The Paper Mario series is such a delightful one, with its lighter RPG style elements, self referential nature, kooky story and overall visually pleasing aesthetics. The original on the Nintendo 64 opened strongly with its sequel on the Gamecube delivering in my opinion one of the best experiences on the console. Even the more platforming focused Super Paper Mario retained the same level of fun its previous entries did. Now Intelligent Systems have brought things over to 3DS. Is this first handheld attempt a worthy addition to the Paper Mario series or is it merely paper thin?
In terms of story things kick off with Peach hosting a Mushroom Kingdom celebration. Bowser predictably breaks up the party making a grab for the Sticker Star (an all powerful object). Unfortunately it’s shattered, the pieces scattered across the land. What then follows is a search and collect adventure that those who’ve played previous entries in the series will find familiar (Just switch the previous Crystal Stars with Comet Pieces and Royal Stickers). It doesn’t stray far from the typical, but when the writing and humour are as great as they are here, it doesn’t really matter. As with any Paper Mario title the real draw comes from the characters and their conversations and Sticker Star is no different delivering laugh after laugh as you continue onward.
Rather than one seamless settling to explore, the game is separated into a world map with separate stages, not too dissimilar from that seen in a regular 2D Mario platformer. You have the standard grass, desert, fire and ice settings to venture but thanks to the 2D paper-like effect these tired stereotypes feel somewhat fresh and exciting. One moment you’ll be exploring underground caverns (complete with remixed music), the next climbing atop a giant Yoshi Sphinx. Each stage is home to randomly wondering enemies and small puzzles to solve with the occasional boss thrown in for good measure. While beating a level will naturally unlock the next, you’ll find yourself revisiting previous areas to collect vital items that will help you progress further on. Having the game split this way is perfect for a handheld where more often than not you’ll only want to invest quarter of an hour at a time.
Battling has seen a big change this time around with stickers being your means of attacking and defending. Scattered throughout environments, bought in shops, dropped by enemies, these collectables come at you quick and fast and it’s a good thing too as each sticker can only be used the once. Pick up a boot sticker and Mario will be able to bounce on an enemy when used, play the fire flower and he will don his famous red and white overalls throwing fireballs at anyone who dares face him. The enjoyable turn based battling remains fairly similar even right down to the timing of the A button to perform blocks or improve the power of your attacks. Coins also play a bigger role during battle providing you with the chance to perform multiple attacks in a single turn. A slot machine will pop up which can be rigged in your favour the more cash you spend, rewarding you with up to three attacks as well as extra bonuses. This boost comes at a cost though as prices will rise the next time you use the slots again. It’s a neat idea and one you’ll find yourself falling back on especially during the tougher boss battles.
While the basic stickers offer the standard jumping, hammer smashing and fire flinging attacks you’ll find yourself using constantly, special “things” found throughout the environment will offer their services both on and off the battlefield. These come in the form of everyday objects like taps, trombones and so on. While they do offer over the top, super powerful attacks when fighting, they’re also vital in solving puzzles. For example early on in the game you’ll come across a giant fan which can be picked up and transformed into a sticker. You’ll then reach a windmill with its sails blocking a door. With the simple press of a button Mario can drop the newly created fan sticker and place it in the environment to spin a windmill’s sails and progress through the now reachable area. While the idea of using these items to manipulate the environment sounds good on paper (get it?) the execution isn’t so smooth. Many times on my journey I would come across some sort of barricade that required a specific “thing” to advance. With no real indication of where I needed to go it was then a case of searching previous areas and hoping I would come across what I was meant to be looking for. It’s frustrating and annoying knowing this sort of thing could be solved simply by giving a hint as to where you need to go.
While the new battle system and focus on sticker use is fun for the most part, overall it feels a little too basic. No longer do you have a tag team partner to help you out nor badges to give Mario perks during battle. Gone are the Flower Points that needed to be rationed as you used them to perform special moves. Even something as simple as picking which enemy to attack is missing in action meaning you’re either going to hit the front runner or everyone at once, depending on the type of sticker you use. Whatsmore with experience points and levelling now gone, battles feel less relevant (with the exception of the boss battles) and like they merely serve as a means to hinder you along the way. With original Paper Mario titles I would welcome going fist to shell with another Koopa Trooper army as it would result in precious experience points I could use to customize the plumber. With this now completely gone I found myself trying to avoid as many fights as I could. Maybe that was the idea Intelligent Systems was shooting for as you try to save your stickers for the more intense battles, however it doesn’t feel as fun nor deep.
Paper Mario Sticker Star is a decent handheld attempt for the series. While the combat feels more restricted than previous entries and puzzles can often resort to no more than clueless search quests, fortunately the heart, charm and general sense of fun remain intact. It may not be Intelligent System’s best effort, but Sticker Star still offers a compelling, funny adventure you’ll want to experience.