Flimsy Paper

The Paper Mario franchise is that rare video game spin-off that succeeded and then stuck around. Part of this is because it presented a unique way for us to look at one of gaming’s most cherished protagonists. Playing on the physics of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, and the rest of your expected Mario cast of characters being cardboard cut-outs of themselves added different and entertaining game play that has allowed this to flourish. But could this series’ first portable title stand strong and continue the franchise’s trend of great RPG games, or would it be lost in the wind?

Paper Mario: Sticker Star starts off like most every other Mario adventure. The Mushroom Kingdom is throwing a party, this time to celebrate the annual “Sticker Fest” where the magical “Sticker Comet” will come and grant the wishes of everyone who truly believes in its power. Bowser hears about this, crashes the party, and runs right into the Sticker Comet, shattering it into six separate pieces that enhance the abilities of all those who come into contact with them. It’s then up to Mario to once again set off and put the comet back together, all the while fighting Bowser’s army of classic baddies, from the Boomerang Bros. to Spikes.

The great thing about Sticker Star is right off the bat you can tell it maintains all the charm and personality of those that came before it. From the physical humor that plays off the 2D nature of the characters to the music and bright colors of the Mushroom Kingdom, Sticker Star doesn’t lag behind its console predecessors in any way. It really feels like a Paper Mario game. In fact, the 3D-effect only enhances the visuals further, as more depth-of-field tricks can be performed with hidden passageways or items.

These hidden passageways don’t just lead to coin filled treasure rooms, however. In reference to some classic Super Mario Bros. titles, the overworld map is broken into stages and worlds based on themes (desert, forest, water, etc.). Many of these stages, reminding me of Super Mario World, have multiple exits that will open up alternate paths to Mario’s end goal of one of the Sticker Comet fragments. This leads to Paper Mario: Sticker Star having the largest and most sprawling world the series has seen thus far.

There are some flaws with Paper Mario: Sticker Star, though, and the most glaring resides with the new combat system. Scrapping a more traditional, XP-driven system, Sticker Star relies on the item the game is named after: stickers. You must go around the world and collect as many stickers as possible in order to fill up your sticker book. Then when you enter combat, you must spend these stickers, which only have one use each, to perform vintage Mario maneuvers like jumping and swinging a hammer.

Instead of feeling innovative or entertaining, this mechanic instead made me feel like I was in my very own episode of A&E’s Hoarders, as I’d fill my sticker book to the brim and then refuse to ever use them. In fact, since there are no rewards for defeating enemies, I actually started to avoid combat altogether for fear of running out of stickers once the really difficult, scripted battles rolled around. Even the extremely powerful real-world sticker items made me fear combat, as they also took up more space in my sticker book. I ended up becoming so obsessed with organizing and maintaining my inventory of stickers that by the time I reached the first major boss, I had stopped having fun with Sticker Star.

Another irritating aspect of Sticker Star is the constant need to backtrack. Now, I understand this is a common mechanic in many RPGs, but I don’t understand how designers would think having to retreat to your central base (in this case a small town in the Mushroom Kingdom called Decalsburg) all the time or having to re-visit stages you’ve beaten several times over is fun. And Sticker Star is by far one of the worst culprits of this we’ve seen in some time, as you often have to retread the same ground literally dozens of times.

If you can overcome these two major hurdles, there’s a solid concept for a Paper Mario game buried at the core of Sticker Star. Unfortunately, the new sticker-driven combat forcibly removes a lot of the fun from what would otherwise be a stellar portable title, and since so much of the game is progressed through the combat, the experience suffers tremendously as a whole, making this a recommendation for only the most diehard of Paper Mario fans.

SUMMARY:  The plot and adventure are both more than worthy of the Paper Mario name, and the game is set in a massive, beautifully designed world for gamers to explore. Still, these aspects can’t hide the fact that the sticker fighting system is flawed and removes a lot of the fun from the RPG combat.

  • THE GOOD: Massive new world, branching paths, and references to many previous Mario games.
  • THE BAD: New combat system is nowhere near as effective as what we’ve become accustomed to from previous games in the series.
  • THE UGLY: I still miss Mallow and Geno from Super Mario RPG.

SCORE: 6.5

Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive.