The Paper Mario series fulfills a unique niche among Nintendo and role-playing game fans that no one was aware existed until it came along. It combines Japanese role-playing game elements with characters from the Mario games, then flattens it all into a pop-up book. It’s visually unique, always full of amusing gags and clever puzzles, and consistently offers genuine fun no matter how strange it might get. Super Paper Mario for the Nintendo Wii proved that the game stands up on its own even with the RPG elements tweaked, streamlined, and stripped out to focus on platforming and perspective tricks. Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the Nintendo 3DS proves that the game stands up with those elements tweaked, streamlined, and stripped out to focus on exploration and puzzle-solving. This $39.99 3DS game doesn’t have any level grinding or equipment juggling, but it offers great action and clever puzzles in the same humorous Paper Mario package we’ve seen before.
The Sticker Star comet flies over the Mushroom Kingdom every so often, and the people celebrate it with a festival. Bowser, king of the Koopas, wants to rule the Mushroom Kingdom, and he crashes the festival to do it. The comet plummets to earth, its “Royal Stickers” give Bowser amazing power, and Mario must help a shiny sticker named Kristi find the Royal Stickers and save both the comet and the kingdom. It’s not a complex plot, and like the other Paper Mario games consists of “find the really shiny things and save the world.”
To save the world, Mario gets help from Kristi in the form of a magic sticker album and “paperization,” which lets Mario place stickers in the world to solve puzzles. Everything in the game is sticker-based, and stickers are scattered everywhere from walls and floors to dropped by enemies. Boot stickers let Mario jump on enemies. Hammer stickers let Mario hammer enemies. Fire flower stickers, well, you get the idea. More importantly, three-dimensional objects (the only three-dimensional objects in the otherwise paper-and-cardboard diorama world) can be “stickerized” and used to both solve puzzles and as powerful summons in combat. You can call forth scissors, matches, balls, fans, and even a giant goat to take care of your enemies and get through obstacles.
While Super Paper Mario focused entirely on perspective tricks and how to play with a side-scrolling game, Paper Mario: Sticker Star instead focuses entirely on the world of Paper Mario as a craft table. Everyone is made of paper, buildings are made of cardboard, and you and enemies can even get “crumpled” by powerful attacks and have to wait to be flattened out to fight. It’s a fun twist that explores the “paper” part of Paper Mario and what makes it different from other Mario games.
Combat is turn-based with timing bonuses like the Paper Mario games before Super Paper Mario, but instead of using a menu of basic and special attacks you use your sticker album and apply a sticker for each attack. You can get bonuses by pressing the A button just before the attack hits, but that and the sticker itself are the only determining factors for damage. You don’t gain any levels besides finding Zelda-like heart containers that give you extra hit points, and there are no stats or magic points that let you tweak your character. Everything is based on the stickers you have on-hand, which means resource management is much more important than in previous Paper Mario games. You want to keep your sticker album full, with stickers useful against the enemies you’ll find. As in previous Paper Mario games, you can’t stomp on spiky enemies and you can’t hit flying enemies with a hammer; balancing weaknesses and strengths between enemies and stickers is more important than any sort of grinding.
The boss fights are puzzles in themselves, and while you can chip away their health to beat them, it’s much better to find the right special stickers to take care of them. The boss battles are infrequent and each one feels unique and clever, so I won’t give any hard examples of stickers and bosses. However, it’s important to look at the enemy and its surroundings to get a sense of its weakness and what special stickers you should get before you attack.
Sometimes the game is too clever for its own good and offers too many choices spread across too many areas to be convenient. Several times I came across roadblocks I couldn’t get past until I backtracked several times and finally stumbled upon the solution. This gets frustrating halfway through the game, when you know a special sticker can get you to the next part, but you missed it in a corner or hidden behind a secret door.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star is one of the more clever chapters in the Paper Mario series, and its sticker-based design rewards exploration and smart thinking. It isn’t as RPG-like as the previous Paper Mario games, and it isn’t as rewarding of reflex skills as Super Paper Mario, but it offers a unique adventure and plenty to find.
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|ESRB Rating||E for Everybody|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc