After years of success on home consoles, the Paper Mario series has finally gone portable with the release of Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the 3DS. This entry removes many of the elements from the role-playing genre, restructuring the unique gameplay while maintaining the series’s charming visuals and humorous writing.
Following in the foot steps of most Mario titles, the plot continues the ongoing feud between Bowser and Mario. Peach is officiating the Sticker Fest in the town of Decalburg when Bowser crashes the proceeding and grabs the the mystical Sticker Comet. After a brief scuffle, the comet breaks into pieces and scatters stickers across the land. With the help of a talking crown-shaped sticker named Kersti, Mario sets out to reclaim the seven Royal Stickers and save Princess Peach once again from the grasp of Bowser.
Sticker Star is one of the few games that benefits from the addition of 3D, delivering the pop-up book experience the series has long strives to achieve. Unlike its predecessors, Sticker Star presents you with a world map, and you’re free to choose your path through one of three different worlds. Mario will travel the usual variety of locations, which includes grassy fields, deserts, and forests among others. Each level contains multiple exits, creating branching paths, and emitting a greater degree of exploration than before. Perhaps the biggest change is the removal of classic RPG elements. Aside from collecting items that permanently increase your health, the game completely removes leveling up and earning experience points in battles.
Those familiar with the earlier Paper Mario games will have an immediate understanding of most of Sticker Star’s gameplay – turn based battles, level-based missions, and formidable boss fights. The main mechanic this time around is stickers, and they are literally everywhere. During his journey, Mario can pluck stickers off his surroundings, gather them from defeated enemies, and purchase them at various shops. Instead of using a meter to perform a few standard and special attacks, Mario’s actions are dictated by what is on-hand in his Sticker Book. Mario can slap these stickers onto enemies to inflict damage – whether it’s throwing a Koopa shell or simply pouncing on an enemy. Each sticker can only be used once per battle, but you can also spend a few coins on a slot-machine style “Battle Spinner” and earn additional attacks per turn, free stickers, and a handful of other useful power-ups.
In addition to using sticker in battle, Mario also has access to a method called “Paperizing.” Upon command, Kersti can take the 3D level and flatten it into a single sheet of paper. This is a great idea that allows you to interact with the environment, but the execution falls a bit flat (no pun intended). Mario can apply stickers, remove sections of paper that affect the environment and put them back on to fill voids, but he can’t apply stickers to just anything or remove scraps that aren’t predetermined. The puzzles based around these stickers end up being entirely too abstract to solve, and those that seem simple become frustrating because you will need a specific item to resolve it. With minimal direction you might find a sticker that you think will solve the puzzle, only to try “Paperizing”, have it not work and lose your sticker permanently.
Mario will come along real world objects – scissors, a baseball bat, matches or some other random items that can be “stickerized” into “Thing Stickers.” Besides using these stickers to solve puzzles, Mario will also use them during boss battles against gigantic sticker-fused enemies who have a huge hit-point in comparison to the smaller foes. Sticker Star practically requires the player use a very specific “Thing Sticker” to beat these bosses or face depleting their entire sticker collection – forcing Mario to flee the fight once the book is empty. Kersti acts as your hint guide but she provides little to no direction until you’ve attempted the battle multiple times.
As a Paper Mario game, having great presentation and writing is absolutely key to the experience, and Sticker Star delivers. The amazing writing has always been a standout element of the series, and this one is no different. While there was far less dialog in this entry than any other in the series, the game maximizes its silliness. Following in the same vein as the writing, the colorful graphics are greate, retaining their cartoony appearance. The sound is also a fitting addition to this game. From the funky slap bass of Decalburg, the game’s central hub, to the jazzy sounds of Bafflewood the player will receive a charming and sometimes spooky soundtrack.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star tries to go boldly off into a new direction for the franchise, moving away from the more story-based nature of the series, and changing up the gameplay to offer players a new experience. The lack of traditional RPG elements will take time to adjust to, but once you’ve looked past there omission, you’re rewarded with a solid 3DS title.
Release Date: November 11, 2012 • Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: Intelligent Systems • Genre: RPG • Multiplayer: None • Achievements: None • Cost: $39.99 • Replay Value: Moderate