Paper Mario: Sticker Star is the fourth game in the line of Paper Mario games, which spun off from the 1996 Super Mario RPG game. The third entry, Super Paper Mario, gained notoriety for abandoning a lot of the RPG elements for more of an action-RPG. The most recent game again takes a spin on the RPG genre to deliver something that is not quite like the first two entries, not quite like the third, but still entirely Paper Mario.
At the beginning of the game, there is a festival going on that Bowser wrecks, destroying the sticker comet that came to grant everyoneís wishes. Bowser is the main antagonist in this game, having kidnapped Princess Peach, per his standard MO. Mario is once again called upon, as the strongest plumber in the land, to rescue her.
Unlike previous Paper Mario games, Mario is going it alone in this adventure, except for the help of a snarky, sparkly crown sticker called Kersti. She is a caretaker of the Royal Stickers that Bowser stole, and enlists Mario to help her rescue them. Kersti assists in battle by allowing Mario access to the Battle Spinner, which may allow Mario to use more than one sticker in a round, depending on your abilities with a slot machine. Kersti also enables Mario to "paperize." This ability is key to most of the puzzles and hidden areas in the game, adding a unique and thoroughly enjoyable puzzle mechanic. Kersti changes the perspective, turning the 3D diorama world into a flat picture that Mario can manipulate by placing and removing stickers. Finding the right solutions to these puzzles is a potent mix of frustration and joy, as wrong stickers are needlessly wasted, but finding the correct solutions is greatly satisfying.
The idea behind Paper Mario, that everything is made of paper and the world is a diorama, has fully come to fruition in this game. Almost everything in Sticker Star is made of paper: trees, houses, coins, everything. Anything requiring a little depth is made of cardboard. The visual style is charming and the graphics are some of the best I've seen so far on the 3DS. Paper-wise, this is the most immersive Paper Mario game yet, and it filled me with that same sense of wonder that the first Paper Mario did. Itís difficult for a game in its fourth iteration to make the whole idea seem fresh and new, but Sticker Star certainly delivered.
Even distant Yoshi-Sphinx is made of paper.
Pretty much all the NPCs in this game are Toads, who can be found almost anywhere, but are mostly in Decalburg, the central hub-town of the game. With just a couple exceptions, the Toads are visually indistinguishable, but they have a lot of personality despite the cookie-cutter appearances. Rarely have I seen anything more adorable than a squadron of Toads panicking over the sudden appearance of Goombas and Koopas.
The sticker-based battle mechanic works very well. For people who generally save every item in a game, Sticker Star offers a museum in Decalburg, where every sticker can be displayed. In addition to saving a copy of all the stickers, mundane and valuable, each display has a small blurb written up by the Toad research department, with the trademark Paper Mario wit. Having all the stickers tracked in the museum, the collector-gamer should feel less stress when using powerful stickers in battle. While the sticker album is small in the beginning of the game, I found that sticker management was not terribly complicated. It is easy to automatically sort the stickers, to sort them manually, and to toss stickers if you find something special when you lack the room. It wasn't until near the end of the game, when I was finding huge shiny stickers, that I began having to make tough choices on what to carry into battle.
The music for Sticker Star is absolutely wonderful. The songs are upbeat and a bit jazzy. The music matches the areas and action very well. Some of the songs are remixed classic tunes, which were delightful to hear. The main theme also finds its way into songs here and there, but that jazzy tune never gets old.
So adorably distressed.
There is really only one thing missing from this game, and that is the RPG. There certainly is a story, but the entire plot, with all its twists and turns, is known within five minutes of turning the game on. There are no levels in the game, only max HP increases that are hidden around the world. Because the only partner is Kersti, who generally stays hidden, this game is light on dialog compared to past Paper Mario games. Because of the lack of an expanded story, and the fact that this is a portable entry in the series, this game is shorter than all previous Paper Mario games, too. The one real hold-over from its RPG roots is the turn-based combat, though the battle system itself has been replaced with stickers.
The game attempts to make up for this absence with interesting locations and puzzles. For my part, this more than succeeded. The game has five worlds, broken out into sections, much like a New Super Mario platforming game. But instead of running right to win, the areas are full of enemies, puzzles, hidden paths, and challenges. Some areas have multiple exits and require repeated play-throughs, but because you have to discover the new exit, it does not feel tedious. Sometimes things are too well-hidden, or the correct sticker to solve a puzzle is not obvious. Also, it is rare to have the best stickers in your album for a particular boss when you first approach him, but this game allows you to run away from bosses and return to an area with all the puzzles still solved. One of my favorite areas in Sticker Star is this gameís take on the Ghost House. A Toadís winter retreat has been over-run with Boos, and Mario has to round them up and seal them in a magical tome in the basement. This one area is full of puzzles, mysteries, and scares.
Not even remotely haunted. Toad's sitting outside just 'cuz.
This isnít your typical Paper Mario game. The partners are MIA and the plot is paper-thin. The game can also frustrate you when there is a puzzle you need to solve, but unknown to you, the thing you need is hidden four areas back. Despite the flaws, Sticker Starís charm, atmosphere and wittiness shines through, making this one of the most enjoyable games Iíve played this year. Donít come looking for a classic RPG, and you will have a wonderful time with this game.
Great review! The ghost house was one of my favorite areas as well, although every time I thought I was finished, I still had more to go! I think this is definitely a unique entry in the series, somewhere between the first two games and Super Paper Mario in concept, but tons of its own unique elements as well. I loved the sticker battle system too, it brought a ton of variety to battles and forced me to use a bunch of different attacks.
Very good review, thanks for posting! I still need to get on this game - it's sitting in my backlog at the moment. But your review was very informative and well-written...makes me want to fire the game up right away!
Great review Vicki, very informative! I got this game for Christmas and hope to start playing it soon. I'm not too bummed out by the lack of RPG elements either (I loved Super Paper Mario). I'm looking forward to hearing the great music and diving into the sticker play mechanics.
Great review! I need to get back to this game, the lack of XP really turned me off for some reason, but I need to get back on it and learn to love it for what it is, I'm sure there's a lot to enjoy, and I want to check out that haunted snow cabin!
Your stories of "huge, shiny stickers" INSTANTLY make me think of Final Fantasy III(US), and me lugging a Megalixir into the final battle that I saved the entire game. Wouldn't you know that it went completely unused? Haha, how about that.. And Decalburg is one of the greatest / most relevant names for a town that I've heard. Love it.
You said that the RPG was missing from this thing, do you think that you would have enjoyed it more if it went a little heavy on it? I think that most people instantly think "turn-based battles" when "RPG" is muttered, so is it possible they said "eh, thats enough." On the same track, did you initially like the move to paper-style, or would you prefer the isometric sprite/polygonal look of Mario RPG in today's games?
--Hey Vicki! You should change your name ot "Vicki L" in your Profile so it'll show up instead of "NW Staff." Besides, "VickiL" is already your screenname, so its not like you're giving any secret away!
Sorry for replying so late; I missed your questions. Let's see. I really like RPGs, so I was a little disappointed that it was RPG-lite. Now-a-days the lines regarding genres is getting more and more wiggly. There's FPS in my RPGs, platforming in what used to be puzzle or adventure games, stuff like that. I think the game would possibly have been a 9 or higher for me if it retained more RPG elements. I must be getting older, complaining about how things were better back in the day.
I have always found the paper-style to be excessively adorable and creative. I approve! I enjoyed the first Paper Mario and TTYD most, I think, because the paper-style was not only charming, but it allowed for all kinds of puzzles you won't see in any other RPG.
I still appreciate Mario RPG for it's sprite look, and it was perfect for the time, but given where the genres have gone, to make Mario RPG 2, it would probably have to be fully 3D and more like Mario Galaxy but with turn-based battles. I don't think that would work well for Mario. That first Mario RPG came about at just the right time and I can't help but think it's style belongs to the mid 90's. Then again, I didn't forsee the resurgence of 2D platformers we've seen over the years, so I'd be happy to be proven wrong!
Now that I finished the game, I can say I agree with many of your comments, Vicki.
The visual style indeed is charming. The 3D effects in this game are brilliant. I never get tired of using the Slaphammer and watching the enemy fly out of the screen! It's such an amazing effect that wouldn't have the same impact without the 3D screen.
I loved the 'paperize' ability and the way the game takes the paper theme to the extreme, much more so than any of the previous Paper Mario games.
Each Toad definitely has a lot of (unique) personality.
Yes, the music is amazing.
When I wasn't stuck figuring out what to do next, I played this game with a big smile on my face.