The Paper Mario series is one that is well-reputed for taking the Mario series everyone knows and loves and turning it into a humorous RPG in a world made completely out of paper (though cardboard is included as well on occasion). This game adds to the paper motif by throwing stickers into the mix. Of course that sounds well and good, though the overall changes that these stickers bring may split fans apart on how much of a must-have this game truly is.
The game starts off with Decalburg’s annual Sticker Festival which of course long-time Mario villain, Bowser, comes by to ruin. After wrecking the town and stealing the Royal Stickers (and kidnapping Princess Peach, of course), it’s up to Mario to fix everything that Bowser wrecked. Truth be told, the story’s a bit on the light side. It’s nothing amazing, but it never truly was as far as the series goes. Humor is the Paper Mario series’ strong-suit and there’s plenty to be found in Sticker Star.
Like its predecessor Super Paper Mario, Sticker Star has brought upon some changes that shake the foundations from which it came. For Super Paper Mario, the biggest changes were the removal of partner characters (party members that joined Mario as allies in combat) and a shift from turn-based combat in favor of platformer-based gameplay (similar in vein to the traditional Mario titles). Of these two changes, Sticker Star keeps the first.
It’s unfortunate to see that this game continues the partner-less trend, as the series was quite well-known for creating humorous side characters with quirky personalities that spoke in Mario’s stead during cut-scenes. Mario travels solo in this adventure, aided only by a sentient sticker named Kertsi who fulfills a familiar role found in many Nintendo games as a guide to the player. She also serves as a mouthpiece for Mario throughout the story.
Kertsi’s biggest perk is the ability to “paperize” levels into photographs, which Mario can then leap out of to place stickers. This is often used to solve puzzles and advance through levels. Another helpful use she has is the ability to spin a slot machine (for a small fee) in the middle of battle. Match two and Mario can use two sticker consecutively in a turn, match three and Mario can use three stickers as well as receive an in-battle bonus.
The sticker-based combat system is perhaps the biggest change for the series. Despite returning to the turn-based system, everything in the game is controlled via sticker album on the bottom screen. Long time fans of the series might be wary of this change.
There are no menus to cycle through, Flower Points (Paper Mario’s version of MP) to worry about, or equipment to mess with. All the player has to focus on is the stickers. You find them, you use them. Simple enough, isn’t it? Luckily, it isn’t simple enough to the point of becoming boring.
The sticker mechanic certainly has benefits. For instance, instead of worrying about FP consumption, all the player is burdened with is keeping track of the stickers in the album. This means that a player can potentially stockpile attacks that would have taken a lot of points to use under the earlier system. At the same time, a sense of balance must be maintained.
Having too many stickers will make it hard to keep the better ones that come around, while having too little can leave Mario unprepared for battle. It’s up to the player to figure out which ones to keep and which ones to boot. Stickers can be found anywhere and everywhere, just have Mario peel them off the surface they’re stuck to and he can use them in battle.
The second biggest change is the removal of a level and experience system. This may even be a more unwelcome change for some than others. Battling enemies no longer yields any form of experience. Hence, Mario no longer gains levels. Mario’s health is instead increased by finding giant +5 Hearts which will increase his most health every time one is found.
But without any levels to gain, what’s the point in battling enemies then? Coinage. Battling enemies gives you money, which is quite useful for restocking the album whenever necessary. Enemies can also drop the occasional sticker here and there, but counting on them isn’t the safest bet. In addition, Mario gets a coin bonus at the end of each level. How much he gets is directly determined by the number of battles the player participates in. Battles make a world of difference between getting a handful of 1’s and a fistful of 10’s.
Alongside these bigger changes are some smaller, yet as important ones. The addition of a world map lets players traverse through the game without any major complications. What before took long stretches of backtracking can now be done by dropping into a level without a fuss. The most beneficial aspect of this is the fact that stickers as well as enemies return each time a level is visited. This makes it easy for the player, should they be running low on cash or stickers to use.
The other small change is the inclusion of real world items. Known as “things” in-game, these are objects that can range from a soda can to a vacuum cleaner. The best part is how they work. After finding a thing, the player can take them to Decalburg to be “sticker-fied.” These plus-sized stickers take up a lot of room in the album, but the benefit outweighs the burden. Thing stickers, when used in battle, work similar to summons found in other RPG series. They can deal lots of damage, heal Mario’s wounds, or sometimes do even more outlandish things.
And then of course, are the little touches that bring a smirk to those who like attention to detail. The 3DS’s gyroscope shows off the reflective quality of shiny stickers in the album. Tilting the 3DS, or even shaking it slightly, causes Mario’s and his enemies’ HP bars to sway back-and-forth as if they were stage props held up by ropes or string. Tidbits like this of course bear no weight toward the overall appeal of the game, but they certainly are nice little additions to take notice of.
After being restored to normal, Decalburg hosts a number of sidequests for the player to take part in. There’s a sticker museum to fill up, combat challenges to complete, and even a humorous quest to find Mario’s brother Luigi hidden in the strangest of places.
Paper Mario Sticker Star hosts a number of changes for the series, some that might be more unwelcome than others. Even so, this is still very much a Paper Mario game. Though the surface of it is different, the quirks and charm that the series is known for at its core are most definitely there. For some that might be more than enough, and the changes simply provides a new way to play. Others looking for something that plays much more in line to the originals however, will be faced with disappointment.