PAPER MARIO: STICKER STAR REVIEW
Paper thin or a deep RPG?
Posted by PlayDevil.com Staff on Jan 3, 2013 15:40 (Jan 3, 2013 15:40)
Written by: Alex
"Paper Mario: Sticker Star" fits neatly into the stable of Nintendo's evergreen titles. Unlike most of its other properties however, Paper Mario completely reinvents itself with each iteration. Paper Mario Sticker Star continues this trend, with new characters and gameplay, while keeping what makes the side franchise unique.
Recent Mario games have been looking a little more to the skies for inspiration. galaxies, stars and comets seem to be a regular motif. Sticker Star draws on this perfectly but, in the paper filled world, the stellar body takes the form of a shiny sticker.
Sticker Star’s tale begins in the town of Decalburg during Sticker Fest, a festival to celebrate the coming of the sticker comet. Wishing on the comet as it descends to earth supposedly grants a wish, so it should be no surprise that as the sticker descends to the ground Bowser appears and grabs it. As he does so, power radiates from him and a crown appears on his head. Mario jumps into action, leaping at Bowser. As he touches him the world goes black and the star explodes into six segments, scattering throughout the land.
Mario reawakens sometime later to find the festival in ruins and Princes Peach abducted by Sticker Bowser. Fortunately he has a new friend on hand in the shape of Kristy. Manifesting as a shining crown sticker, Kersti is the living embodiment of the Sticker Comet, and it is she who explains what Mario must do to reunite the star fragments and defeat Bowser.
The world, story, and stickers all fit the paper formula perfectly. They create interesting metaphors for combat and world traversal mechanic, while also offering a hook for the younger players who still remember the lust of sticker collection. Plus, it looks great.
Occasionally it is important to separate writing from story and Paper Mario Sticker Star certainly deserves this treatment. From the character dialogue (all written, not voiced) to incidental visual gags, Sticker Star constantly entertains and amuses. It is cleverly paced, managing to regularly bring a smile to my face. While not perfect, the writing manages to balance it appeal to both child and adult fans from start to finish, a fact that is appreciated given the thirty hour or so length of the experience.
Nintendo, or maybe the translation team, also seem to have a clear grasp that while Sticker Star is aimed at a younger audience, older fans will also be invested in the game. This leads to regular references about the 8 and 16-bit eras, giving a sense of attention and love for the history and source material that isn’t always evident in Nintendo games.
The down side to all of this however, is that some sequences can become tedious. Repeat visits to characters often sees the same dialogue play out, and skipping through it never seems fast enough on you 89th visit to a vendor being met by the same two pages of text.
A reductive description of Paper Mario Sticker Star’s gameplay would by to call it a basic J-RPG with a Mario World map. This would be painfully reductive however, and while the Mario World map maybe the most familiar Mario feature it functions well within the game to break the action up into portable-friendly bite-sized chunks. Though at times loading between sections does slow the action, the trade is (most of the time) worthwhile.
The problem is there are LOTS of repeat visits to areas, because while moving through the world is relatively simple, there are distinct roadblocks along the way. With no XP system Mario’s abilities never develop, so when obstacles are met specific stickers are required to move forward. These range from the obvious to the more obscure, but frequently hunting down these stickers (or creating them) is key to progress. Unfortunately it isn’t always clear exactly which sticker is required, leading to a need to dip in and out of stages to collect a stickers and try them out
Applying stickers achieved by ‘paperizing’ the world, an ability gifted by Kersti. Much like the dipping in and out of stages, this process is fun at first, but over the course of the game does begin to tire, with a quick cut to a new display mode, sticker selection, and application, all slowing the games action. It’s novel, but tiring in long sessions.
Combat will be familiar in appearance to most players of J-RPGs, but even this has a twist. Each attack is a different sticker so, with a finite number of stickers able to be carried, it is important to use them efficiently. Different ‘quality’ of stickers provided more effective attacks, and while some moves have a large area of effect, they are always aimed at the foremost attacker. This regularly means that smaller, less threatening opponents must be dealt with first to reach the more powerful ones who hide at the back. It is a simplification of the standard system that simplifies an already basic combat system.