Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Review by KeyBlade999
"I didn't know stickers had such amazing power..."
~ Review in Short ~
Gameplay: An excellent mixture of traditional Mario platformer, RPG, and puzzle elements, and some rare ideas.
Story: Unrelated to the other Paper Mario games, Mario is once more employed to save the kingdom and the world.
Graphics: Traditional to the series; colorful, vibrant, and decent 3D. Overall, great.
Sound and Music: Filled with sounds old and new. Comes along great and fits the mood.
Play Time: Your general playthrough should take around thirty to fifty hours, somewhat comprehensively.
Replayability: Moderately high. There is a nice bit of non-linearity in this entertaining game.
Recommendation: Overall, Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a well-rounded role-playing game. There is not one thing I truly have any complaints with. The RPG elements are your traditional Paper Mario elements mixed in with some rare elements that promote challenge and strategy. You'll find a decent story in this game, and great graphics and sound as well, each with only minor flaws. This game will last quite long, even for Paper Mario, and can be replayed almost readily. All in all, Paper Mario: Sticker Star is an excellent game, and is very much worth the money you'll pay for it.
~ Review in Long ~
Well, this is a first for Nintendo in several ways. Paper Mario is an RPG series traditionally set on Nintendo's main home consoles, starting with Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64, and continuing to the GameCube and Wii. This generation, the Wii U has yet to come out, and yet the fans were largely hammering for another Paper Mario game.
Our wish was granted with the release of the Nintendo 3DS in March of 2011, and a hint that Paper Mario was a title in progress. And now, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the first Paper Mario on a handheld console, has made its way onto the 3DS. Like the other Paper Marios, it implements some elements - some old, some new.
Then again, so did some other games. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, and even Super Mario Bros. 2 are titles known to have changed up their respective series some, and they also fell short of the bar. Did Paper Mario: Sticker Star do the same... or did it shine bright like a true star?
Mario began his platforming adventures more than twenty-five years ago - it was with Super Mario Bros. on the NES, released in September 1985. And, in the twenty-seven years hence, many, many dozens of Mario games have been released: Super Mario Galaxy 2, New Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, and many more.
Specifically, the Paper Mario series began with Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64. This game was released in 2001. Three years after the resounding success of Paper Mario, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door was released for the next Nintendo home console, the GameCube. Super Paper Mario came onto the Wii in 2007, and truly gave a new spin on the series. Each game, including Sticker Star, was developed between Nintendo and Intelligent Systems.
The fourth entry to the series is the subject of this review - Paper Mario: Sticker Star, released for the Nintendo 3DS on November 11th, 2012, in the U.S. It, too, has taken a bit of a new spin on the series. Did it do the trick?
This game progresses rather similarly to a platformer, at least on a general level - there are some deviations from this. The world is placed on a type of spider-web map - much like you've seen in Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, the New Super Mario Bros. series, and the Super Mario Galaxy series. Winning one level brings you along to the next level until the end of the world, at which point you go to another world.
Each level is more of a mixture of RPG and platformer elements. A lot of the time, you can generally just go right to the next area, and the next, and so on. More likely, however, you'll have to do battle with enemies or solve a number of puzzles. These puzzles are the "hold your hand" type of puzzles early on, but, later, assuming you don't get hints, you'll end up with very vague or very meticulous puzzles. For example, there is one puzzle filled with Egyptian hieroglyphs, and you need to attach items to a door. Your only clues are hieroglyphs on the walls with the exact features of the hieroglyph on the door, and they are very, very meticulous on this puzzle.
At the end of the level, you'll obtain one of the Comet Pieces, which are used to progress further in the game. Some levels will have one Comet Piece, some will have two or more. These latter levels are much like the levels with secret exits in Super Mario World, to a point. Whereas Super Mario World often gave you whole new worlds, almost, to explore, you'll generally only get an extra level or two, and progress to an achievement.
This generally repeats until the end of the game. There are some instances where you'll have to go to another area to solve another area's puzzle, or fight a boss, or something like that. All in all, though, that's the general flowchart and description.
Above was a general description of the levels. However, the levels go down a bit deeper than this. Firstly, things in the field can affect Mario's health, or HP - this is a stat that, once it hits zero, Mario is dead and the game is over, much like in most RPGs.
Each course has a number of puzzles within it that are related to game progression - for example, open a door to go to the next area, or break down a wall to find a hidden door to the next area. A few of the puzzles are as simple as saying those words, and then there are those requiring detailed instructions to some degree. For example, you may need to navigate a maze without knowing where the other exit to it is, and maybe you want to get everything on the way.
Such are the type of puzzles you'll often encounter here. There are also a number of puzzles that involve something completely extra. For example, you'll often reveal small alcoves that have Coins or items, or you may find something that is not even visible. Solving these puzzles can require one or more of a number of methods. Generally, you'll have Mario peel stickers off of stuff - remember, this being Paper Mario, it is relatively logical to thing that a sticker can reveal a bridge. You can also "paperize" - this is an ability that will turn the area into a type of photograph and you can take or move things from it, though which things you can take are normally limited.
Within levels, you can also find a number of traps. You can find enemies, of course, in addition to the traditional spike and quicksand pits. Spike pits will usually only damage you somewhat, but quicksand pits can generally kill you. They function quite like their counterparts in other games - to impede you. There is also a new trap, poisoned water, which can poison Mario, reducing his HP regularly. You can, of course, also get attacked in the field.
In the field, you can find a number of things. Of course, you'll find traps, enemies, and Comet Pieces. You'll also find Coins, which are used for money, and stickers. These stickers are often used as help in the battle system. Sometimes, you need to use them in some way to solve a puzzle - for example, put a Lightbulb Sticker in a lamp to light up a room. And then, sometimes, you'll even use them to solve a puzzle in a battle - for example, use most special stickers to deal massive amounts of damage.
The Battle System:
The battle system for this game is rather unique. You can rather imagine it like an extremist version of the Final Fantasy I battle system - strictly turn-based, and you didn't have true MP, but only uses.
That's kind of like how it is here. To battle, you'll have an arsenal of stickers. These stickers can be attack commands (e.g. Jump, Hammer), items (e.g. Fire Flower, POW Block), or restorative items (i.e. Mushrooms). You will use these to either attack enemies or help yourself. You usually can only use one sticker per turn. However, you will have a Battle Spinner slot machine which can let you use two or three stickers at a time. However, the effect is only temporal, and the Spinner costs Coins to use.
Most stickers you use will have kind of Action Command associated with them - this is basically a way to make the item work better. For example, you will want to use your Hammer late, but not too late; jump on the head of the enemy just as you're about to hit its head; or throw an item late so the power has been built up plenty. These Action Commands have a number of effects - they can deal out more damage and get you Coins. However, failure results in little or no damage whatsoever, so using them is somewhat like a double-edged sword. And, for the curious, the Action Commands are much harder on a general level than they were in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, and there is no way to simplify them.
Then each of the enemies that are alive gets a turn. Each attack from them can be blocked to lessen your damage slightly, but only slightly - there is rarely a "perfect" guard that is not induced by a sticker. Their attacks, like your own, can induce statuses - poison, sleep, and so on. They have a wide variety of attacks. From Pokeys just falling on you and Koopa Troopas spinning into you, you will have plenty to learn to stay alive. During the battle, you will lose your HP as you get hit - of course, as in most games, your game is over if it hits zero.
In the battle, as you use up your stickers, your stock will go down. That is where the Final Fantasy I comparison kicks in. You can only use stickers once - if you jump and fail or succeed, you'll lose that sticker regardless. You can only have a limited number of stickers at one time. While you can get more in the field and from shops, this truly implements an element of strategy and foresight rarely seen in modern RPGs - you will, after all, want those "perfect" stickers for the boss... But what about the strong enemy in front of you?
The Power-Up System:
Traditionally, RPGs are known for having some sort of way to augment your own power. Many do it in a form of leveling up - you gain experience points (EXP.) by beating enemies and, once you pass a certain level, your level, and, consequentially, your stats go up. Some games use a linear enemy-focused system of doing it (you get the same EXP. regardless of your own power) - for example, the main numbered Final Fantasy games. Rarer are EXP. systems based on difficulty (you get EXP. proportional to your own power), much like in Pokemon Black and White Versions and their respective sequels.
Perhaps rarest of all is the system that dashes grinding into the ground. The Illusion of Gaia and its related games are examples of this. This latter idea is somewhat implemented into Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Your stats are just basically your HP and a base Power stat upon which your stickers' power is calculated. The latter is never revealed to you - it is implied in the game.
So, therefore, in this game, your main form of leveling up is by augmenting your HP (and, to some extent, getting better stickers). This is not done by earning a kind of EXP. like in most RPGs. Instead, similarly to The Illusion of Gaia, you'll have to find the items that boost HP. There are a few scattered throughout the world. Some are easy to get, and some are annoying difficult. They are all generally hidden. While it is by no means an actual requirement to get any of them, you will definitely want them, because the enemies will progressively get stronger.
Extra Stuff on the Side:
As far as I have played in this game, I have not found what could be deemed a true sidequest - not even the extra dungeon traditionally given to Paper Mario games nowadays. (Granted, it may be there; I just haven't seen it so far.) But there are still a few things you can do, beyond finding everything in a given level or area.
Firstly, in this game, there are eight achievements, some of which are directly linked to the other sidequests. They basically are trivial things - for example, spend lots of money at the store. Then there are those that are more functionalistic - for example, find every single HP-boosting item. Those are basically your sidequests - find every stat-boosting item, find every type of item, find every exit to a level (regular and secret), and to find every "secret door". Additionally, there are the other four trivial sidequests like the first achievement mentioned. All in all, it gives you something to do.
My Overall Opinion of the Gameplay:
All in all, Paper Mario: Sticker Star is well-rounded when it comes to the gameplay. It has a mixture of elements I've never quite seen before in the many hundreds of games I've played before. You have a number of puzzles that are akin, in execution and progressive difficulty, to those of the Legend of Zelda. You have levels that in a format like a 3D Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario 3D Land. Then you have a battle system like that in the first Final Fantasy, and a level-up system like that of the Illusion of Gaia.
It truly shows how Nintendo has been influenced by its competitors. Nintendo has used elements of the most popular games of their competition, infused them with Mario and Paper Mario elements, and came out with an amazing game, as far as gameplay goes. Not too hard, not too easy; not too boring, not too dynamic (you need to catch your breath, after all); not too slow, not too fast... It is a perfect balance, and it was well-executed.
The story is rather unrelated to the other entries in the Paper Mario series, plot-wise, though it has similar elements. It is notably a little darker, ever so slightly, than the other Paper Mario games, though it still blatantly retains, thankfully, many light-hearted, humorous elements. The overall plot is a little childish and somewhat expected, but pretty decent overall. It is noteworthy that many of these good characteristics seem to drop off about halfway through the game, but it is still okay.
This game begins during a time of celebration in the Mushroom Kingdom known as the Sticker Fest, a time used to celebrate the magnificent items known as stickers. On one night, the Sticker Comet will fall from the sky. If everyone wishes on it, all those wishes will come true... On the fated evening, Bowser, as per the usual, comes along to steal the Sticker Comet and, suddenly, as he touches it, it flies up into the sky and splits into many pieces! A crown falls onto Bowser's heads and a powerful whirlwind erupts. Mario tries to stomp Bowser, and a bright white light engulfs the area...
When the town of Decalburg awakens, they find that the town is in ruins. The pieces of the Sticker Comet and the six Royal Stickers have been scattered all across the world, and they've landed in numerous areas - the forests, deserts, valleys, and oceans... These Royal Stickers must be retrieved, for whatever being wears them will gain a massive power man has yet to see!
And so, Mario's next journey begins. He not only has to beat Bowser once again, but he must also save the world, for if those Royal Stickers were to come together in the wrong hands, Koopa or otherwise, the world as we know it could cease to exist. Can Mario do it?
The graphics, conceptually, have changed little since the days of the Nintendo 64. They are bright and colorful as ever. Everything has nice textures to them to suit the idea of a paper world - some of the walls in the game have clear, distinct cardboard like textures on the inside. Some of the elements are also still more "cartoon-like", which is just as well. Overall, the color variety in this game is exceptional, even for a Paper Mario game.
Of course, being on the Nintendo 3DS, this wouldn't be a game without 3D graphics, would it? The 3D doesn't really have any in-game functions other than the obvious "hold one eye to see slightly more of this wall" kind of deal. It won't actually help in the game, nor will it impede the gameplay. Of course, if you don't have steady hands, you'd probably be better off preventing the double vision-resultant headache. Anyways, the 3D graphics are somewhat akin to what was found in the Angry Birds Trilogy game. You will have a foreground and background distinctly layered, with everything else also being layered, albeit less distinctly. It doesn't feel like a true 3D effect like we saw in Star Fox 64 3D or Kingdom Hearts 3D, but it is still quite nice to look at, especially when you get that 3D effect.
Overall, the graphics are great. They are colorful, vibrant, varied, and still nostalgic of the N64's Paper Mario. The 3D is also great; my only complaint with it, and it is just a personal issue, is the layering of the effect. Even so, amazing.
SOUND EFFECTS AND MUSIC: 9/10.
The sound effects are also nostalgic of the three Paper Mario games that have passed. You'll hear the familiar sounds - jumping, hammering, hitting blocks, getting items... The list goes on. It is quite nostalgic to hear sounds from the old days. Overall, there is an excellent variety to them, and they are very varied.
As for the background music, there are a number of themes in the game. You'll hear many traditional themes, including the expectant remixes of the original Super Mario Bros. theme, and many other remixed themes. You'll experience a wide variety of fitting tunes as well. For example, the forests, your first world, gets a lot of old remixes, and the desert gets some of the desert theme remixes from the original three Super Mario Bros. games. Plus, the music in the desert just feels "dry", you know, like it just fits there.
Overall, you'll find a huge variety of sounds and music to listen to. There are a number of nostalgic things to hear, plus a lot of new things as well. My only true complaint is the lack of more "invigorating" tones like I typically get from boss fights in this series, but, otherwise, another excellent compository effort on Nintendo's part.
PLAY TIME: 10/10.
This game lasts around the right amount of time for a role-playing game. Like most Paper Mario and Final Fantasy games, it will take you around thirty to fifty hours to beat it, which is about average. The extreme range of the time values is due to a bit of estimation on my part, in addition to how completionist you may be. For example, you may not want to get everything; you may just want to go further in the game to experience more of the story, which is a legitimate reason to speed-through a game.
Then there's the sidequests. You are unlikely to find everything on a first playthrough. There are still going to be a number of power-ups and items, and maybe even secret areas, you have yet to find. It will be worth it to take a look over the game. Depending on how good you were, fully completing the main content of the game could take forty to fifty hours. The remainder of your time is likely to be spent on earning the eight achievements. Some of these are extremely difficult or tedious, relatively speaking, to earn - it could, overall, take you around seventy hours to finish everything!
Overall, this is quite a good amount of time. Not so much that the game eventually has repeated concepts over and over again, but not so short you don't get to truly enjoy the game. For an RPG such as this, we're perfectly in the middle.
This game isn't exactly the most readily replayed one. Oh, yes, it can be, but it will largely be like experiencing the game again. There is a fair bit of non-linearity in this game that can help to lessen the boredom - for example, going along hidden level paths, or self-imposed challenges such as speed-throughs or the like.
But, in the end, you'll still have to do most everything in a certain order to some extent. Overall, this game is not meant to be replayed twice in a row unless you exceptionally enjoyed the game - after all, half of replaying is being entertained! - but it is still worth playing every now and then by far. It is a game that will last a long while; you just need to make sure you enjoy the game in moderation.
THE END. Overall score: 9.5/10.
To answer the question I posed as I introduced this game to you ("Did Paper Mario: Sticker Star do the same [as bad re-inventions]... or did it shine bright like a true star?"), I have a triumphant, unreserved answer...
Yes, this game is truly a great game. It offers exceptional gameplay that is rare, elementally, to find nowadays. It perfectly balances challenge and ease, time and entertainment, and quantity with quality. Almost everything in this game shouts out to me "amazing" - there are a few aesthetic complaints with the 3D and the musical variety, and the replayability.
But, overall, I found this game to be excellent. It is a game I would wholeheartedly recommend to any Nintendo 3DS owner. You'll get your time and money's worth out of this game, by far. This game truly offers an enjoyable experience, one that is one of the best I've ever had.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/14/12, Updated 11/19/12
Game Release: Paper Mario: Sticker Star (US, 11/11/12)
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