Since the 3DS’s release just over a year and a half ago, we’ve known that a Paper Mario title was on the way. Finally it’s hit European shores – after having hit North American ones nearly a month ago – and the two dimensional papery Nintendo mascot known as Mario is as charming as ever. Heck, if you ever needed proof as to how a 3DS game should utilise the handheld’s hardware then look no further than Paper Mario: Sticker Star.
As with all Mario games, and especially with Paper Mario titles, your journey starts out with a the celebration of the Sticker Star comet flying over at the sticker festival held in the town of Decalburg. Naturally, being a Mario title, things just couldn’t go by without a hitch and this time Bowser interrupts proceedings by touching the passing Sticker Star thus imbuing him with power and causing chaos so he can steal Princess Peach once more.. Stickers begin to fly everywhere and the six Royal Stickers are flung far across the world. It’s now up to Mario, with his new sticker album and new companion Kirsti, to head out and collect the magical stickers to restore order and let the Toad’s celebrate the Sticker Festival in style.
As a Paper Mario game, Sticker Star is a peculiar hybrid of classic Mario and traditional Paper Mario gameplay, married with the “catch-em-all” mentality of Pokémon. I’m fully aware that this sounds like an incredibly odd beast, but the sight of a new sticker means you’ll do almost anything to find out exactly what it does. You’ll have a near uncontrollable urge to fill the pages of your sticker album with every sticker you can find – and there’s even a sticker museum to let you document each sticker you’ve encountered. Essentially Sticker Star plays into the mentality of anyone who grew up collecting stamps, Pogs, Baseball Cards, Pokémon Cards or really anything that you could keep and record in a collection.
Combat has gone back to how it used to be: an initial blow to an enemy can be dealt in the level before you’re warped to a battlefield, and interestingly no audience participation seems to be present this time around. Instead of using a list of learnt abilities and an allocation of action points, this time you’ll be using stickers to attack enemies. It’s a clever system as you’re only ever limited by what stickers you’ve managed to collect, find and keep. Kirsti can also help you gain up to thee attack slots per thanks to her Battle Spinner ability. While all RPGs have a tactical edge to gameplay, the one-use and disposable nature of stickers means that you’ll need to think hard about what to use so you don’t end up wasting or overusing stickers.
The other aspects of Sticker Star mean that in terms of gameplay it goes back into the style found in Paper Mario: And the Thousand Year Door, largely doing away with the model found in Super Paper Mario on the Wii. It also adopts a node-like overworld akin to that of classic Super Mario Bros titles with short, sharp levels to play through. However, you’ll be going back and forth between worlds and levels to solve puzzles and move the story forward. So despite these changes to the traditional Paper Mario model, it’s still very much the branching RPG that we’ve all come to love.
And it’s hard not to love this world of paper and card. Enemies fold up to create new forms, secret stairs and doors pop open and unfold out into the landscape. Level paths peel away like those cardboard tear strips you find on Amazon and FedEx boxes. By using Kirsti’s star power of Paperisation, you can peel and stick some parts of the environment to solve puzzles, uncover secrets and open new paths. As always, Nintendo manage to use Paper Mario‘s aesthetics wonderfully, especially utilising the 3DS’s capabilities.
In a world where everything is paper thin and structures are made of thick cardboard and intricate folds, the added depth that the 3DS’s screen brings essentially turns each section into a papery diorama to explore. There are plenty of hidden doors and paths to find in each world, and because of the 3D screen Nintendo have managed to hide them in even more fiendish places than usual. Naturally this means that nothing is quite as it seems and so you’ll spend a lot of your time hammering walls and objects, paperising things and jumping around looking for an object you may have missed – even if it’s not very important.
For the most part, Mario’s transition to handheld means that not an awful lot has changed. However, things really don’t feel quite as spectacular as past entries have done. Sticker Star‘s bosses may be full of character, but compared to the intricate paper folds of Thousand Year Door’s Hooktail or Super Paper Mario‘s Bonechill, the bossess on show just aren’t as grandiose or impressive to see in action. Levels have also been reduced down in size to accomodate playing on the go, and in general this is a much shorter adventure than previous instalments.
Don’t let this put you off though as Sticker Star manages to still be as entertaining, fun and addictive as the series has always been. Its world is full of humour and in jokes, a wonderful sense of self-awareness at both the fact it’s a game and that everything is made from fragile paper. Enemies crumple under heavy attacks, water soaks them and they go limp, strong wind can blow them away. Interacting with your environment is just an incredibly enjoyable experience and it’s hard to not jump at the chance whenever you can.
Ultimately Paper Mario: Sticker Star has been well worth the wait and is one of the best first-party games you’ll find on the 3DS. It may not be the best, or the longest, entry into the series, but it’s easily the most addictive; and works brilliantly regardless of playing it on the road in short bursts on your sofa for hours at a time.
Audio/Visual – 5/5: Paper Mario has never looked better and all the music and sound effects match.
Gameplay – 5/5: Refreshingly different and incredibly fun.
Innovation – 4/5: Makes changes to the traditional formula, but also manages to stay within the confines of the series template.
Value – 4/5: It’s rather short for a Paper Mario title but there’s plenty to do, especially if you want to collect every sticker around.
Final Score: 4.5/5