The Paper Mario series follows the trials and tribulations of the flattened, mustachioed Italian through worlds composed entirely of paper. The series has always been brimming with innovation, imagination, and humour and has long been a favourite of mine. So does the latest in the series, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, live up to its predecessors?
I’m not going to insult you by recounting the story that unfolds during Paper Mario: Sticker Star in full, so I’ll attempt to boil it down to three words: ‘Mario rescues Peach’. However, instead of rescuing Peach by bouncing through increasingly intuitively designed levels, Paper Mario rescues Peach by using stickers to defeat enemies and overcome obstacles. Mario has a sticker book that he fills up by collecting stickers he finds on his travels, and these are either normal, standard stickers such as jump or hammer etc., or special ‘thing’ stickers that come in the form of household items such as fans, scissors and pneumatic drills. I’m going to say right now that the newest instalment in the Paper Mario series lacks the wealth of imagination that the others tapped into. It’s still full of charm, and you’ll find yourself freezing a volcano by opening a fridge with glee, but there’s much less fun to be had in using a boring, old baseball bat or a tap to fight goombas. Consequently, the game often gives off a mundane, everyday feel. It’s often less of a trip to a fantastical world of spectacle and more of a Sunday morning tour of the kitchen.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star does make a huge mistake. A mistake that I found it very hard to see past and which still bathes my entire play-through in a negative light, and that is the loss of the RPG elements that characterised the other games in the series. Instead of the simple but well-implemented levelling up systems of the previous instalments, in which a newly discovered area would seem daunting at first, but in time the enemies could be swept aside like cobwebs, Paper Mario: Sticker Star scrapped the RPG elements and didn’t really replace them with anything. As a result, there is barely any difficulty curve in terms of combat. As long as you pack your sticker book full of thing stickers, and as long as you implement the correct thing stickers at the right time, you can practically overcome any difficulty with little effort. Another loss to this game is the partners that usually accompany Paper Mario through-out his journeys. They added another dimension to the otherwise too straight-forward combat, and this game really suffers for the lack of them. All in all, Paper Mario: Sticker Star feels stripped back and reduced. In fact, the only aspect of the game that seems to have been improved is the presentation. Paper Mario looks better than ever, and as it was released exclusively for the 3DS, the game does look mighty fine in 3D, which I think suits the paper-thin visuals. It reminded me of watching a puppet show, but a puppet show in which I control the main character, and in which the main character bashes baddies with a hammer, so a million times better than a puppet show.
Through-out this game, you’ll progress from happy meadow world, to desert world, to jungle world, to snow world etc. This is what I was referring to when I claimed that the game isn’t as imaginative a the other games in the series, in which could you find yourself as a member of a wrestling federation one minute and running in a hamster wheel the next.
The puzzles fluctuate schizophrenically from being insultingly simple to being frustratingly difficult throughout the game. Most of the puzzles revolve around finding some problem and using the obviously relevant sticker to solve it, such as walking into a dark room and using the light bulb sticky to brighten things up. However, occasionally you’ll be faced with an unintuitive puzzle that, at least to my apparently feeble brain, is almost impossible to solve using logic. Consequently, you’ll either stumble into the solution or you’ll consult a walkthrough. An example of such a puzzle is a particularly annoying scenario towards the end of the game in which you have to hit a giant, man-eating flower with a hammer, then run through long-movement inhibiting grass, run up a ramp and jump over the flower before it resets and eats you. After an hour of trying to make the jump I threw my 3DS down and sulkily made my way to a walkthrough. Turns out there is an invisible block hidden in a completely random place that serves as a shortcut and is the only way to make the jump in time. I’m sorry Paper Mario, but I’m not clairvoyant. Thankfully, most of the puzzles have some strand of logic to them, even if it is along the lines of ‘use cold thing to freeze lava’.
Despite the criticism I have drawn out for Paper Mario: Sticker Star, which is all deserved, it is still very fun and engaging. It’s the most fun I’ve had with my 3DS thus far anyway. It’s just that the other Paper Mario games (excluding Super Paper Mario) were so brilliant that to strip them of what made them great and replace them with fairly shallow and uninspired features like thing stickers just feels a little bit cheap. On its own merit, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, is definitely worth playing, and for what it’s worth I played it for over 25 hours and rarely found myself so bored that I stopped playing. However, for not including Luigi and the tales of his ill-fated journeys, as he did in The Thousand Year Door and which had me rolling on the floor, I shall never forgive Paper Mario: Sticker Star.
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A jaded horror enthusiast, I get my kicks hiding in cupboards from whatever hideous creatures happen to be around. However, I'm more than happy playing a wide range of genres on both consoles and PC. Apart from writing for Z1G, I'm also a History student.