By Chris Matulich, October 18, 2012
The Paper Mario series has come quite a long way since its N64 days, where it played spiritual successor to the classic Super Mario RPG. While staying to its role playing roots, the series has continually introduced more and more Mario concepts, becoming more a blend of platforming, RPG, and puzzle action. Now, with Paper Mario: Sticker Star, more unique ideas have been spliced into the already compact gameplay, yet the series also returns to its roots with a turn based battle system, creating a unique entity in itself.
Stickers are obviously the driving force in the game, and they are used in every aspect of the game, from battles to platforming to exploration. Though definitely intended for a younger audience, the sticker mechanic brings something unique to the paper universe that even older gamers can get behind. As Bowser expectedly messes everything up, the world gets inhabited with stickers, and it's up to Mario to fix everything by collecting all the sticker stars and fighting off Bowser and his army. Running around the world is very similar to past games, though the overworld works much more like classic Nintendo Mario games, as each area is a level in its own right.
All around the world, stickers are plastered to walls, the ground, and hidden under objects, most of them being utilized in the unique turn based action. Similar to card based systems, Mario must fill his album with an array of hammer, shoe, and fire flower stickers to smash, jounce, and burn the goombas and koopa troopas blocking his way. Stickers can only be used once, so searching the levels thoroughly and being well stocked will be key. One must be wary, however, of what stickers are collected, as some take up more space than others, and Mario only has so many blank pages in his sticker album.
The weapons work much like their previous role playing counterparts, where timing is everything. Besides the normal variety of stickers, some specialized versions of each weapon can be found, either doing more damage as with shinys or having a variety of effects like smashing an opponent into the screen for a cheap 3D thrill. The varied effects are necessary to defeat some opponents, as normal versions of some weapons won't work at all, like against the coned goomba where the point of the cone prevents Mario from jumping on them unless he has a special version of the shoe. It adds another layer to the already intricate battle system, mixing in some strategy with the reaction based fighting, enhancing the turn based combat. No XP is given, and not receiving any for battles is definitely noticeable, as there are limited rewards for battling every enemy, especially with a limited amount of attacks.
Aside from weaponized stickers, Mario will have to use stickers to repair the damage that Bowser has caused to the Mushroom Kingdom. Many objects, such as bridges, pathways and doors have become missing. Mario must find and peel them from what they've been stuck to, and then place them in the correct spot. Peeling is easily done with buttons, while placing uses the touchscreen to make sure the sticker is completely stuck. It feels very much like placing a real sticker on a piece of paper or album, yet the option to not use the touchscreen is there as well, so as not to completely succumb to gimmickry. Besides utilizing stickers for puzzles, Mario makes extensive use of his hammer and jumping ability, giving that classic platforming feel that meshes so well with the turn based battling. Most of the level can be knocked around with the hammer, which will reveal stickers to be added to the album or other secrets for Mario to discover, making for some great entertainment between random fights and boss battles.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star sees a very welcomed return to its roots, with some great RPG action leading the way and, as always, some superb platforming and puzzle fun. Get ready to fill that sticker album with a whole bunch of shinys come November 11th.