Review: Paper Mario: Sticker Star

An odd oily with a chromium foil finish

For years, the Paper Mario franchise has taken a unique path, catering to the gaps left by emerging trends on Nintendo consoles. The first two installments on N64 and GameCube aimed to please both 2D Mario enthusiasts and turn-based RPG fans who felt neglected on those platforms. If you disliked the polygonal Mario games or felt abandoned after Square ceased publishing numbered Final Fantasy titles on Nintendo consoles, Paper Mario was a reliable alternative to fulfill those desires.
Paper Mario on the Wii took inspiration from the original Mario titles, which had a dedicated fan base eager for more. Super Paper Mario broke away from turn-based combat and adopted a gameplay style reminiscent of a traditional 2D platformer. The game featured four playable characters, an experience point system, and the ability to explore the X, Y, and Z axis for a limited time, all with minimal use of motion controls. Despite going against the grain of Nintendo’s direction, the Paper Mario series continued to innovate while staying true to its roots.
With the New Super Mario Bros. series taking over 2D Mario, Paper Mario: Sticker Star has been given the freedom to explore a different direction. This has allowed the game to return to a style that Nintendo has been moving away from in recent years. The game breaks away from traditional RPG elements and challenges players to work hard for their success. Sticker Star doesn’t offer hand-holding, which may make some fans uneasy, but it will definitely satisfy critics who have accused Nintendo of becoming too lenient.

Paper Mario: Sticker Saga (3DS)
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: November 11, 2012
MSRP: $39.99

Sticker Star shares similarities with both Super Mario World and the original Legend of Zelda, in addition to the other Paper Mario games. The game features a vast overworld map, similar to Super Mario World, which is divided into different worlds and levels. While most stages can be completed in a straightforward manner, the game offers numerous secondary objectives and hidden secrets as you progress further.
Similar to The Legend of Zelda, this game offers ample opportunities for non-linear exploration, motivating players to thoroughly investigate each level. To progress, one must venture into uncharted territory, wield a massive hammer to break down walls, and meticulously scour the screen for hints. Additionally, discovering concealed “container hearts” is necessary to boost maximum HP. Although the game’s aesthetics are reminiscent of Mario, its essence is equally reminiscent of the timeless Zelda franchise.

Sticker Star takes inspiration from earlier Nintendo games, but it also departs from the traditional Paper Mario formula by eliminating certain features. The game does not involve collecting experience points, managing multiple party members, or featuring a complex storyline. The game begins with the arrival of an alien sticker that crashes into the Paper-Mushroom Kingdom, disrupting a sticker festival and causing chaos. Mario teams up with a new companion, Kersti, a sticker-fairy, and undergoes a basic tutorial. The story takes a backseat to gameplay, with occasional charming and uneventful dialogue.
Kersti plays a crucial role in Sticker Star by introducing Mario to the game’s central gameplay mechanic – the collection and use of stickers. These stickers are essential for various tasks such as combat, healing, and puzzle-solving. Each attack requires a sticker, making them a valuable resource. Fortunately, stickers are abundant and can be found in various locations such as walls, “?” blocks, and defeated enemies. This constant availability of stickers creates a sense of excitement and anticipation, similar to what fans of Animal Crossing and Monster Hunter experience.

To ensure your survival, it’s crucial to carry a diverse range of stickers with you at all times. With a whopping 100+ stickers available, it can be overwhelming to keep track of them all. However, it’s essential to remember which stickers to use in order to tailor your attack strategy to the specific enemies you encounter. The stickers encompass a wide range of attacks from the Super Mario series, including familiar moves such as jump attacks, hammer strikes, and fire flowers, as well as more unusual options like ice flowers, frog suits, and Dry Bones’ bones. Additionally, there are numerous new variations on these attacks, such as hammers that crumple enemies or put them to sleep, jump boots that allow you to stomp on multiple enemies at once, and even stickers that light enemies on fire.
Similar to previous installments of Paper Mario, you remain an integral part of every battle. By pressing the action button at the appropriate moment during an attack or defense animation, you can inflict greater damage and reduce the amount of harm you receive. However, the stickers primarily dictate the result of each combat situation. Regardless of your quick reflexes, attempting to stomp on a turtle with spikes or strike a flying mushroom man with a hammer will inevitably lead to disappointment.
Enemies such as the Ninja (initially introduced in Super Mario Bros. 2) have the ability to alter their fighting techniques based on their temperament. This necessitates the use of either overhead or head-on attacks, as determined by their actions. As a result, the game becomes a continuous challenge of managing resources and implementing strategic maneuvers during combat.

The environmental puzzles in Sticker Star offer a similar balance. The stickers utilized in battles can also be used to access new areas, disarm traps, and progress through the game. Unlike Super Paper Mario, Sticker Star allows players to “Paperize” the world at any point, which flattens the surrounding area and reveals hidden spots where stickers can be applied. However, not all stickers will work in every situation.
To solve many of the puzzles in this game, you will need to use rare stickers that can only be obtained by discovering real-life objects such as soda cans, pool balls, goats, and jack hammers. These objects can be transformed into stickers that serve as the game’s “summon” magic and are crucial to solving the game’s more complex sticker-based puzzles. The juxtaposition of these ordinary objects against the game’s backdrop of felt and paper creates a surreal and delightful effect. This also adds to the sense of tension when using these special stickers in battles or to solve puzzles.
Apart from incorporating non-paper elements, the game’s graphics do not introduce any groundbreaking features to the series. Nevertheless, they are visually stunning, particularly in 3D. The effect adds a touch of vibrancy, transforming the seemingly two-dimensional world into a lifelike diorama. The transition from 3D to 2D during the game’s “paperization” is even more striking. Additionally, the 3D feature aids in accurately positioning objects and spacing out jumps, crucial elements in navigating a semi-platformer in a 3D environment.

Although the graphics are impressive, the music is the real standout feature. The soundtrack is exceptional, featuring a blend of funk bass, blues horns reminiscent of the 1920s, humble accordion, jazzy piano, and an array of percussion and miscellaneous instruments. The battle music, in particular, is incredibly catchy and has been stuck in my head for days. The music adds a new level of excitement to the sometimes monotonous environments.
Moving on to the less thrilling aspects of Sticker Star, while the game presents a fresh approach to game design, the settings and plot are mostly variations of what we’ve seen in previous Mario games. Although there are a few new and noteworthy characters, such as Sniffet and Wiffet, you’ll also find yourself frequently engaging with Kamek, Bowser Jr., and the occasional Wiggler. Additionally, combat can become monotonous, as there is no real motivation to engage in battles without an experience point system in place, unlike previous Paper Mario titles.

Valuable stickers can be obtained from specific enemies, and every battle provides a few coins that can be utilized to increase the number of attacks per turn and acquire additional stickers. However, similar to New Super Mario Bros. 2, collecting all the coins required is relatively easy. Although the possibility of discovering new stickers in the wilderness is enticing, the coins seem unnecessary and do not provide a sense of accomplishment.
Fortunately, battles in this game are not left to chance, giving you a fair opportunity to avoid them altogether. By familiarizing yourself with your surroundings, you can easily navigate through known areas without encountering any enemies. Additionally, once you reach certain milestones, you can eliminate weaker foes before combat even begins. The developers were mindful of the potential monotony of exploring vast areas and battling the same enemies repeatedly, so they incorporated numerous alternate routes and escape strategies to keep the gameplay fresh.

Those who enjoyed the first two Paper Mario games may find themselves let down by Sticker Star. The game lacks a significant plot, a diverse cast of supporting characters, and the classic turn-based RPG combat system with attack, magic, and item options. Instead, players must focus on collecting and managing resources while engaging in action-packed exploration. This gameplay style requires players to conserve their resources, much like in Resident Evil 1-3, while exploring a vast, Nintendo-style world filled with secrets.
It is possible that the game could be too challenging for those who began playing on Nintendo consoles during the 64-bit era, where games were more guided. Despite its appearance resembling a GameCube or Wii game, Sticker Star has gameplay that is reminiscent of the 8- or 16-bit era, setting it apart from recent Nintendo adventure titles. This is why it has become one of my top 3DS games.