Sticker Star looks to return the Paper Mario series to its turn-based RPG roots, after fans cried fowl at Super Paper Mario’s platformerization of the series. But turn-based is just about all Sticker Star can claim to have in common with its predecessors. Super Paper Mario may have strayed from the formula, but retained the series’ charm and humor. Sticker Star, by contrast, feels like it took the template from the first two games, and stripped them of their depth.
Yes, turn-based battles are back, but now Mario’s every action is dictated by the various stickers he’s collected. Mario finds stickers on walls, floors, hidden in chests, pretty much everywhere. Collecting these stickers is more fun than actually using them, as you can only carry so many at a time, and after just a few short battles, you’ll find you’ve exhausted your entire pool of stickers. More powerful objects, aptly titled ‘Things’ can be turned into uber powerful stickers, but come at the cost of taking up more room in the already limited sticker inventory. An even bigger problem arrises with boss battles, which take a drastic leap in difficulty over the rest of the game, and each will probably have you use up all your hard-earned stickers in a few short moments.
A roulette wheel gives Mario the opportunity to use two or three stickers in a single turn, but relying on chance just to use more moves only makes the battles feel more tedious, and should you destroy every on-screen enemy before executing every sticker, you still lose all the stickers you selected after the spin of the wheel. The battles simply become taxing.
It doesn’t help that the other RPG elements have been stripped away, either. Mario no longer gains experience points, any and all new moves and actions are obtained through, you guessed it, stickers. Mario gains additional hit points from finding HP blocks, and Mario doesn’t have any partners by his side this time around, meaning the gameplay (and charm) of the game lacks the variety of the older Paper Marios.
Mario’s only ally is a floating crown named Kersti, an attempt at giving the famed plumber a comedic sidekick, but not a very effective attempt. The writing lacks the wit and personality the series is known for (this includes Super Paper Mario, which was hilarious). When Bowser – who has been promoted to primary antagonist in a Mario RPG for the first time since the original Paper Mario – doesn’t even get a single line of dialogue, after having been a wonderful source of comedy in past RPGs, the lack of oomph in story and writing is only magnified.
There are some highlights: Some of the game’s sub-plots are amusing, an example being in the game’s third chapter, where a Wiggler has become magically segmented, leaving Mario and Kersti to bring the segments back to Wiggler’s head. The game includes some of the best 3D effects on the 3DS, with enemies flying into the background and foreground after Mario gives them a whack with a hammer. And the use of a traditional world map, while differing from past Paper Marios, feels at home in a handheld entry.
On one hand, you could say Nintendo deserves some credit for trying something different with the series, when they could have easily played things safe. Unfortunately, this is a case of change bringing less-than desired results. Paper Mario: Sticker Star retains the accessibility of its predecessors, but from its battle system to its story and writing to its absence of partners, it forgets the very reasons we loved the series to begin with.