I had always been a fan of the Paper Mario series. The Thousand Year Door was a great game, and even the old school Super Mario RPG from Squaresoft was pure fun. Super Paper Mario on the Wii removed many of the RPG elements of the series, and truth be told, I really wasn’t a fan. Now, years later on the 3DS we get back to the roots of Paper Mario with Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Well, we get back to them somewhat.
Bowser and his team of goons disrupt a special festival that celebrates a special star that falls from the sky. Bowser gains the power of the Sticker Star, and it’s now up to Mario and a floating female sticker named Kertsi to find the Royal Stickers and keep them from falling into the wrong hands.
In Sticker Star, everything revolves, naturally, around stickers. Things you need to solve puzzles, items to use, and even all your attacks are stickers you find and collect while roaming around the Mushroom Kingdom. Let me just re-emphasize this: your attacks are consumable stickers that you find around the world. Meaning, if you want to jump on an enemy’s head, you have to use up a jump sticker in your book. Now, it is a very unique mechanic that I haven’t seen in many games, but the fact that this plays out like an RPG with this mechanic in place throws me off. RPGs always taught me to save my items for when I really needed them, keep my more powerful things for the big boss fights and only use them when it is a dire situation. Sticker Star throws that concept out of the window. Random battles will have you using stickers just to beat the enemies. It’s a refreshing concept, but jarring to the veteran RPG players. You go into random battles by running into enemies on the screen while walking around. You can hit them with your hammer or jump on their heads for a first strike attack.
The combat is turn-based, where you choose which attack sticker you wish to use. You don’t get to choose which enemy to hit first, you will always hit the enemy in the front of the line. Some stickers have you attacking all the enemies in the line or allow you to hit highflying enemies. There is a good amount of strategy involved with this. Every time you encounter a new enemy, you have to learn what works and what doesn’t. Timing your attacks with a well-placed tap of the A button will result in more hits or a more powerful hit depending on what the attack is. You can also defend against attacks in this manner. During the battle, you can choose to spin a slot machine for three coins before your turn. If you can match two or more, it will grant you the ability to use two or three sticker attacks during that turn. It’s a lifesaver when if comes to boss fights.
The only bad thing about the return of the RPG turn-based battles is that it is very light on the RPG side of things. You don’t gain experience points, you don’t level up and your stats, with the exception of maximum hit points, don’t increase. You can find maximum hit point increasing items around the worlds, usually by solving a puzzle. It got to a point where I wanted to skip the random battles because I was getting nothing out of them except depletion of my sticker reserves I knew I’d need for later.
When going back to town, you can sell your stickers at a store, buy new ones and even create huge stickers from things you find throughout your travels that offer up massive amounts of damage. When managing your stickers, it becomes an addicting game in and of itself.
The combat is only one major part of the game. The other major activity is puzzle solving in each area. Each section of the world is divided much like Super Mario World. In these worlds, you have to find a fragment of the Sticker Star in order to progress. In most cases, you will have to figure out a way to reach a fragment or solve a puzzle that opens up a new location that will eventually lead to the fragment. These puzzles can consist of traversing the environment, finding hidden doors or paths or using stickers you find in the world to complete something. It is unique at times, but it can be rather frustrating at times, too. Sometimes you have to find a secret passage by hitting it with your hammer. Most of the time, there is no kind of hint or sign as to where a hidden area might be. Many times I walked around a room hitting everything I could with my hammer just to see if I was missing something. There were multiple instances while playing through this game that I was stuck and couldn’t figure out where to go next, but after some time was able to progress.
The game has a lot of charm and the “everything is made out of paper and cardboard” motif is very nice and used both in the story and combat. The 3D really shines in this game. Since everything is almost like a stage with puppets, it really gives you a nice since of depth when playing in 3D. The story is fun and light-hearted and actually very humorous at times. I enjoyed many of the exchanges between the characters. If there’s one thing Sticker Star has, it has a lot of heart.
For what you get, this is a pretty big deal. The game is not short by any means, and there are always different paths to take on the world map. This game can easily last you into the 15-20 hour mark depending on what you want to do. The combat is still fun, and at times, the puzzle solving is enjoyable when you actually know where you should go. Paper Mario is still not back to what I want it to be, but Sticker Star is a step in the right direction.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.