Review by Blue_0rb

"Boring and flat"

In 2001, Nintendo published Paper Mario, the spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG. The game was generally well received. Three years later, they released a sequel Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, which was also quite well received. Fastforward another three years and Nintendo releases Super Paper Mario, which was a lot more controversial because it shook up the traditional Paper Mario formula and had completely different gameplay. Some loved it, but others hated it. Finally, five years later, Nintendo released Paper Mario: Sticker Star, a game that also shakes up the traditional Paper Mario formula. Throughout this review, I will be rating Sticker Star both as a standalone game, as well as comparing it to previous Paper Mario titles so fans of the series know what to expect from this game.

Story/Characters – 5/10

First let's talk about the story, or rather the lack thereof. Simply put, this is the type of story you'd expect from a Mario platforming game, not from a Mario RPG, which is to say, it's an excuse plot. At the beginning of the game, the town is celebrating some “sticker fest” when Bowser comes in and touches some “sticker comet”, which somehow causes these “royal stickers” to scatter across the land. He also kidnaps Princess Peach. For some reason, Mario must collect all these royal stickers before he faces Bowser. And that's pretty much the extent of the story. It's all explained in the introduction to the game, and nothing is explained very well or expanded upon in any way. And none of it seems interesting. It's just a pathetic excuse plot that you should never find in any RPG. Actually, there is a moment near the end of the game that is supposed to be touching. I didn't find it touching at all, though, because I didn't care one bit about the character involved. Previous Paper Mario titles may not have had super-deep stories, but they all had at least one or two interesting plot twists or at least some interesting subplots within some of the chapters. You won't find any of that in this game, though. All you'll find is some cheap, feeble excuse plot.

The characters in this game are also sorely lacking. I count a total of four characters in this game who had any personality whatsoever. First there's Kersti, who is your “sidekick” of sorts (though she actually barely helps you, if at all). She doesn't have much personality though, and what little personality she does have is annoying. Then there's Kamek and Bowser Jr. Kamek is Bowser's sinister yet witty right hand man, and Bowser Jr. is Bowser's spoiled, bratty son. So they do have some personality, but it's nothing we haven't seen in previous Mario RPG titles (or heck, even Super Mario Sunshine in the case of Bowser Jr.). Finally, there's Wiggler, who is by far the most interesting character in the game. That's not because he's especially interesting though; it's just that there are no other interesting characters in the game. He's kind of a cute, childlike character who can go into a rage sometimes. Even the final boss doesn't have any personality. In fact, he doesn't even have a single line of dialogue! He just shows up, you defeat him, and he disappears without saying anything. In previous Paper Mario games we've had interesting partners and interesting villains, but there's none of that in this game. Why they decided to forgo character development in a series that has always had at least some interesting characters is beyond me.

The one positive thing I have to say in this section is the dialogue. Paper Mario games have always had humorous, witty dialogue, and this game is no exception. I found myself chuckling at quite a few of the lines. It's not as abundant as the dialogue in previous Paper Mario titles, and I'd say it's not up to the standards of the rest of the series, but it's definitely one of the game's strong points.

Graphics/Visuals – 8/10

Now we get to graphics, probably the strongest point of the game. The graphics are pretty good. They're nothing special, but everything looks crisp and clean and there aren't any noticeable problems with them. The 3D effect looks great and goes really well with the whole paper theme, though I generally opted to play without it to avoid ghosting issues. One particularly nice thing with the graphics is when you notice the “Things”. Basically, the Things are the only objects in the game that aren't made of paper, and it's kind of cool to see them juxtaposed against all the papery backgrounds.

Music/Sound Effects – 4/10

Bland. Forgettable. Those two words are apt descriptors of the vast majority of the tunes you'll hear in this game. The theme of the main hub sounds completely bland, and you'll quickly just tune it out (if you don't tune it out, it will get on your nerves). I can't even remember what the battle theme for this game sounds like off the top of my head, which just goes to show how forgettable it is. Yet I can recall the battle themes for the first two Paper Mario games from memory, and I haven't played those games in years! So this game's battle theme is completely lackluster. Most of the overworld themes sound pretty uninspired as well, and many of them will probably get on your nerves fairly quickly if you don't tune them out. The one exception to this is the icy world theme, which actually sounds pretty good. It sounds livelier than the snow area themes in previous Paper Mario themes, which I thought was a nice change of pace. For the most part, the boss themes are decent, but not great. Actually, the third boss theme is downright good; the rest are just decent.

The sound effects are good, but nothing special. You'll gear classic Mario sound effects for getting coins, jumping, swinging your hammer, etc. One minor disappointment is that there's no way to change the sound effect for your hammer as in previous Paper Mario titles. I suppose this would have been difficult to implement since they got rid of the badge system. Oh well.

Atmosphere – 2/10

The previous two Paper Mario games both did a fantastic job of having unique, creative, interesting areas to explores, so you'd expect this game to follow suit, right? Well, you'd be massively disappointed. You'll visit only the most cliched of locales in this installment in the franchise. First there's your typical Mario grasslands level or whatever you want to call it. Then there's your desert level. Then a forest level. An ice level. A jungle/volcano level. And finally Bowser's castle. That's literally it. Even most Mario platformers have more atmosphere than this. The ice area feels livelier than ice areas in previous games, which is a nice change of pace. It still feels pretty cliched though. Also, this time the cliched haunted mansion is in the ice area instead of the forest where you'd expect it to be, so that counts for something I guess. Not much though. The main hub manages to be as cliched as Toad Town from the first Paper Mario game, yet it lacks that charm that Toad Town had. The first Paper Mario game had a lot of cliched levels, but it did have some unique levels, such as the toy box or Tubba Blubba's castle, and all its cliched levels had this certain unique charm to them. You won't find any of that charm in this game though. Every location you set foot in here will feel remarkably uninspired and dull.

Gameplay – 6/10

The gameplay consists of two major segments: exploration and battle. The exploration is decent (but not great), and the battles are pretty boring. The game consists of an overworld map similar to the overworld maps in the New Super Mario Bros series, with different worlds divided up into levels that appear as circles on the map. Once you've completed a level, you'll typically open up a new path on a map that goes to the next level. This immediately turned me off at first. “Paper Mario games shouldn't have this type of overworld map!” I thought to myself. After having played through the game though, I can see how it would make sense to have this type of overworld system. Since the game is heavily exploration based, having everything sorted into separate levels makes it easier to get to a certain area quickly. The downside, of course, is that it makes the world feel small and disjointed. Another minor downside to this system is that it renders any shortcuts utterly useless. There is a hidden shortcut from the main hub to one of the later levels in the game, which seems pretty cool when you first discover it… until you realize that 99% of the time it will be faster to simply traverse the overworld map rather than use the shortcut.

Each level will typically consist of some mild platforming elements, a fair amount of puzzles, and enemies to battle. The puzzles will typically consist of placing stickers in a certain place, or using the “Paperize” ability to peel something off the background and stick it somewhere else. Throughout the game, you'll encounter some hidden (or sometimes not-so-hidden) “Things”, which are typically everyday household objects such as a pair of scissors or a refrigerator, that you can turn into stickers. These Thing stickers can then be used in combat (which I'll go into more depth on later), or more often, to solve puzzles. For example, one puzzle early on in the game requires you to turn the blades of a windmill. In order to solve the puzzle, you have to use the fan Thing sticker, placing it on a nearby pedestal to cause it to blow against the windmill, thus rotating its blades. Most of the puzzles make sense and are at least somewhat well thought out, but some of them make no sense whatsoever. For example, in one puzzle you'll encounter a tornado blocking you progress. In order to proceed, next to the tornado you'll have to place a… vacuum sticker? And the vacuum will then proceed to suck up the tornado. Makes perfect sense, right? We all know how vacuums are so useful for getting rid of those pesky tornadoes. Most of the puzzles in this game either don't require much thought, or else they make no sense and you'll just be randomly guessing on how to proceed.

The exploration facet of this game is decent, but not great. In most levels, there are a fair amount of hidden areas that you can find Things, rare stickers, or HP-boosting items in. One frustrating thing is that quite a few hidden areas are impossible to notice without the 3D on because they'll be behind walls that appear to be the same depth as the rest of the walls in the background. So you'll have to play with the 3D on or else try running into every wall you can think of if you want to have any hope of finding some of these secret areas on your own. There are also a fair amount of levels with secret exits. However, most of these secret exits are required to beat the game, which kind of renders moot the point of them being secret. The main town is extremely tiny, and there's nothing there to explore, which is pretty disappointing.

The currency system in this game is also quite poorly done. You can find coins scattered throughout the overworld, by beating enemies, or completing levels. The coins can be spent on a battle spinner, on stickers (both of which I'll explain in more detail later), or on Things that you've already gotten (in case you're too lazy to backtrack to get them for free again in the overworld). However, the game hands out stickers like candy, so you hardly ever need to spend coins in the shop. And the battles are easy enough that you rarely have to use the battle spinner. So what's the point of coins? I ended up spending most of my coins on the Things, even though they're fairly expensive, because I didn't care about throwing my coins away. This game gives you coins like there's no tomorrow. Seriously, you'll easily have over a thousand before you're done with the first world. But you hardly ever have to use them.

Now let's talk about combat… one of the most disappointing aspects of this game. Like a good sequel should do, The Thousand-Year Door took the combat system of the first Paper Mario and added improvements to it, such as the audience, partner HP, superguarding, more badges, etc. Sticker Star, however, takes the battle system from the first two Paper Mario games and strips away everything that made it so fun, or at least that's what it feels like. I think Nintendo tried to be creative by starting from scratch and making an entirely new system, but they failed miserably, because the final product just feels like an extremely watered down version of the battle system in the first two Paper Mario games. It's a turn based battle system, and in order to attack, you need to use a sticker. That's right. Every single attack you do is a consumable. However, stickers are so prevalent in the overworld that you never have to worry about running out. So the whole “consumable” gimmick doesn't really make that much of a difference, at least not for using basic attacks. It may make you think twice about using more powerful attacks because those stickers are a lot harder to come by. However, you'll hardly ever need to use more powerful stickers against the regular enemies anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

When you choose a sticker, you're not given a choice of which enemy to attack. You're forced to attack the enemy in front, unless if it's a sticker that attacks all enemies. This cuts down a bit on what little strategy there already is in this battle system. There are also no partners, meaning you generally only get one attack per turn, also cutting down the strategy. However, there is a battle spinner thing that lets you spin a slot machine to try and get extra attacks on your turn. You have to pay coins to use it, and you can also pay coins to improve your odds. However, you'll hardly ever need to use this except in boss battles.

There is also no experience system. The only stat Mario has is his HP, and you increase that by finding HP increasing items hidden throughout the overworld. Since the game has no experience system, the only thing you get from winning a battle is the coins and maybe a sticker that the enemies drop. However, who's to say that the value of the items dropped by the enemies will be greater than the value of stickers you used to defeat that enemy in the first place? Often times you end up paying more in stickers to defeat an enemy than you actually get rewarded for beating it. So the battles feel pretty much pointless. I just ran from most of the battles because of how boring they were and the lack of reward for beating them.

Like previous Paper Mario titles, this game has action commands for its attacks; however, the action commands are all the same. Every attack requires you to hit the A button at a certain time. There are no other action commands, at least not for regular attacks. This makes the combat feel a lot less exciting; no matter what attack you use, you'll end up doing the same action command. Actually, some of the Thing stickers have mashing the A button as an action command instead… but that's not much more exciting. Speaking of Thing stickers, there's no way to know what any Thing does until you use it in combat, because for some bizarre reason, the game opts not to give you a description of the Thing stickers even though it gives you a description of what every attack sticker does. So the only way to find out what a Thing sticker does in combat is to use it, but you don't want to just use it at any time because the Thing stickers are hard to come by, so you could just end up saving it for a difficult fight only to find out it didn't do anything helpful for that particular fight. Good thing you don't actually need to use the thing stickers outside of boss battles.

Speaking of boss battles, the boss battles are really poorly done. Well, for the most part, they're basically puzzle bosses instead of strategy bosses. You have to figure out what Thing the boss is weak to and use it at the right time. Some of the boss puzzles are well thought out, but others are just ridiculous. For example, the boss in world 2 gives you some clever hints as to what Thing you need, but it's not obvious, so I thought it was a legitimately good puzzle. However, I only guessed the weakness of the boss in world 3 by sheer luck; there are no hints at all (that I could find) as to the Thing it was weak to. It doesn't help that you have no idea what any of the Things do until you've actually used them in battle. If you don't use the correct Thing, the bosses are still technically possible to beat, but it's incredibly difficult. If you do use the correct Thing, the bosses are a piece of cake. That is what I mean by “puzzle boss”; if you use the correct Thing, you win; if not, you lose. Often times what will happen is you'll just want to save your game before fighting the boss, then see if you can figure out what it's weakness is by fighting it, reset your game, backtrack, grab the Thing, and fight it again. It seems stupid to me that you basically have to fight the boss first without actually standing a chance against it to figure out its weakness. The final boss is particularly bad in this regard. It is a multi-stage fight, so you have to bring multiple Things. But you have no way of knowing what those Things are until you've gotten to that point in the fight. So you have to fight through the first stage, only to find you're missing a Thing and be forced to reset the game, then fight through the first two stages only to find you need a different Thing, and so on. It's incredibly tedious if you want to complete it without using a walkthrough.

Here's the main problem I had with boss battles. Regardless of whether or not the boss puzzles are good (and often times they're not), why are the boss battles puzzles in the first place? We already have plenty of puzzles in the overworld; we don't need more for boss battles. The boss battles should be strategy battles, not puzzles. Bosses like Huff N. Puff and Grodus from the first two Paper Mario games required a significant amount of strategy to beat. But you'll never have to use an ounce of strategic thinking for the bosses in this game. You'll just have to find their weakness and then pummel them with all your strongest attacks. It's incredibly easy.

In sum, the combat system of this game at its core is similar to the combat system of the first two Paper Mario games. However, the action commands are now all the same, there are no badges, no partners, no audience, and you can't even choose which enemy to attack. This is what I mean when I say the combat system feels like an extremely watered down version of what helped make the first two Paper Mario games so great.

Length/Replay Value – 6/10

This game has only 6 chapters, whereas the previous Paper Mario games have all had 8. It'll probably take you around 20 hours to complete the game, which is a bit disappointing for a Paper Mario game, but decent enough in its own right. What's also weird is that the length of each world is inconsistent. For example, the third world is quite long in comparison to the other worlds, whereas the final world is extremely short. This messes a bit with the pacing of the game.

There are a few extras here and there to complete, but the only thing that really stands out is the museum. In the museum, you have to collect every sticker in the game and place each type of sticker in the museum. The museum can be pretty fun to fill out at first, but eventually you'll hit a brick wall because inevitably you'll be missing a few super-hidden stickers here and there. And the game gives you no hints as to where these stickers are, so it'll be pretty much impossible to complete the museum without a guide unless if you're painstakingly thorough on your first playthrough. And the rewards you get for completing the museum are pretty much worthless. I won't spoil what they are, but they sound cool at first, but they are extremely poorly implemented. Seriously, it would not have been hard at all to implement these rewards well, so the fact that they are so poorly done is extremely frustrating and shows a lack of effort on Intelligent Systems's part.

There are also eight “achievements” that can be found in the main town. Some of these achievements are reasonable, such as finding all the HP increasing items in the overworld. Others are just a tedious waste of time, such as winning 500 “perfect” battles (meaning don't take any damage). The only thing you get for completing these achievements is the acknowledgment that you've completed them. Since battles are so boring and pointless in this game, you'll feel no motivation at all to get these achievements.

There is no recipe list to fill out in this game, something that's been a staple in the Paper Mario franchise since game 1. There are no badges to collect (but collecting stickers kind of makes up for it). There are no sidequests that I can remember. There is something that resembles a bestiary, but it's extremely poorly implemented. There were so many missed opportunities for how they could have added a lot more replay value to this game.

One last thing of note is that there is a permanently missable Easter egg in this game. It's something minor, but I know at least for me, whenever I've missed something and can't get it back, my motivation to replay the game drops dramatically since I know I'll never be able to get 100% anyway without starting a new file. And you're pretty much bound to miss it if you don't know about it before hand.

Final Recommendation

I would not recommend buying this game. Maybe it's worth a rent if you're curious about it. Only if you're a diehard fan of the Paper Mario series should you buy it – but if you do, know that you are going to be disappointed unless if you let go of all your expectations.

Score – 5.3/10 (rounded down to 5/10)

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 01/15/13

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

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