The lights are on
Mario’s papery adventures have delighted gamers of all ages for years on consoles, and his last outing on handhelds can be considered no less of a worth series entry. Though Paper Mario: Sticker Star is admittedly not without its flaws of strained combat and a reduced story, it’s nonetheless a lovable title full of charm and exploration that’ll surely keep the majority of players coming back for more.
Bowser’s at it again, only this time he’s crashed the Mushroom Kingdom’s Sticker Festival and broken up the Sticker Comet. In his efforts to stop the fiend and recollect the Comet Stickers, our timeless hero of Mario is off to battle the Koopa King’s baddies in all of his adventure’s papery mischief.
Using all the 3DS’s graphic capabilities to its fullest, Sticker Star’s environments shine with all the colorful detail you remember from Mario games. From the game’s snowy mountaintops to its jungle plains, levels burst with cartoonish charm straight out of a kindergarten flannel-graph. Trees and rivers share all the same paper-like quality that the game’s quirky enemies do and tear and rip away with delightful uniqueness. Traveling via a world-map in the vein of the Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario’s new level select carries players from level to level in a much easier fashion and players will appreciate the system’s retro vibe.
The game further makes good use of its 3D. Sticker Star’s 3D gives an added sense of dimension to its otherwise very 2D structures and you wont’t feel terribly limited by them either. Though few things will be directly jumping out at you, there are at least a few boss battles, particularly that of Ice Bowser’s, that make their mark.
For fans of Paper Marios' trademark storytelling and humor, Sticker Star’s biggest disappointment can be found in its lackluster narrative. Unlike its predecessors, Sticker Star is generally laxer on jokes and players shouldn't be expecting to find the same wacky partners of Thousand Year Door or the outrageous gags of Super Paper Mario. Mario’s sidekick of Kersti is further reduced to another Navi yacking over your shoulder and even the game's villains of Bowser and Kamek don't lend their faces in the spotlight all that often. It's not a game-breaking short-coming, but somehow it makes the game feel like it's lost just a part of the series' heart and soul.
Sticker Star brings Mario back to the basics along with a variety of new features as well. Returning to the turn-based combat of the original Paper Marios, Sticker Star puts Mario in a strictly solo fights, all the same hammers, jump, and power-ups familiar to fans. The twist this time around is that Mario’s attacks and stats are no longer based upon experience points. Instead, they’re entirely tied to the types stickers he can find or buy throughout the game that allow him to perform the moves they represent. As a result, Mario’s combat can feel too limited, but it gets the job done. Smashing goons with and watching them fly towards your screen is a blast, but throughout my battles, I still wished for the complexity that Thousand Year Door's party members provided.
Mario can further find an assortment of 3D objects, or “things” in the environment to use in battle. From baseball bats to radiators, Mario can stickerize all of them into weapons. Even as powerful as all these stickers are, it’s unfortunate that they can’t seem to find a sense of balance within your battle strategy. They can sometimes feel too much like cheap shots in battle, but seeing what all of them do is great fun. Players will love seeing the consequences of using a radiator on Ice Bowser, but battling with the deadly ringtone of a cellphone is just plain clever.
Puzzles fill another big part of Sticker Star and the game’s complexity is all the better for it. Levels in Sticker Star act more like Legend of Zelda dungeons, and with that inspiration comes the depth to the game’s exploration. The game doesn’t hold your hand and rather than merely getting to point A to point B, you’ll need to use your head to find your way. Super rare stickers can be hidden behind any number of false walls and trapdoors and collecting them all is a thrill. I traversed any number of previous levels just to see what secret items I could find and the old-school challenge of figuring out your own way on where to go and what to do kept me all the more interested.
Paper Mario has stood as one of my favorite RPG series of all time and while it doesn’t surpass the incredibly high bar of it’s predecessors, it's age-old sense of amusement always kept me playing. Even if there isn't much a story to progress towards, with secrets to find and enemies to fight, Sticker Star’s rich content does it’s fair share to invite you back for more and you’ll love it for that. For however long it takes for Paper Mario to return to consoles, rest assured that Sticker Star’s sense of exploration and kiddy charms should be enough to keep many Mario fans hooked.
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