February 10, 2013
The Wii's Super Paper Mario kept the same art style as its predecessors, but played much more like the traditional 2D platformers the series was known for. So when Paper Mario: Sticker Star was announced for the Nintendo 3DS, it was pleasing to hear that it would be going back to its RPG roots. However, when Nintendo announced the sticker aspect of the game, many were left worried that the game might another offshoot like Super Paper Mario. Do these new changes in Sticker Star "stick", or are all gamers left with is messy adhesive?
Sticker Star's story starts out with Princess Peach presiding over a celebration in the Mushroom Kingdom for the special Sticker Star. Like many other "special" entries in the series, Bowser predictably trashes the party and attempts to steal the star, breaking it into multiple pieces that fling across the kingdom. If you've played any Mario RPG game before, this is familiar territory, but it's an interesting twist to set up the game's main hook.
Sticker Star nixes the traditional hammer/jump/item system found in the previous two Paper Mario RPG titles for the game's namesake: stickers. These stickers are found pretty much everywhere: on the walls, in shops, awarded after battles. Each sticker can only be used once, so every time you use it in battle or on a map, depending on the sticker, it's gone for good. Therefore, what choices you have in battle are reliant on what stickers you have on hand. And of course, the series mainstay of twitch reflexes in battle stays here as well as the weapon stickers and reacting to enemy attacks via button presses is still in action in Sticker Star.
By default only one sticker can be used per turn in battle, but players do have the option to wager a few coins to spin a roulette wheel and end up with a few more turns. Unlike the previous Paper Mario games, Mario can only attack the first enemy in line at any given time (unless the sticker affects multiple enemies). This creates an issue as Intelligent Systems didn't include any real way to alter the order or create some sense of strategy. It means the system basically boils down to attacking enemies in series while timing your reactions to their attacks to lessen the damage. The only rewards for beating enemies this time around is coins and stickers, so there's no real need to go out of your way to attack enemies as it'll only deplete your health and waste stickers if you aren't careful.
Stickers aren't just usable in battle, though. Mario now has the ability to "paperize" the world which can reveal areas where stickers can be laid down. Sometimes this lets you upgrade stickers, but generally they're used to solve puzzles. These types of puzzles are done through "Thing Stickers", an assortment of 64 random items ranging from electric fans, a pair of scissors and even a goat just for good measure.
The issue with their implementation is that Intelligent Systems has Thing Stickers that seem similar in application but the puzzles expected one of them in particular and doesn't really help the player out in figuring out which one is applicable in that particular situation. Not all of the puzzles are like this, but some of them are quite annoying in this regard. And there's a few times where those Thing Stickers are hidden unusually well, so because the game doesn't let you know when you found everything, you are forced to scour the stages you've already passed for the specific item the game requires to move on.
Thing Stickers can also be used in battle, but they have a number of drawbacks. They cost a lot of money to re-buy and they take up too much inventory space - some taking up a good four slots that could be used for other items. There are places where they have to be used, however: boss battles. Bosses in Sticker Star are inflated with hit points, so you are required to use a specific Thing Sticker to defeat them. The fault with this system is that the game doesn't make it clear when to use them, until the second time you fight them. Generally, this means you'll end up fighting a boss three times to know when to utilize the sticker properly. It's sad because the bosses are quite well-executed in size and design, but the whole puzzle element drags down the experience.
The Thing Sicker system is a really neat idea in theory, but Intelligent Systems completely discourages any creativity on the player's part. One of the things I've personally loved about the series is how Intelligent Systems takes a huge amount of risk in performing sweeping changes to the core formula, but the sticker system is far from the developer's namesake.
Sticker Star also has some issues with the storyline. Those who played The Thousand-Year Door or Super Paper Mario know just how well those games' narratives was woven, which makes Sticker Star an anomaly because it seems that the developers mistook the handheld factor of the Nintendo 3DS as "less story, more gameplay". The stages are the game's highlight, which means you have battles mixed with some occasional dialogue every so many segments to push the story along.
It's sad because the dialogue that is there is quite well-written and up to the same standards as the previous titles. The developers also really played to the paper aspect thanks to the Nintendo 3DS's native 3D capabilities. Enemies who are slammed with the hammer from the side fly into the screen like the cheesy 3D films do and the sound and animation from peeling a sticker off the ground or the wall feels just right.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star feels like a game that takes one step forward and two steps back. The writing and humor are just what you'd expect from a Paper Mario title and the graphics are done wonderfully, but the whole sticker aspect just drags down the whole experience. If you're a fan of Mario games, especially the Paper Mario series, the good parts will probably keep you going through till the end. For everyone else, though, the adhesive still stuck on this one is better left untouched.