Monday, 19 November 2012

Review: Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS)

It took more than a couple of hours for me to really shake the feeling that Paper Mario: Sticker Star did itself a disservice somehow when it came to the abandonment of the role-playing aspects that I remember from the other Paper Mario games. Gaining experience points and grinding for items are just two things that are missing from Sticker Star. Even if the rest of the game is actually relatively good, all things considered,  it's no role-playing game.

Through some retcon of Mario lore -- Mushroom Kingdom sticker festival? What? -- and a completely "unlikely" series of events that puts Bowser in a position of power, again, it falls to Mario to wage a one-man, turn-based crusade against Bowser and his legion of minions.

Using the power of stickers.


Filling up pages of Mario's sticker book provides Mario the conduit to performing attacks and completing puzzles via Paperization.

So, if Mario needs to stomp a Goomba he'd better have a boot sticker of some kind or a flame flower or a turtle shell or some other classic Mario death-dealing tactic to apply. A spiked enemy calls for a different sticker, an armored opponent for another. If Mario runs out of stickers, Mario has to retreat; however, the likelihood of this happening are low because 1) there are stickers everywhere! Also, coins are plentiful and the shop is always open to buy more. 2) Combat can be completely avoided in almost all cases.

Number two in this case is good because there's little if any reward for entering combat. In fact, in most cases the cost in stickers is higher than any reward Mario can earn. Save the powerful stickers for the boss encounters, which actually take some strategy and possibly one failed attempt to know which stickers Mario should have in his arsenal at that point. The boss battles are drawn out and relatively involved. Even with the bonuses allowed for extra damage for timing attacks correctly and making use of the bonuses the coin-gobbling (and optional) "Battle Spin" imbues, a boss fight can handily wipe out the stores of stickers.

Sticker management becomes important, even early on in the game. Throughout the game there are special three dimensional items that can be "paperized" (rendered two-dimensional) and used as powerful attacks or used to complete puzzles when Mario exercises his ability to Paperize the environment. Some of the stickers are much larger than the standard sticker. There were a few times I dumped multiple stickers to make room for the special ones, most of the time not knowing exactly what the sticker will do or where it should/could be placed.

To stick these special stickers to the environment, or any sticker for that matter, the world must be Paperized. With a button press Mario renders the world flat and can then slap stickers in specific areas in the environment. Or tear off pieces of the world and apply them elsewhere.

Paperization quickly became my default go-to solution for everything. If I couldn't figure out how to make progress in the game, the solution was almost certain to be solved by making the world two-dimensional and looking for a hot spot.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star sure isn't like the Paper Mario games that have come before it. So much so, that's it's hard to think of Sticker Star as a role-playing game. If role-playing is defined as collecting and using stickers, then it would fit, but it doesn't. That doesn't take away too much from the overall turned-based fighting and some clever puzzles and good writing -- Toads are acerbic wimps in their natural state -- but it doesn't actually scratch the RPG itch. There's still plenty to see and do in Sticker Star, but it's not with any sense of applicable benefit to Mario other than more stickers. Player's going into Sticker Star thinking they're going to get a role-playing experience will be disappointed. It's not a complete write-off by any means but's a much shallower experience when put beside the other titles in the series.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Paper effects are put to good use
- Writing is great
- Boss battles take plenty of strategy and timing
- Great music
- Some creepy character reimagining on the desert level

The Bad:
- Almost no way to counter attacks
- This isn't a role-playing game
- Combat is a losing proposition in terms of resources
- A much more shallow experience when put next to the other Paper Mario games

Score: 7.0 / 10