Review by ClanCrusher

"A Point and Stick Adventure Game"

Whenever I bring forward the argument that the Super Mario platforms are all looking the same nowadays, I'm usually met with scorn and ridicule for taking such a controversial position, but a few have always suggested that I branch out and try my hand at the Paper Mario series. I was skeptical at first, as the premise seemed rather (ahem) paper thin, if you will, but having recently purchased a 3DS I decided to finally try my hand at the latest entry in the series.

As an aside, I will inform you that this is my very first time playing a Paper Mario game of any kind, and while I have knowledge of the other games in the series, I have not played any of them in-depth.

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Combat is Meaningless
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It didn't take me long to realize just how pointless getting into fights really was. Stickers were always in an abundance, spread across the levels in ? blocks, and stuck to various surfaces, while your life bar was determined by finding heart containers (also completely unrelated to combat), and getting into fights rarely accomplishes more than wasting your time and the stickers in your collection. Although you'll be forced into boss battles and the occasional unavoidable fight, there is little benefit to actually fighting anything, since most all of your power-ups are gained outside of combat, and even the majority of your coins are gained through completing levels rather than fighting enemies.

The occasional combat you do get forced into, on the other hand, tend to play out more like puzzles than actual fights, which makes sense considering that there is no ‘leveling up' like in traditional role playing games, but again, this makes avoiding combat all the more attractive since you have a limited pool of resources to draw from, one which you have to constantly take time to replenish through sticker collecting.

Upon realizing this fact, it became clear to me that the ideal way to play through the game was to avoid combat as much as possible and collect what items and stickers I could through each of the levels. So if you take away the combat from Paper Mario, what does that leave you with? A Mario game in which you're trying to avoid all of the enemies instead of, say, jumping on their heads and killing them.

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Paperization and the Point and Stick
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The unique gimmick in this game is the ability to use stickers by tearing some away and putting new ones in their place, most notably used in changing terrain features to open up new paths in the level. With this mechanic, the game almost immediately turns into a puzzler rather than an RPG in the style of the previous games. Oft times, you'll need to employ various items (called 'things') found throughout the game to progress, though at times trying to find the right item for the specific situation can be rather maddening, as placing the wrong item in the wrong spot will lose you the sticker you tried to use and cost you time (to find the 'thing' again) and/or money (to just by the 'thing' again).

Sometimes the solution is obvious, such as putting a lightbulb into a light fixture to light a dark room, but other times it can be downright frustrating. For instance, in that same scenario, I tried using both a match and a lighter to light my way, but neither worked. The game had a very specific item it wanted me to use at a very specific time, and no other item would do, a common adventure game pitfall.

This same point and stick mentality is also used for the boss fights, turning them into puzzles rather than fights that require any real degree of skill. Here, things can get especially frustrating, as bosses can usually only be taken down reliably by the ‘specific thing' strategy, and considering the number of potential 'things' the game can dump on you (sixty-four in all) at any one time, and the limited amount of space you have to store stickers, this can prove to be a rather daunting task, involving more than a little trial and error, or at the very least, getting wailed on by the boss until your companion just tells you the answer.

On a side note, it is possible to run from bosses, something that the game is rather lax in informing you of.

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The “Story”
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In lieu of any sort of story or narrative, this Mario game once again uses the backdrop of Bowser kidnapping the princess while the rest of the game beats you over the head with the fact that you're in a world where everything is paper and stickers. Toads are abused by being crumbled up and thrown away, shoved into shelves, and stuck under door mats, while enemies employ various techniques such as folding themselves into triangles to make themselves jump resistant.

In order to stop Bowser's plot, Mario must collect some arbitrary items from each world before confronting the king koopa and stopping him. Aside from occasionally reminding you that this world is indeed full of stickers and made of paper, Sticker Star doesn't grace itself with any sort of narrative innovation, or really, any narrative whatsoever. In fact, the only character that seems to have an arc is Wiggler, who also propels himself forward as a character by being a dozen times more interesting than anyone else in the entire game.

The one new character they introduce is a Navi-like companion who offers (mostly unhelpful) advice and acts as the voice for Mario. She's good for an occasional funny line or two, but ultimately forgettable as a companion. Bowser himself has exactly…zero lines in this game, and comes across more like a natural disaster than any sort of real villain, though I suppose he hasn't really been taken seriously as a villain since the NES days.

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Things That Aren't So Bad
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While this game failed to impress me in any sort of meaningful way, I will say that the graphics were crisp, clean, colorful, and stylized in a rather creative fashion and the combat, while ultimately pointless, was at least fresh and fast paced and never lasted for too long. While it is annoying not being able to choose a target and having (almost) no ability to defend yourself beyond pressing the A button at the right time to take slightly less damage, I never found myself bored or frustrated during a battle (boss fights notwithstanding).

Level design was often creative and unique, the worlds each having their own separate themes and hazards that you're forced to navigate around. While this to could be bogged down with having to use essential items or finding hidden invisible blocks to progress, I only ever really found myself stuck twice.

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Wrapping Up…
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Ultimately, I would give this game a pass. It has some interesting moments and creative mechanics, but anyone looking for an actual role-playing game with the elements they are familiar with (a level up system, experience system, etc.) are going to be disappointed. Those hoping for a good platformer are going to be disappointed. Those hoping for a great entry into the Paper Mario franchise, are likely going to find this game wanting.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/07/13

Game Release: Paper Mario: Sticker Star (US, 11/11/12)


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