Review: Paper Mario Sticker Star (3DS)


Title: Paper Mario Sticker Star

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Intelligent Systems

Genre: Turn-based RPG/Puzzle

System: Nintendo 3DS

When I first heard that a Paper Mario game was coming to the 3DS, I was both equal parts super excited at the prospect of enjoying another iteration in the series, and weary at the direction that Intelligent Systems/Nintendo would take it. After all, the last game in the series, Super Paper Mario on the Nintendo Wii was a radical departure in gameplay from its RPG roots, thrown out of the window for a more Platforming/puzzle game experience. My fears were allayed somewhat when Nintendo revealed that the game appeared to be going back towards some form of turn-based gameplay, but with a stickery twist…

Introducing our Sticker Star!

Itsa meeee! Mario! Woohoo!!

The typical cardboard cut-out plot is as follows: Mario, and friends are out on the night of the Sticker Fest, and all have come to bear witness to the splendor of the Sticker Comet which is said to make wishes come true. Suddenly, Bowser muscles in out of nowhere, and decides he wants the Comet all to himself. In the chaos and confusion created, Bowser crashes into the Comet, which splits into 6 pieces, one of which lands on Bowsers head as a crown imbuing him with immense power. After stomping on Mario, he leaves the place a mess, making off with Princess Peach at the same time. It’s left up to Mario to pick up the (sticker) pieces, and along with faithful companion Kersti, hunt for the 6 Royal Stickers, Comet pieces, rescue the princess and set the world to rights.

Upon meeting Kersti, she gives you a sticker album, and also gives you the power of ‘Paperization’, which allows you to manipulate various areas within the world essential to solving puzzles, such as grabbing objects, in an environment, twisting them around, and letting you stick it back within the game world to open a new area, such as a cave or door opening.

On top of all this, and for reasons unknown, there are a variety of ‘Things’, which also occupy the world. These ‘Things’ are mostly common ‘real world’ items that you have to find, collect, and convert to stickers in order to solve puzzles, or defeat various enemies to progress the story. Certain ‘Things’ can also be used to greatly enhance your attacks during battle, such as the ‘Goat’ which can chew through a line of enemies, or ‘Scissors’, which can cut up multiple enemies on screen and inflict huge damage.

Scissor ‘Thing’ in action! – Watch out for a paper cut!

As the title of the game implies, the game is all about stickers. It’s important to know that once a sticker has been used to make a move, then it’s gone for good! In fact, it turns the RPG formula on its head, and in battle, the only way to attack, or make a move is either by using a sticker you have collected within your album, or to run away. There are no other basic attack moves, no FP or magic power. Once a sticker is used in battle, you attack, or avoid enemy attacks with timed button presses, which is similar to the original Paper Mario games.

Successfully beating enemies in game does not reward you with experience points like typical RPG’s, but stickers and coins, that you can use to buy more stickers, or invoke the ‘Battle Spinner’ to allow up to 3 sticker uses at a time, which you will need for more powerful enemies later on! The only option to improve Mario himself is by scouring the game world to collect ‘HP-UP’ hearts, which increases your HP life bar by 5 points each time, and feels decidedly very Zelda-like.

Since you need stickers both for making any in-battle action and to solve puzzles in the over world, moving forward in the game introduces a whole new strategy in sticker management by needing to have the right items, and enough to deal with levels and bosses sufficiently. Whilst this may initially sound really daft, the game actually works quite well considering that stickers literally populate every crevice of the game world, so there should be no shortage of them to use within battle.

The real challenge is finding and collecting the powerful stickers later on through the game, which get shinier, flashier, rarer and occupy more space within your sticker album the more powerful they are. The most common stickers tend to be a variation of ‘jump’ and ‘hammer’ attacks, but also includes various items such as different colour Koopa shells, POW blocks and Fire/Ice flowers.

Using a Shiny Flower sticker against Shiny Goombas!

The game is split into various ‘Worlds’ and ‘Stages’ and is navigable in typical Mario fashion since first being introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3. Each world fits classic Mario themes, such as World 3 being Forest based, World 4 being Ice based, and World 5 being Fire based. When roaming each stage out of battle, you have your trusty hammer in addition to jump moves to get through levels.

Masterful Origami design and some sticky problems…

Like its predecessors, the game features the same 2D visual paper cut-out styling within 3D paper craft landscapes and environments ranging from forests and volcanoes to popup paper towers and mansions. Paper Mario Sticker Star is definitely the best looking in the series, and with the 3D slider cranked up all the way; the depth helps to create an added definition to the papery feel and immersive-ness of the entire experience.

The animation of characters appears to be intentionally stiff to imitate simplistic paper-based animation, whilst large, towering paper models, environments, bosses and even the in-game coins appear to be put together with cardboard. This has to be the most believable looking and visceral paper-based Mario game yet.

The music is also very well arranged, and consists of mainly remixed catchy tracks from previous Mario games, and layered high quality instruments. It’s nice to be able to switch between worlds on the map screen, and hear the instruments to a tune change seamlessly to fit the theme and mood.

Unlike previous Paper Mario games, Nintendo has intentionally created this kind of game world to encourage small bite-sized gaming sessions, which makes sense considering that this is the first portable outing for Paper Mario, and it works very well. For instance, when commuting, it is satisfying to be able to play through a level, which can be completed in a 20 – 30 minute journey, but has enough secrets and surprises to encourage you to revisit it later on when you are able to properly invest the time into the game. Save points are spread liberally throughout the game, and your progress is also saved whenever entering or leaving levels from the map.

Mario deciding on how best to stomp these Goombas

There are some glaring issues, which do hold this game back from becoming an instant classic, and introduce points of frustration.

The first of these is that a lot of people expecting an old school Paper Mario game will initially be disappointed, as it is definitely something brand new that Intelligent Systems is experimenting with. The RPG elements this time around are very light. Predominately, this is an adventure/puzzle game, where you need to use the stickers, and ‘Things’ you have collected to activate a sequence to then progress the story.

Since experience points are no longer factored into Mario’s growth, players may find themselves avoiding enemies, as there is no longer a need to grind to get stronger. The two most important things in the game are Stickers and Coins. Stickers of which you can find everywhere, and coins will allow you to buy those key stickers, and ‘Things’ that you have already encountered and used, which can be purchased again later on.

Solving puzzles in the game is sometimes unintuitive and frustrating, as you will quite often be stumped at a point, unsure of what you have to do next. This is surprising as for most Nintendo games you are usually well guided and clued into what to do next. There are areas in the game where you have to find ‘scraps’ to put together a larger sticker puzzle, and the clues given are vague, so you can lose hours stuck on certain parts, finding yourself backtracking needlessly through levels.

Some puzzles and enemies require using the right ‘Thing’ stickers at the right time to solve and beat respectively. Sometimes it is necessary to have already found these ‘Things’ in very hidden areas, so without even knowing the existence of certain ‘Things’ you are given no idea where to go to solve these puzzles! This can be incredibly frustrating, and sadly will make gamers resort to gaming guides to get an idea where to go next.

I also think that Kersti is pretty unhelpful, and even though you can call on her help when you are in an area, she hardly drops any clues herself, but will say something uninspired and obvious to the level. Intelligent Systems should have probably given Kersti a more prominent and helpful role in the game, as she does not appear often enough, or help as much as she could. Also, the absence of the partner system from the first two Paper Mario games is sorely missed, as you are pretty much solo throughout the game.

It is also missing any kind of StreetPass integration, which would have been brilliant to actually have the capability of trading stickers with other players.

Conclusion

Aside from the issues highlighted, I found Paper Mario Sticker Star to be a thoroughly enjoyable game and loved how fresh and creative the game felt at times. There are some absolutely outstanding areas, which include a ‘game show’ mini game level, a Donkey Kong-esque mine cart level, and the fantastic ‘Enigmansion’ level, which is probably one of the most enjoyable puzzles I’ve played in any RPG-based Mario game. The enemies and bosses provide some fantastic surprises, and I also love how wonderful the game looks and sounds, as well as the brilliant and funny dialogue we’ve come to expect from Mario games.

Lovely looking and creative papery level design

Some of the unintuitive puzzles do hamper the experience, as well as the lack of Kersti’s usefulness, which feels like a missed opportunity. I would have liked to have seen her act as a partner in some battles, or provide more help with some of the puzzles. I personally would have also liked to see StreetPass functionality used to trade stickers between others that have the game, which I can’t believe wasn’t capitalized upon by Nintendo.

The RPG elements are secondary to solving puzzles using a combination of ‘Paperization’, ‘Things’ and Stickers, which will not be to everyone’s liking, so do not go into this game expecting it to be much like previous Paper Mario’s in terms of gameplay.

It took me around 20 hours to play through the game casually, and a lot of that was attributed to being stuck on puzzles, but on average you could get through it in around 10-15 hours. There’s also lots to keep you coming back, as there is an in-game sticker museum which you can populate with all the stickers and ‘Things’ you’ve collected during the game that will unlock some cool features, and various challenges/achievements, which once done will affect the ending. The game does encourage you to revisit levels often, especially after you have beaten certain worlds.

The (paper) crafty Kamek will try to compound your journey at every crucial turn

Overall, the game has bags of charm and is extremely fun. Even though I have already completed the game, I still feel compelled to play through again to obtain all the ‘Things’ and rare stickers for my album, as well as unlock all the things I’ve missed. For the price of admission, this game is totally worth experiencing for its creative fresh design, witty dialogue and whimsical story, especially if you love puzzles. In addition, the game is a celebration of the Mario universe, and has tons of great references to the previous games, and never takes itself seriously. A must for Nintendo fans!

Paper Mario Sticker Star (3DS) Score: 8/10

 

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