Paper Mario: Sticker Star - Staff Review  

Adventures Across the Second Dimension
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Inventive, entertaining areas
+ Amusing dialogue
+ Engaging visuals
- Too many items, too little space
- Combat doesn't offer many rewards
- Sparse story
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   Once upon a time, the idea of Mario being in an RPG was a novel thought. It's strange to contemplate how long ago Super Mario RPG was released, but Nintendo's mascot has long since become the accepted star of RPGs that are close to numbering double digits. Paper Mario: Sticker Star retains some of the qualities long associated with Mario's RPGs while attempting some new ones. The result is a charmer in some respects, but not the knockout it could have been.

   Sticker Star's combat is very similar to other turn-based Mario RPGs, with a player's reaction time having a dramatic effect upon the proceedings. Simply choosing attacks and letting enemies strike back is a possibility, but when a properly-timed A button press can augment Mario's every attack and decrease the damage of enemy onslaughts, taking advantage is a very good idea. One new element to Sticker Star is the ability to pay money for the privilege of using a roulette wheel that can net two or three successive attacks for Mario, instead of taking one action for each of the enemies'. Enemies don't cough up any experience upon defeat, though, just the possibility of items and money. If neither is awarded, this can make the effort required to beat grunt foes seem exorbitant.

   Mario's attacks are actually finite in number, coming from the eponymous Stickers. These are scattered in abundance throughout the levels, and enemies frequently cough up one in death, with everything in a stage reappearing once the player exits and reenters the area. This makes running out of Stickers an uncommon occurrence save in protracted fights. The Stickers available in any given stage may not be the ones the player would like to have on hand, however, and keeping the desired inventory on hand for tough battles can be rather challenging when grunt enemies aggressively seek out Mario no matter how outclassed they are. Since running away requires rapidly mashing the A button and can fail without considerable exertion, taking out the enemy will often seem the easier choice in spite of its possible consequences for available attacks. Stickers and running form the entirety of options in battle, without any teammates to take the focus off Mario. HP upgrades are found at set points in the game, and the player has no control over Mario's statistics whatsoever

   Mario begins Sticker Star with two pages in his album for Stickers to use in battle. This will hold thirty of them at maximum, but some stickers are bigger and thus require more room. The room available for Stickers increases at set points while playing the game, as will the frequent desire to hold larger and more powerful stickers that clog the available space. A handy press of the Start button reorganizes the inventory so that the maximum possible space is made available, but this needs to be done frequently enough to become bothersome.

Don Don't be fooled by its shininess - that Goomba sticker is not a rare collectible.

   The inventory would feel considerably less clogged if it was not also being used to hold various Things. These are special items that go into a separate section of Mario's inventory when initially obtained, and must be taken to one of two Toads with the capability to render them useful. Most Things take up a large part of Mario's inventory, but many are required in order to solve certain puzzles. If the wrong Thing was used, it will crumple up and blow away, forcing Mario to either buy a replacement or find the original in the same spot it was first located. Some of the puzzles are indeed entertaining, and finding the proper place to use such oddities as a goat or a refrigerator feels satisfying. The need to constantly run back and forth between town and the spot where a Thing needs to be used is nevertheless ire-inducing, as the in-game hint system rarely helps much.

   Some puzzles don't involve Things, but rather a process called Paperization. Running with the Paper Mario two-dimensional setup and the stickers of this title, sometimes pieces of the scenery aren't in the right spot. Invariably Mario will have to peel the wrongly placed ones off and put them back where they need to go so he can progress. Some of the spots where Paperization must be applied are not obvious, but as these items never vanish from their separate inventory category until the player has found the correct location, they tend to be less frustrating than ferreting out proper homes for Things.

   The game's visual style is highly influenced by its paper subjects, and makes the proceedings quite entertaining. The two-dimensional nature of the characters and environments is obvious whenever they are viewed from an angle, and the designers had fun coming up with the variety of ways in which this can be expressed. Aside from its visualization of paper and cardboard being used to construct just about everything, Sticker Star is consistently well-animated and colorful. 3D adds nothing to the experience, but such a flat title seems better viewed in two dimensions anyway.

Snow doesn Snow doesn't make Mario's movement slippery. Ice does though, and it's also in the game! Happy day!

   The story driving the proceedings finds a Sticker Fest taking place in the Mushroom Kingdom. Six Royal Stickers have been gathered for the purpose of making a wish, and to the genuine surprise of no one Bowser appears to interrupt the show. After the fireworks end, Mario has a sticker ally named Kersti to track down the lost Royal Stickers, Bowser has acquired great new power, and Princess Peach is kidnapped. Nintendo's localizers have turned in another well-written script, but there isn't a great deal to the story after it begins. The game is organized reminiscently of Super Mario World's stages with frequent hidden exits, and most of the levels have little or no dialogue. The ones that do, such as a Snifit game show and hunting Boo Buddies in a mansion, stand out because of it.

   Even without dialogue, most of Sticker Star's levels distinguish themselves. They run a wide gamut from hopping around a Yoshi sphinx to smashing through the airship from Super Mario Bros. 3, and journeying through them is quite entertaining. Boss battles are likewise inventive and investing, all the way from a poisonous squid to the climactic confrontation with Bowser. Regular enemies unfortunately do not enjoy the same level of interest.

   Several music tracks in Sticker Star are remixes of classic tunes from Mario games on the NES that sound quite enticing, and just about all of the sound effects will be recognizable to anyone who has played one of those platformers. The rest of the music is very good on a technical level, but usually not terribly memorable, so that it recedes from the mind after play is ceased. Saying that the new compositions are not as memorable as Koji Kondo's may not be very damning with moderate praise, but it is so.

   Sticker Star is an odd beast, and its RPG aspects are actually the most problematic. Many of the most enjoyable parts come when it can be played as a straight platformer, only to be interrupted when aggressive enemies force the player into another battle without a worthwhile reward. I don't regret my experience with Sticker Star, but the game did not leave me buoyed by positive thoughts exclusively. Maybe the next in the series will manage it.

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