Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Believe it or not, Bowser’s at it again. This time, he’s smashed up the Sticker Comet, ruining Decalburg’s Sticker Fest in the process. Mario’s not about to let that kind of horrible deed go unpunished. In Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the gaming legend sets off to kick butt, take names, and stuff his sticker album to the seams.
I’m stumped to think of a better application for the 3DS’ hardware capabilities. This is one of the few games where 3D actually adds to the experience instead of coming off like the gimmick it usually is. It’s a little counterintuitive, considering that the series’ visual conceit is that the world is composed of diorama-like environments built out of strikingly two-dimensional shapes. Sticker Star makes serious headway toward delivering the pop-up book experience the series has long strived to achieve. It’s not only delightful to look at; there are plenty of times when crucial jumps are easier to line up with that added dimension.
Sticker Star takes an interesting approach to turn-based RPG combat, in that all of our hero’s abilities are tied to the stickers in his album. They’re a finite resource, too, so if you run out of stickers on the battlefield, you’re out of luck. Fortunately, decals are haphazardly slapped nearly everywhere you go, though they’re typically lame ones such as worn-out boots or plain old hammers. You can buy better stickers from stores, find them in hidden areas, or earn them by defeating enemies. Mario moves from level to level in an overworld map circa Super Mario Bros. 3.
Mario can also find 3D objects in the world, which he can then flatten and import into the stickerverse. They’re usually tied to the best attacks in the game, though there are a handful of defensive ones, too. I was always eager to see what each one did in battle, particularly since so many of them don’t seem to have any obvious purpose. Most people could predict what scissors or a giant fan might do, but how about a violin or shaved ice?
Stickers are also used in the game’s puzzles. A crown-shaped decal named Kersti accompanies Mario on his quest to retrieve chunks of the split-up comet and valuable Royal Stickers, and she has a remarkable ability. She can flatten the game’s world even further, allowing Mario to hover above it and apply stickers. Most of these puzzles are easy to solve. For instance, placing a bridge over a bridge-shaped dotted line isn’t exactly tricky. Others are more freeform, allowing you to dive into your inventory and apply the right decal — usually one from a 3D object. I was a bit disappointed with how experimentation is discouraged with those sections. A perfectly logical solution might be deemed unacceptable, and you lose your sticker in the process. Sure, it’s possible to recover it, but that requires a winding trip back to a sticker shop.
Aside from padding Mario’s album and pocketing heart containers, there’s not much room for character progression in Sticker Star. There aren’t any badges or Pixls to equip, and your tagalong friend Kersti sticks to the sidelines in battle. I was initially turned off by the game’s middle ground – it’s not action-focused like Super Paper Mario, and it’s not as complex an RPG as The Thousand-Year Door — but I quickly grew fond of it. Mario can only use one sticker per turn, but a slot-machine minigame allows him to queue up to three consecutive items. You have to pay to play, however, creating a balance between making sure you have enough coins for the store while also ensuring you live long enough to get there.
In true Paper Mario fashion, you can add a little extra oomph to your attacks or mitigate damage from your foes by pressing the action button at the right time. There’s a nice risk/reward element here; do you try to squeeze every last drop of strength from your hammer, knowing if you wait too long the head will harmlessly fly off? Combat is ultimately engaging enough that I didn’t avoid enemy encounters — though Sticker Star doesn’t require or even reward anything close to grinding.
I was a little disappointed by the game’s story, which frankly didn’t capture my attention as past games have. Mario isn’t exactly an engaging character (the dude never talks, for one thing), so the supporting cast has to carry his weight. Kersti’s basically a crown-shaped Navi, and she guides players through what feel like a lengthy series of unrelated vignettes. No matter how hilarious some of those individual moments might be, they don’t seem as though they’re connected together in any real way. Past games have gotten around this problem by having Mario team up with talkative partners. Here, he’s basically on his own. That works well in his action-oriented games, but his lack of personality doesn’t do the story any favors.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star isn’t a brain-bending RPG that requires a working knowledge of spreadsheets, or has a story that will change the way you look at the world. That’s not what the series is or has ever been about. It is, however, one of my favorite Nintendo franchises, and Sticker Star is absolutely worthy of the Paper Mario name.