take on things would be an understatement, although things can become frustrating due to the items’ one use rule.
When you think about the aforementioned descriptors, picture Mario walking in a forest. Located around him are a few stickers, which happen to be plastered to various objects and environmental items. Now, let’s say that one sticker is of a boot, while another happens to be of a shell, with the third one being a steel hammer. When the plumber picks those up, they become limited use attacks, which he must use wisely. When he runs out, he’s out of luck, which makes his upgradeable sticker book’s extra pages all the more important.
Don’t worry about running out of attacks often, because that won’t happen. That is, unless you try to fight every enemy. Although the combat system is quite interesting, thanks to the varied combat maneuvers that Mario is provided, things can become repetitive after a while. Also, you don’t actually have to fight most of the basic bad guys. Since there’s no experience system, and battles only reward the hero with some coins, regular combat is unnecessary. Of course, with that being said, taking on most of the digitized foes will obviously add extra playtime to your experience.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star felt hollow because of its lack of a progression-based system. Role-playing games are notorious for having upgradeable abilities and attacks, and I went in expecting that from this one. However, the only way to expand my arsenal was to find special stickers, which would disappear after one use. Add in the fact that lucky slot machine gambles allow for up to three attacks to be used during one turn, and you’ll note how easy it is to part with multiple stickers during battles. In fact, boss battles will almost wipe out the plumber’s arsenal unless special stickers are used.
Now, when I mentioned special stickers, you probably thought I was talking about ones with glitter spread all over them. Although those are included within this game, they’re simply more powerful versions of existing stickers. The main types have different tiers, such as the hammer, which comes in several different types with varying stats and effects. In actuality, the special stars are items. You’ll find what are referred to as ‘rare items’ throughout the game, and they’re simply large versions of everyday things. For instance, there’s a giant fan that can be found early on.
Whenever you find a rare item, it’s important that you venture back into town, where there’s a regular sticker shop and a special one. Take the item to the second list item, and you’ll be able to turn it into a sticker by throwing it against a magical wall. After that feat is accomplished, you can use the sticker in combat, or to complete puzzles. Please note that the second option I mentioned is actually related to another gameplay mechanic, which tasks players with turning locations into flat pages. That allows for the items to be placed in outlined spots, letting them aid Mario by allowing further progression or presenting a secret area to scour.
Although Paper Mario: Sticker Star sounds very interesting on paper, it’s not as good as it could’ve been. What’s there is a polished and solid experience, but it’s not anything great. Interested parties will find it enjoyable at times and frustrating at others, as it’s sometimes hard to figure out where to go next. As such, the game won’t appeal to kids, despite its vivid colour palette, impressive sound design and great 3D effects. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a Mario game looks great; especially since this one happens to feature two-dimensional character models that resemble paper-based creations.
If you’re looking for something lengthy and challenging to take with you while you’re on the go, Paper Mario: Sticker Star may be up your alley. Although it’s not the triple-A masterpiece that many 3DS owners were hoping for, it’s an interesting experience that will stick with you for a little while, thanks to its great visuals, colourful locations and unique ability options. However, if you’re in the mood for something easy and/or frustration free, this isn’t it.
This review is based on a Nintendo 3DS copy of the game that we were provided with.