Paper Mario Sticker Star Review

Developer: Intelligent Systems

Publisher: Nintendo

Console: Nintendo 3DS

Players: 1

Rating:

  • E (ESRB)
  • A (CERO)
  • 3+ (PEGI)
  • G (OFLC)

Release Date:

  • November 11, 2012 (US)
  • December 6, 2012 (Japan)
  • December 7, 2012 (Europe)
  • December 8, 2012 (Australia)

Genre: Turn-based RPG

-Greg Livingston

Paper Mario: Sticker Star boots up with a quaint but lively tune. The melody itself is just pleasant, but its lead trumpet is played with such feeling that it drew me in. I’m a guy that goes for more energetic music, so I was surprised when the title theme had enough pep and pizazz to catch my ear while keeping most of the quaintness that the music from the original Paper Mario had.

That’s Paper Mario: Sticker Star in a nutshell. The entire soundtrack is full of engaging, jazzy tunes, both old and new. And, like its soundtrack, the entire game takes the Paper Mario formula and twists it in a compelling way.

Not to mention the graphics have a new sense of life to them, too. Every area boasts charming cardboard dioramas that are an impressive refinement of previous Paper Mario aesthetics.

In Sticker Star, you’ll find the linear areas, just like other Paper Mario titles; exploration through the cardboard-and-construction-paper environments is limited. On odd occasions, you’ll need to find hidden items and such, but the courses are more often than not point A to point B affairs.

There’s a world map? What is this, Super Mario World?

However, unlike previous Paper Marios, Sticker Star breaks these areas into stages placed on a world map. While stages get longer over the course of the game, each individual one centers around a certain idea or puzzle.

The world map doesn’t come without a price, since the story takes a decent hit. It never checks in with Bowser, so you only have the vaguest sense of his villainous scheme. You’ll bump into folks along the way and read amusing dialogue, but this story doesn’t have as much presence as previous Paper Mario tales.

In addition, the world map allows for some uneven puzzle design, since each puzzle is in its own discrete area. Paper Mario puzzles are typically insultingly simple, tasking the player with going to a certain area and using the appropriate item. That’s mostly the case in Sticker Star. On rare occasions, though, you will come across true stumpers. Often, the more difficult puzzles have nothing to do with items, instead relying on your ability to read subtleties in the environment.

Most of the easier puzzles involve placing a sticker somewhere in the environment, like this bridge you’ll need to place in the bridge-shaped void.

There aren’t any mid-grade puzzles, so you’ll go from drop-dead easy to put-down-the-game-for-a-day hard at the drop of a hat, and the disparity feels awkward. Granted, I do want to stress that difficult puzzles are very few and far between.

However, the world map does simplify the minimal exploration that’s present, making backtracking a simple matter of choosing a stage from the map and hitting A. This is especially helpful when you need to return to a certain stage to find a secret exit bound for an alternate stage. If you ever need to do any backtracking, it won’t be a hassle.

While you’re in stages, you’ll of course stumble into combat and square off with Bowser’s cartoony underlings. This is where Sticker Star truly makes its claim, for better or for worse. Your moveset consists of collectible stickers; in order to perform a Jump attack, you’ll need a Jump sticker, and in order to perform a Hammer attack, you’ll need a Hammer sticker. Use a sticker, and it’s gone.

Fire Flower stickers are uncommon, but hardly rare. They’re great for clearing out big groups of weaker baddies.

The impact this has on combat is enormous, and I can’t discuss it all here. I’ll keep to the important points.

The game offers plenty of “safe” stickers. In the first Paper Mario, you could always rely on Jump and Hammer to do decent damage, and in Sticker Star, you’ll never experience a scarcity of Jump or Hammer stickers. In fact, at some points, my sticker album was overflowing, and I had to prioritize which stickers I wanted to pick up.

See, you can buy stickers at a store, but you’ll also find tons of them in the wild. Each stage has a smattering of stickers you can peel right off the scenery and use in combat.

This gives combat a chaotic element without coming off as cheap. If you rely on finding stickers in stages instead of at a store, you can’t plan exactly what will be in your album. This stage might have more Hurlhammer stickers, or this one might have more Shiny Jump stickers.

As a result, you’ll often have to decide which sticker would be best to use in combat. If you find it easier to use Jump stickers, but the current stage has given you plenty of Hammer stickers, you might go ahead and use the Hammer stickers in easier fights so you can save your remaining Jumps for the harder ones. You’re never required to scrimp and save stickers—you’ll have plenty of something, even if you don’t know what that something is—but making the most of what you have is always satisfying.

The Line Jump sticker is one of my favorites, allowing you to bounce on a number of different enemies within the same turn.

The best part of all, though, is that sticker combat lowers the barrier to entry on interesting combat. Stickers replace the badge system, which was clunky and hard to get into; with badges, you need to manage your Badge Points and your Flower Points, look for badges, and economize Star Pieces. It was something I found easy to ignore, which is a shame, because the badges can be compelling in their own right if you put the time into them.

In Sticker Star, once you find a sticker, that’s it. You can use it whenever you want, simple as that. Plus, even with more advanced stickers, I had enough on hand that I could experiment and find my favorite use for each. There’s only a couple of stickers that the game keeps in short supply; the vast majority of stickers are readily available, even if certain stickers may be more common than others.

This is especially important because Sticker Star keeps the standard Paper Mario timed combat system. If you press A right before landing a hit, you’ll deal extra damage. Getting the timing down can take some practice.

At the end of the day, if you want to stick to standard Paper Mario combat, Sticker Star has your back, since Jump and Hammer stickers are readily available and consistently cheap to purchase. However, if you want to venture into special attacks that hit multiple foes, inflict status effects, or something else, the game will offer you plenty of special stickers to try. On the other hand, if you pine for the straightforward puzzles or endearing storytelling of the elder Paper Mario titles, Sticker Star might not do it for you.

Pros:

  • Engaging and accessible combat system. You can play it safe or mess around with advanced maneuvers, and transitioning from one to the other is as easy as deciding to pick up different types of stickers along your way.
  • Jazzy and spirited soundtrack.
  • Graphics are quaint and pull off the cardboard diorama aesthetic with style.
  • The dialogue has a sense of charm to it.

Cons:

  • Puzzle difficulty is uneven.
  • The story gets neglected.
  • Certain action sequences (outside of combat) can feel a little odd to control.

Final Verdict: 7.5/10

Sticker Star has some clever ideas. I was glad to see such a radical take on combat, and it paid off, even if the game is a little uneven otherwise.

Price at Review: $39.99

This is one of the easier JRPGs out there, but it really zeroes in on combat and action. You won’t find a massive game here, but instead, something that’s tight and well-paced.