Review by DMZapp

"I'm flinging a Thing of wasted potential into this game's Sticker Album."

The Mario series has quite a history in RPG gaming. It all began with Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars in 1996, late into the SNES' lifespan. A pseudo-sequel of sorts then followed in 2001, the N64 classic Paper Mario. The Game Boy Advance eventually got in on the plumber role-playing action with 2003's Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga.

Yet, despite all these different games and their sequels, some idealistic things remained similar. All of the Mario RPG games had a sense of humor, never mind the ways conveyed. All of them had interesting characters exclusive to their games and series, such as fan favorites Geno & Mallow, the hilariously broken-speeched Fawful, and the pathetically hilarious, yet not really mean-spirited, take-that at game fans, Francis. All of the games had stories that couldn't be conveyed with just gameplay (although the later Paper Mario games did admittedly chatter on for just a little too long) and made attempts to get the player to care about them, building up the characters, which they often succeeded at. And most importantly, the Mario RPGs had fun, completely thought-through gameplay on the field and in battles, with lots of extra stuff to do in almost all of them.

Out of all the series, Paper Mario wasn't just my favorite Mario RPG spinoff- it was my favorite Mario series, period- even more so than the platformer games. For these games also had a slightly different take on party members known as partners. With few exceptions, most of these partners were individualized versions of creatures found in the Mario games (Goombario the Goomba, Bow the Boo, [NAME AND ADDRESS WITHHELD] the kid Yoshi… that sort of thing). Not only were these characters memorable in cutscenes, often getting unique lines in the same cutscenes, but they were valuable battle assets too, adding some strategy into the gameplay.

So, when the news came out that the Nintendo 3DS was getting a new Paper Mario game, I raised the roof, and I presume many others did too. And the original screenshots shown for the game looked promising, if just a little generic. If only I had known.

For though the years (literally just 2 years) went by, we got little new information regarding new characters or the story. And newer screenshots demonstrated a lack of something… the partners or newish areas. People began to get a little squeamish, including myself. But still we waited, hoping for light at the end of the tunnel.

We eventually saw the light… and man, was it a paper-thin light.

At least the controls work. They always do what they're supposed to do, and they're tight as a rope.

The graphics are decent, I guess. This game embraces the paper feel after only really using it in The Thousand Year Door. Almost everything looks like it was made of paper or cardboard. Nothing really looks wrong with the game visually or on a technical level.

On an idealistic level, on the other hand, the Things (which I'll get more into in the Gameplay section) look kind of generic. Normal scissors, normal electric fans, normal hooks…with one, maybe two exceptions, none of the Things really scream “It's-a me! A Mario item!” We could've had Sammer Guy Scissors, a Lakitu Cloud Fan, a Torpedo Ted Hook… that sort of thing. It gives the feeling that the developers weren't really interested in making a memorable experience (and given certain information in an Iwata Asks interview, it's kind of heartbreaking).

The composer, on the other hand, obviously was. Regardless of one's opinion on big band swing and jazz (I feel it's just a cheap way to add sophistication to a crude product), the actual way the music was composed is just awesome and feels like fun. One could find themselves whistling this stuff on their way to the errands. Real heart was put into the music, especially the World 3 boss and final boss songs.

The story…a source of contention many, including I, have with this game. I knew, even before the bad omens came, that nothing was going to “out-epic” Super Paper Mario's story, and so I was content with a simpler story set in simpler times. I was also, however, expecting the original scenario and Japanese script writers to at least try. They sort of do, but unfortunately, the story is nowhere as engaging as even the first Paper Mario's story, or even engaging on its own merits.

So, the rub here is that the Sticker Comet comes once every year, and all of the Mushroom Kingdom citizens (mostly Toads) have come to celebrate, with Peach as the MC, I guess, and everyone's paper-thin yet portly plumber, Mario, attending as well. Suddenly, Bowser (in a sudden yet quiet attempt on his part) and his troops invade the festivities, and Bowser attempts to seize control of the Comet. Instead, it breaks apart into many Comet Shards and five Royal Stickers across the Paper Mushroom Kingdom, while a sixth Royal Sticker lands on Bowser's face and turns him into a glittering feral (yet still non-chatty) beast. Mario attempts to fight Bowser…

…and then wakes up, finding a sentient sticker named Kersti. After a near misunderstanding, the two team up for an epic adventure…

…except not much story happens in this game. Seriously, that first sequence and the final level are the only two story-heavy sections of the game. OK, there's World 3 as well, but still, the game can be summed up as “just a bunch of stuff that happened.”

Even worse, Kersti is one of the only completely new characters in the game, with every other character being from previous Mario games, such as Kamek and the World 3 boss- and just the main Mario games, for bar a few references in a certain trashheap, none of the Paper Mario series-exclusive characters are back. Most of the other bosses are just giant versions of normal Mario enemies, and to add insult to injury, the player doesn't learn any interesting facts about the Royal Sticker bosses until after they are beaten- including the World 3 and 4 bosses. This really hurts the game in the memorality department, and it especially hurts for a Paper Mario game.

Worst of all, most of the NPCs are Toads. The only differences between most of ‘em are their cap colors and shirts. That's it. There aren't even different sizes or different genders or mustached or bearded Toads. And in a role-playing game, where one plays the role of a character in a vast, different world, the similarity of the Toads makes the world feel unmemorable. The writers do try to cheat a little with Bendy-Headed Toad and the World 4-3 owner, but those are pretty feeble attempts.

And one can really see the localization writer struggling to make a memorable story and characters out of this. There's not a lot to work with here, after all. This is probably the best result we could have gotten out of this near-soulless game. So the localization writer also tried.

Now, the important thing about different mediums is that, though they all tell stories, they all do so in different ways. Comics tell their stories in still images, yet make sure they are the best still images conveying that scene. Literature paints a picture with words. Movies and cartoons tell their stories with moving images, demonstrating the possible, as well as the impossible. And of course, video games tell their stories by having the player play their way through what should be an enjoyable experience, while giving enough hints to do so.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star is not enjoyable throughout the whole thing, and it throws up its hands very early on, as if to say “You know what? Figure this out on your own."

Field gameplay is pretty basic. The player just jumps and hammers across every obstacle to find the Comet Shard, thus clearing the level. They also solve puzzles and stuff, opening new paths. And utilizing a mechanic called “Paperization”, the player puts normal stickers & Thing stickers into lined boxes, either upgrading the sticker or making the Thing change the landscape in various ways. But it's the little things that define the big things.

On the field, the player has to search every corner, and I do mean every corner, of each level. For example, the very first thing you do in the game is search for every Toad in Decalburg, and they are craftily hidden. I thought the game would be lenient enough to let me skip a few, but it isn't. It's merciless. And the player has to do another search like this in World 4-3, leaving no corner unturned. To top that all off, only one level in the game is completely optional. Just one.

If that's not enough, the game is nearly merciless when it comes to Thing Stickers. Only one of the necessary Things is behind a Secret Door (in the area where the player can buy Secret Doors, no less), and the other necessary Things are found with some sense of exploration. However, you only get one of a given Thing at a time. And the very next thing I'm about to type is what breaks the game part of the game a-part- if, at a Paperization zone, the wrong Thing is put into it, it's wasted, forcing the player to try until they get the right one. And if the player doesn't even have the right Thing sticker (and it's a very real situation), they have to exit the entire level (swindling the player out of a bigger end-of-level coin bonus too, explained in the next section) and either find, refind or rebuy it from some jerk. This is really frustrating sometimes, and I wish the player could just use Things directly from the Thing section of the album without refinding or rebuying them, being free to use on the field and paying coins to use in battle.

The battles are pretty …meh. They have huge overlaying and underlying issues, but they can be fun.

The player and the enemy take turns fighting each other, with the player using stickers to make actions and bracing for enemy attacks with timed presses of the A Button. There would be a bit of an unfair advantage due to, you know, Mario being the only playable character, but near the beginning of the game, the player gets a Battle Spinner option that can give an extra turn or two with timed roulette spins.

Stickers can only be used once each, though the player can carry multiples (except, once again, Thing stickers).

Unlike most RPGs, the player doesn't get experience points from battle, instead earning more coins directly from them and having a coin bonus added to the Comet Shard. The player gets extra health from HP-Up Hearts instead, earned in various ways. These decisions make me ask why not just give the player the bigger coin bonus then and there after each battle, since if the player leaves a level for any reason, the end-of-level coin bonus is reset to 3 coins. Not having experience points also takes the point of battling away, since the player doesn't feel like they themselves are getting stronger or better at the game.

When it comes to fighting Royal Sticker bosses, however (and even some minibosses), the game tears itself apart to shreds. For sometimes, the player needs a specific Thing sticker to make the experience bearable (although the World 4 and 5 bosses are a little more lenient), and even then, the player might not even know where a given Thing is, much less that it exists. Without that Thing, the bosses become boring and tedious to fight, due to their incredibly high defense. The game doesn't give enough clues to boss weaknesses. Sure, there's some visual stuff, but it's obtuse, and something one would never think of. And these problems come to a head with the final boss. It is a very real possibility that the player will lose this arduous on their first try, but due to running out of stickers rather than the final boss eliminating of the player's HP.

There's not really a lot of replay value. Because Kersti is the only character who accompanies Mario through the game, the player can't replay their way through and listen to different characters' dialogue. And because the player needs to find almost everything not behind Secret Doors, there is (again) only one optional level.

The only two optional things I can think of are the Sticker Museum and the Superflags. The Sticker Museum lets the player Paperize their stickers onto given sections of rooms of the museum. This includes the Thing stickers and some ultra-powerful normal stickers. It makes me wonder why the museum couldn't just have the player come by with the Stickers and have them entered in the museum without Paperizing them, allowing the player to use them afterward. The Superflags are kind of a cool idea, being this game's version of Achievements/Trophies from those other systems, but three of them involve battling enemies, and even if the player battles all the enemies in the game at least once, there is a very real chance they will still fall short. So you're earning optional flags by partaking in technically optional battles. Uh, yeah, that wasn't such a good idea.

The only off-the-books kind of replay value that I actually do like is the fact that the player can obtain the Royal Stickers in near any order, but the player still have to do some stuff in some worlds, so meh.

So, who is the game meant for? It can't be for new fans and customers due to its overly cryptic nature and frustration factor, and it can't be for existing Paper Mario fans and customers because of the near-lack of story, only one completely new (and somewhat annoying) character, boring bosses, and near-lack of meaningful optional features. Stay loud and keep your money, and spend it on more deserving games like Tales of the Abyss 3DS or Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story instead.

+Graphics are nice
+Some parts are humorous
+Controls are tight
+World 3 has some story and character bits
+specific levels: World 4-3
+specific characters: Kamek, as well as the main NPC ally of World 3

-near lack of story
-only one completely new character
-incredibly cryptic gameplay without guide
-Things one-use-only makes parts of game frustrating
-bosses tedious to fight, have backstories after beating them

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 01/07/13

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

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