I played the original Paper Mario on the 64 but never had time to complete it because, sadly, I never owned a 64 as a child. Some years later I did download it from the Wii shop and played it a bit, but never took the time to finish it. Before that I played through The Thousand Year Door and fell in love with the series. The timing twist that they put on the traditional turn based combat was refreshing at the time. Then Super Paper Mario came out on the Wii and I wondered where the RPG went. Both of the first ones were true RPGs with full-fledged worlds and stories, as well as leveling up for the characters.  I appreciated the different take on the game, mixing platforming with RPG elements was an interesting gameplay mechanic, however I still missed the more traditional RPG battle system and exploration. One persistent and easy to appreciate feature of the games is the sense of humor found throughout.

Now Nintendo has gone off again and created a new Paper Mario for the 3DS and I believe it is the best home for the game yet, though it is yet a slimmed down RPG that left me with mixed feelings. The story is the typical Bowser kidnaps Peach and Mario has to save her. The different here is that the Toads were having a Sticker Fest to pay tribute to the Sticker Comet. Bowser touches this comet which causes it to explode into 6 different powerful stickers that Mario must now go find. Face it, we all know that Mario games are not known for their story. As Mario sets off on his journey he’s given is very own Navi, I mean talking sticker named Kersti to help him out.

Remember that I was expecting another RPG type game here, so imagine the surprise when I leave the town and discover a world map with individual levels. This is not what I was expecting and totally changed what I should expect from the game.  Once I realized that this is a bare bones RPG, only because it features exploration and a turn based battle system, I was able to get over this fact and enjoyed the bite size chunks. It works perfectly because this is a hand held game after all so these levels provide small chunks of content that can usually be covered relatively quickly.

Each world has its own theme, even if it covers the typical tropes of desert, snow, and forest areas. Some of the individual levels are rather unique and clever, offering  simple puzzles and light platforming, as well as plenty of Goomba for stomping fun. Some of the worlds even have puzzles within them forcing you to search around one level to find a Thing to open up the path for the next area, or hidden exits that you must find before opening new levels. This forces you to think and remember what you have seen because you might have to return with a certain item to proceed.

The combat is what you would expect from Paper Mario, sans Super Paper Mario. The turn based, timing based combat returns in full force, so you better be ready to press A each time Mario jumps on something. The main difference is that instead of choosing attacks, you choose from stickers within your album. There are different stages of stickers representing different strengths. While many of them do what is expected, such as jump on enemies or swing your mighty wooden hammer. Don’t worry, you shouldn’t ever run out of stickers as they are stuck everywhere around the lands, as well as from various shops.

The most creative stickers are derived from Things, which are 3D objects that Mario finds and slings onto a special wall in the town, which turns it into a sticker. These are used in combat to perform various attacks, like a stapler will, obviously, staple the enemies so they can’t move. These special stickers are also used to solve puzzles, such as using scissors to cut a rope or a vacuum to clean up trash. This creates a fun way to solve puzzles because you have to remember what Things you have and what properties they might possess, leading to experimentation and spending a lot of coins as you buy new Things.

The Paper Mario series is known for its humor and jokes, which are sadly quite missing here. Mario never speaks so you rely on Kersti, who can crack a few jokes, but nothing really funny. The game doesn’t take itself seriously of course, but that doesn’t dismiss the fact that this is one thing sorely missing from the game. The other would be the RPG elements. With Super Paper Mario they exchanged the turn based combat for real time jumping while keeping a leveling type system. Here they kept the turn based system was foregoing any sort of leveling system. Sure, you discover new, flashier stickers that do more damage, and for some reason even the base stickers seem to magically increase in strength, this doesn’t forgive the fact that there is no leveling system in this so called RPG. While this is not a big deal to some, it was a disappointment to me.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star gets 8 flashy stickers from me even with my complaints because the combat and the level design is still top notch, and it’s perfect for small quick outing, most of the time.

Anybody else disappointed by this extreme take on “RPG-lite”?