Doesn't Stick With You
I really want to like Paper Mario: Sticker Star. It has some of that charm that Intelligent Systems games tend to have, but there’s just something missing from the equation. Honestly, there’s a great deal missing and holds Paper Mario’s latest adventure back from being a must-have.
Paper Mario, as a series, has generally been about turn based battles and some light RPG character building, with the exception of 2007’s Super Paper Mario. This entry takes a weird middle-ground on that concept. It has the turn based battles from the original with timed button presses to increases damage and effects, which is fun, but Sticker Star loses me in a couple of spots after that’s established. First of all, to fight foes in a turn based fashion you must collect or buy stickers. These stickers act as a source of ammunition, which I don’t understand why Mario has to rely on. You can jump and smash things with Mario’s trusty hammer without a requisite sticker while exploring the levels. Why not when he’s in a fight? It creates a weird disconnect. More importantly, the battles are just not that rewarding. You get coins and the enemy disappears when you beat them. If you’re lucky, you might receive a sticker or some health. I generally fought everything just to get them out of my way, so I could explore the levels in peace. Don’t take that to mean I liked it. I merely thought fighting goombas and the like was less frustrating than running from them.
I didn’t fathom the story would be life altering or anything, but it’s completely inconsequential. Nothing in the world changes. None of the characters are altered by their experiences nor the world. Honestly, that’s been a Mario thing since his first game. I mean, Super Mario Galaxy points this out with a fantastically fucked ending. I could deal with all of that if the brand of humor that is a key point of the series was stronger or more present. There are some bright moments, such as a toad, who Mario ends up saving a few times over the course of the game, that writes home to his friend about his “epic” adventures. Disappointingly, these moments are rare in the game and the example I gave isn’t on the main path of the game, so it could easily be missed. That one of the Paper Mario series’ core tenants is so misrepresented is such a shame.
The exploration gameplay outside of battles is the best part of Sticker Star. The puzzles aren’t hard to figure out, but they do require that you pay attention to solve them. Clever use of the physics of a paper craft world, the “paperize” mechanic, and stickers are needed to progress through the levels. The stickers end up being exactly like the items you would be using to solve puzzles in a point and click adventure. I’m not saying this in a negative way. I very much enjoy that it is designed this way.
The level design doesn’t divert much from this style of puzzle solving. There’s a level that is almost solely devoted to the puzzles and exploration and it is by far my favorite level in the game. That being said, I would have liked some more variance in the level design. There’s a reason developers use turret sequences despite the fact that many people don’t care for them and that’s to break up the action. I only assume they use the infamous turret sequence because they can’t think of something that’s actually fun. Anywho... There are a few levels that break up the pacing, but those don’t appear until the end of World 3, which is 6-7 hours into the game. That’s a long time to be doing basically the same thing.
I was so excited whenever Sticker Star was announced. To see this product fall short and be aggressively mediocre is a travesty, given Intelligent Systems’ track record. The combat fails to be compelling because of it’s simplicity and lack of reward. There are moments that are worthy of mention during Mario’s adventure, but they are heavily outweighed by the ones I can’t bother to tell you about. Paper Mario: Sticker Star just isn’t worth the monetary or, more importantly, time investment.