After a departure from the series in the form of Super Paper Mario, the cutout Mario series returns to it’s turn-based roots with a new RPG adventure on the 3DS. Sticker Star starts of at Sticker Fest, a festival celebrating the arrival of the Sticker Comet. As with every major event in the Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser has to spoil the day. Taking the power of the Sticker Comet for himself, Bowser wreaks havoc on the kingdom and scatters the Royal Stickers across the lands. As you have no doubt guessed, he also kidnaps Peach.
Paper Mario games are well known for their humorous dialogue, and Sticker Star is no exception. While the cast is a bit lacking in characters and has an overabundance of Toads, the writers have managed to give them many unique personalities, and all conversations with Mario’s enemies are at the very least amusing and hilarious at their best. Mario is joined by Kersti, a living sticker who wants the Sticker Comet restored, her friends saved and to go home. He also does all the talking for Mario. The graphics are crisp and clean, as always, and the 3D screen adds a bit of extra “oomph” to the flat characters moving in the 3D world.
While Sticker Star does return to it’s traditional turn-based format, it’s far from a traditional RPG. For starters, experience has been completely thrown out of the window. Instead of getting more powerful through repeated enemy bashing, your abilities depend on which stickers are currently in your album. Using a sticker will remove it from your album, meaning you have a limited number of moves. Because of this, you’ll need to prioritise which stickers to hold in your collection – the more powerful stickers take up more space – and when you use them. Even if you want to quickly dispatch a group of weak enemies, you’ll still have to stick to the less powerful attacks.
The lack of experience from fights does lead to one problem: the rewards you get from fights are coins to buy stickers with and (occasionally) the stickers themselves. Once you have a plentiful supply of both, the fights against Bowser’s standard minions become rather pointless, and you don’t lose out on anything by dodging them on the map. Aside from the stickers, there’s still more to the battle system: fans of the series will be pleased to learn that the timed button presses to increase damage from attacks or to protect Mario are still very much in place. A new addition is the slot machine – at the start of each round, you can bet coins on a slot machine, if you match two or more slots, you can use extra stickers that turn. This can be very powerful, but frustrating when you fail the slot machine at vital times. Amusingly, I failed the tutorial for the slot machine multiple times and Kersti said that she’ll just pretend I did it correctly.
This battle system will annoy some of the big fans of this franchise and the more traditional RPG. It’s clear that the battle system is designed to be much more understandable, however the popularity of Pokémon and it’s complex battle system shows that this really isn’t needed at all. That said, Sticker Star’s battle system still has a lot of depth, both before and during battles. The system works very well and it’s always good to try new things rather than taking the easy approach and stick with what was already there.
The “casual” approach is also evident in the world map. There is no large world map to explore this time round. Instead, Sticker Star has the classic Mario platformer map layout, with the “World 1-1, World 1-2” structure. This is not as limiting as it sounds, though, as other worlds can be explored before the current one is completed – until you reach a point where you require a sticker you don’t have.
Each level is like a simple platformer with the simple aim of getting to the star sticker at the end. In your way are enemies (a mixture of avoidable minions and enemies that you have no choice but to defeat) and a handful of puzzles. Along the way, Mario will encounter and collect a range of real-world objects which can then be transformed into stickers – these special stickers are often the solution to many of the game’s puzzles. For the most part, these puzzles are great, however some of them do have very obscure solutions, and will sometimes cause you to spend ages searching levels for the correct object or sticker (without knowing which ones you need) and a lot of frustration.
These parts are far from common, though, and is just a small thorn in a beautiful origami rose. Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a new take on the Paper Mario franchise. While some fans of the first two games will scoff at the changes made, the new battle system is still very well made and the game is still funny and a joy to play. Many of the changes work well with this entry into the franchise being on a handheld console, and the six world and side-quests will keep you occupied for a very long time.