Back in 2001, Nintendo released Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64. When I first saw screenshots of the game back then, I kind of shrugged it off. I like Mario games, but this one looked kind of "kiddie" so to speak. That was back when I still kind of judged games by what they looked like, not how they played. That was also the last game that I judged based on graphics. The game was awesome and a nice entry to the Nintendo 64 franchise. While I never played The Thousand Year Door on the Game Cube, I picked up Super Paper Mario on launch for the Wii and wasn’t disappointed. Now we finally have a portable game for the series on the 3DS. Does it hold up to the previous titles? Let’s find out as I take a look at Paper Mario: Sticker Star.
Every year, the Mushroom Kingdom holds a Sticker Festival (you’d think with all these Mario games over the past 27 years or so we’d have heard of this by now) where everyone gathers around the Sticker Comet and makes a wish. If everyone does make a wish, then all their wishes will come true. Sounds like something that can be pretty badly abused, and who better to demonstrate that than Bowser. While not displayed in text, Bowser crashes the festival and pretty much wishes to rule the kingdom. As Mario attempts to stop him, a bright flash occurs and when Mario wakes up (which requires interaction from the player), the festival grounds are in ruins and Bowser and the Princess are gone. Once again, Mario sets out to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser.
Since the game is called “Sticker Star”, I might as well explain that mechanic as it’ll set up the rest of this review. There are three different kinds of things you can find and peel: Battle Stickers, Things, and Scraps. Scraps are simply stickers lying around that you can pick up and use in that stage to progress using something called “paperization”. This is simply freezing the stage to place stickers on the current scene either where a scrap can be placed (such as a gate or a door), or another sticker in a dotted line box to help out in some way. Things are…well, things that you can pick up and later turn into stickers to use either in battle or in specific places in the environment for various effects. For instance, using a vacuum to suck up a dust storm or a faucet to fill up an oasis. I swear I’m not making that up.
Then there are the Battle Stickers, and this is where my issues with this game begin. Battle stickers are everywhere. They can be sold in Decalburg or in a couple other stages where a Toad has set up a random sticker shop, or they can be peeled off the ground and walls of the stages. Plus, they come in many varieties, such as jump stickers, hammer stickers, fire flower stickers, and so on. My first thought was that these would complement your attacks, kind of like spells or techs in other RPGs. Actually, these stickers don’t complement your attacks…they ARE your attacks. If you get into a battle and want to hit an enemy, there is no default attack, even though you carry around a hammer for most of the game to break blocks with. While battling you have two options: use a sticker or run (later on you get the ability to spend coins on a roulette game to be able to attack up to three times in a turn). What happens if you run out of stickers or don’t have any for the current situation (ie you only have hammers while fighting high altitude enemies)? You have to run, which is done by tapping Run and hitting the A button rapidly in a small amount of time until the screen is almost fully dimmed (keep in mind that you can fail the Run option like in other RPGs). If you’re in a boss battle and this happens, you’re pretty much screwed.
There is some hope however. Remember the Things I mentioned earlier, such as the vacuum and the faucet? Well, those can also be used in battle, though they take up more room in your sticker album (ie your available stickers). The Thing stickers can be pretty powerful when it comes to the ones that deal damage. For instance, the scissors sticker deals about twenty damage while the bowling ball does 30. However, there are two catches to this. First, after using a couple of those in an actual stage, why would I risk using them in battle and later find out I needed it for something else, making me figure out how to get it again? Second, why would I turn a Thing into a sticker and waste space in my album if I don’t know if I’ll need it? Early in the game I wasn’t sure if I could get a Thing back if I used it before I needed it, so I didn’t use them. Turns out you can get them again, at least I think you can (the ones required to get past an obstacle I know you can).
Speaking of battles, much like other RPGs, they’re turn based. You face off against anywhere from one to five enemies (rarely more than three though), you pick your sticker, attack with it, then the enemies get their shot. Unfortunately, you don’t get to choose what you’re attacking, as you’ll typically attack the first enemy in front of you (unless you were successful at the roulette game mentioned earlier, in which case subsequent stickers in the same turn attack different enemies). Thankfully, some higher-powered stickers, such as Fire Flowers and Koopa Shells, can hit multiple enemies. Also like past games, you can score timed hits with any attack (from what I can tell anyway) that’ll increase the strength of the attack, and you can also use timed blocks to reduce the damage done to you.
Unlike other RPGs, there is no leveling system in Sticker Star. Instead, throughout the game there are sixteen hidden HP-Up hearts to find. These will increase your max HP by five for each one you find (your HP starts at 20), and I suggest finding them because you won’t survive past World 1 without them. In fact, the first one I found was impossible to miss due to where it was, and I barely got past the boss of 1-6. Then again, I was also careful with Thing stickers due to what I said above, and was basically using jump and hammer stickers so your mileage may vary. However, this leads to an interesting point. While you do occasionally get some rare-ish stickers from battles (such as Boomerangs and Spiked Balls), since you don’t actually gain XP in this game, what’s the point of battling normal enemies? Coins. You get coins after each battle (more for a perfect battle, which I think means you don’t take damage for the entire battle), and after clearing a stage, you get bonus coins, which seem to be dependent on how many battles you won. If you fought in a lot of battles, expect a lot of coins. If you rarely touched an enemy, you’ll only get a few.
Another thing about battles that kind of get on my nerves are the status ailments. The three I’ve seen more often than not are crumpled (can’t move), soggy (same as crumpled from what I can tell), and poisoned. Not too bad…except for poisoned. When you become poisoned you get the message that it effects your aim, meaning your attacks will miss. Yes, I have been poisoned many times in this game, and every time I failed to land an attack until after it wore off. Keep in mind that you can’t just skip a turn or randomly defend, meaning you’re using a sticker every turn. Now keep in mind that poison can last for several turns (in one fight I was poisoned for seven turns), and that means you have to waste seven stickers that won’t hit your opponent for the most part. Thankfully some stickers can still be used, such as mushrooms to give you some HP back, but the majority of your attacks will miss, such as jump and hammer stickers. Now tell me, what other game out there has a poison status effect where it causes your attacks to miss? If it’s out there, I’ve never played it.
Finally are the puzzles. These thankfully aren’t too bad as long as you just pay attention to your surroundings…close attention (for one puzzle where I was looking for a Wiggler segment, it wasn’t really hidden, just turned sideways, so I was looking for a piece of orange paper turned sideways which made it hard to see). However, there is one function the game has in which you’re not told about but need to learn quickly. I did mention paperization earlier, which you learn early on and use to place scraps and stickers in various places. What the game doesn’t tell you is that there will be times in which to pass an impossible to pass spot in a stage, you have to paperize and just place a random sticker over something. Need to stop a fan from blowing you off a platform? Place a hammer sticker over it. Want to stop that poison from blowing out of a tree? Plug it up with a boot. It’s minor, but it took me some time to figure out because the game never mentioned you could do that.
Overall, Paper Mario: Sticker Star isn’t a bad game, but it has its flaws. The more I want to completely enjoy this game, the more I find something to make me beat my head on my desk. The only real use battles have are for getting coins and harder to find stickers, you have to risk using Thing stickers in battle just to see what they do, only to realize they’re almost necessary for boss fights, and you’ll sometimes get puzzles where the answer isn’t anywhere near obvious, such as breaking down a wall with your hammer when there’s nothing clueing you in that you have to do that. However, the writing is pretty good and definitely has it’s funny moments. Also, since this is a Paper Mario game, I’ve come to expect the paper and sticker puns and even enjoy them, cheesy as they may be. This game has its ups and downs, and for the most part the ups out-weight the downs. However, the downs can make for a frustrating puzzle for boss fight, but if you have the chance to rent or borrow the game, I’d give it a go.