|Release: November 11, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Becky Cunningham
The Paper Mario series is much-beloved, and rightly so. Featuring clever paper-based mechanics, witty dialogue, and a fun hybrid turn-based/action battle system, the Paper Mario games are good fun to play and are a breath of fresh air in the often-serious role-playing game landscape. It's been some time since the last Paper Mario game, and now the series is going portable with Paper Mario: Sticker Star on the 3DS. I had the opportunity to play through the beginning segments of the game at a recent Nintendo event, and found myself looking forward to playing the full title.
From the very start, Sticker Star looks great. Similar to the work the company did on Kirby's Epic Yarn, Nintendo has done a great job portraying different kinds of paper onscreen, from the felty look of construction paper to shiny foil stickers that look just like the real thing. The 3D effect really shines here as well, making the entire world look like a diorama. The paper nature of the world hasn't always been consistent in previous Paper Mario games, but the 3DS has allowed Nintendo to make a true paper world that is delightful to run around in.
As is obvious from the title, stickers are the big gimmick in this game. The need to collect stickers for everything from combat to puzzle-solving drives the game and has Mario pressing A to peel stickers off every surface he can find. Collectors and completionists will love this game, which encourages the exploration of every nook and cranny in search of stickers. They're everywhere, and Mario has the ability to both wreck and repair the paper landscape in search of adhesive treasure. Knocking over various paper props with the hammer is fun, and the sensation of peeling stickers is oddly satisfying.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star's introduction is a fair bit breezier than the early segments of previous games in the series. This is partially because the characters are a bit less longwinded than they previously were, and partially because the sticker mechanic is so familiar and natural that the developers apparently felt confident in omitting the tedious tutorial segments that have previously burdened all introductions to Mario RPGs. Instead, the game sets the player up with a quick introduction in which Bowser messes up a sticker festival and accidentally gains great power, then has Mario awaken to face the aftermath. After a quick introduction to his companion character, a shiny crown sticker named Kersti, Mario is put to work peeling stuck paper Toads off walls. Mario can jump from the start and quickly obtains his hammer. These simple tools allow for a nice variety of puzzle solving from the start, though I don't doubt he'll obtain more as the game goes on. There's a distinct lack of characters giving Mario far-too-wordy instructions that boil down to “Press A,” which is refreshing. The 2D Mario games don't treat their players like brainless idiots, and it's nice to see that attitude rub off on a spinoff Mario game.
After running around a couple screens rescuing various stuck, crumpled, or hidden Toads, the player is introduced to Sticker Star's combat system. The basics of the system have been carried over from previous games: The player selects an attack, then uses timed button presses to execute the attack properly and to defend against enemy attacks. I was able to perform the basic jump and hammer attacks with the exact timing I remember from Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door.
The difference in the combat system is that every attack now comes from a sticker, and that sticker disappears after Mario executes the attack. The sticker system takes some of the RPG elements out of a game system that is already somewhat “RPG lite,” making Sticker Star even more of an adventure-RPG hybrid than its predecessors. Whether this is a good or bad change will depend on the player's point of view, but the jury's still out on just how enjoyable it will be in the long run.
On one hand, this consumable sticker system adds a level of strategy to the game. Players will want to carefully plan when to use rare or powerful sticker attacks. On the other hand, I can see the need to constantly fill up on basic attack stickers becoming tedious. If I were designing the game, I would probably make the basic jump and hammer stickers infinite so that players wouldn't need to worry about running out entirely during a rough patch.
Near the end of my demo time with the game, I experienced an introductory miniboss battle starring Bowser Junior. This was basically just an introduction to the rare and powerful stickers that feature real-life objects, in this case a giant pair of scissors that sliced up the baby dino/dragon thing, who otherwise would heal to full after every round. Still, the exchange with Bowser Junior was both amusing and mildly satirical, impressing upon me that the spirit of the games is intact.
So far, Paper Mario: Sticker Star looks to be a worthy entry in the series. Outside of my worries about the need to collect stickers for every combat move, collecting and solving puzzles with stickers is appealing. Once again, Nintendo has used the 3D feature of the 3DS to great effect, making the game's diorama world come to life. The enjoyable gameplay, time-tested combat, and colorful characters in Sticker Star should appeal to fans and newcomers to the series alike.
Date: October 29, 2012