Flat, but fun
A new page in the Paper Mario series has been released in the form of Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Just like Super Paper Mario did on the Wii, Sticker Star has reimagined the formula that mixes our platforming plumber superstar with a roleplaying, tactics-driven world. In this game, yet another comet is passing by the Mushroom Kingdom, kicking off a celebration that Bowser will once again ruin. He doesn’t even send a fake cake. To combat Bowser and his minions, Mario’s deck is stacked with powerups in the form of stickers, which are consumed in battle or used to affect the field by holding things down or even summoning different items that interact with the world.
The biggest change to the Paper Mario system is the world map. From the main hub of Decalburg, an aptly named center of the sticker celebration, the map branches out to include 5 five distinct regions. You play through each level similarly to Super Mario World, so the gameplay is broken up for smaller sessions. However, while this streamlined system makes sense for platforming, I found it removed much of the charm the series once held for me. With only one town, you can imagine how much fewer character interactions are in this game compared to other RPGs. Even the sidequests felt tacked on as the end result of all your hard work amounts to little more than a small flag displayed in the parade grounds.
Minus these sidequests, the main game takes around 20 hours to complete. A large portion of my own gameplay was invested in locating the secret door marks in nearly every level. While an interesting device (forcing players to revisit areas once they have secret door stickers in their inventories), I found that over time it became repetitive and rarely yielded more variety than one free powerful sticker. And while these stickers were fun to collect, the limited inventory of the sticker book prevented me from trying out every special move and instead I opted to dump stickers at the museum just to make room for more attacks in my repertoire.
Since attacking can only be done with the remaining stickers in your book, battles actually presented a new kind of challenge to me in Sticker Star. Traditionally, in RPGs I am a classic hoarder. I keep every elixir and full revive until the secret bosses, and sometimes complete entire games without ever touching my amassed items. Not any more. Sticker Star limits how many attacks you can bring and I ended up shedding many a tear as I stuck a Flashy Jump on little more than a feisty Goomba. Most boss battles are even designed to make you fail and rethink tactics, as you learn a weakness only to realize you must redo the level with a very specific sticker to nearly KO the baddie. Otherwise you’re stuck trying to shred through all 400 of his health points one at a time (and that is just World Two).
In many ways, Paper Mario seems to be undergoing an identity crisis. A platforming legend stuck in an RPG like stickers to… nearly everything in his world. The parts this game gets right are fantastic, but overall they feel like cute elements in a very small world. The way 3D is done in this game is excellent, and is possibly even better executed than Super Mario 3D Land (one of the first 3DS games noted for fluidly incorporating 3D). Adorable extras like Wiggler’s Diary or the often hilarious trivia game reminded me why I play Paper Mario, but I think Nintendo in general needs to remember why gamers fell in love with this series. Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a good game, but sadly does not earn a gold star.
Tested on 3DS