It's not out yet, but I'm slightly concerned about Sticker Star

So Paper Mario: Sticker Star isn't out yet, but on the recent 8-4 podcast, they somehow had an advance copy that they were freely allowed to talk about, which is odd. It reminded me I've been meaning to talk about this.

To step back for a second, I thought Super Paper Mario was a huge misstep. Thousand-Year Door was great, front to back, since it added just enough to the combat system and the world that it was interesting and a joy to play, compared to the original Paper Mario which was just a little too simplistic in the combat.

You jump on him like 4 times and then you win the boss fight. THRILLING, right?

Super Paper Mario was just a chore to play. By being a platformer-RPG, it was the worst of both worlds; the platforming was too safe and easy, and the RPG mechanics barely existed. It was way too easy to accidentally overlevel (seriously, attempt the Pit of 100 Trials even once, and you'll be overleveled for the rest of the game and kill everything in one hit).

While I think the writing remained good in terms of dialogue, most of the characters sucked. The characters in the hub town were all forgettable, and looked bad; the hub town itself was incredibly plain and lacked any sense of character or history. The story just felt disconnected from everything, since the hub town existed in this weird interdimensional limbo; it wasn't as intriguing as the mystery of the Thousand-Year Door. Super Paper Mario didn't have any new party members, and the Pixls were noncharacters. Which leaves Mario, Luigi, Bowser, and Peach, who are what you expect (aka Bowser has all the best lines). The antagonists were all kind of lame, though O'Chunks had some pretty great moments; I hated Mimi and Dimentio, and I found I just didn't give a shit about Count Bleck and his stupid tragic backstory. They just felt like this shitty, cobbled together group of villains from the season of a TV show that everyone agrees is the worst season.

Spoiler: the final boss looks fucking stupid.

The crazy flip mechanic turned out to be kind of dull, as you usually just had to flip whenever you reached a dead end; rarely did they do anything interesting with it like the early exploration puzzles in Fez. The worlds weren't very thematically interesting, with only the 8-bit nerd dimension and the video game afterlife being kind of cool and memorable. And the Pit of 100 Trials wasn't even hard because Bowser was broken as fuck and made a mockery of the game's combat.

OK, the worlds weren't all boring. This prehistoric documentary crew was actually pretty funny.

So Intelligent Systems would've had to try pretty hard to outcrap Super Paper Mario. And I do think Sticker Star looks like an improvement. But the whole thing, mechanically, sounds like it is again going down the Super Paper Mario path of "Instead of building on what we've established in the first two entries in the series, let's completely rework how this game plays and what it even is". Why they keep doing this is absolutely beyond me.

I don't think they've fucked it up nearly as badly as Super Paper Mario, but some of the things mentioned in the 8-4 podcast sound troubling. Such as:

  • the part where they fucked up again, and they still haven't put party members back into the game. Seriously, what the fuck? The party members have been one of the most memorable aspects of Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, and Thousand-Year Door. Party members were a little too silent once they joined your party in the first Paper Mario (what I like to call "Shining Force syndrome"), but in Thousand-Year Door, they were more talkative, and whichever party member you had active would often get involved with conversations with NPCs and stuff in the overworld. It was awesome. Going back to basics and playing the game as just Mario (plus standard Navi character Kersti) seems like a step backward for no reason. Even the handheld Mario & Luigi series has Luigi as a second party member.
  • the part where you don't get experience, which other games have tried but if you don't do it just right, it usually results in the player going "Wait, if I already have enough money, I should just avoid fights altogether". And it sounds like the 8-4 guys were having that exact problem with Sticker Star. Unless the game has a TON of money sinks, or has some kind of system where you steal skills or items from enemies, once your remove XP from enemy battles, you're kind of removing the whole point of battles.
  • the stickers actually sound like the most positive change, though they just sound like an alternative to badges as opposed to any real improvement. Again, you don't level up, so Mario gains more HP or FP as the game progresses by collecting stickers that raise your HP and FP. Like badges, it sounds like you accumulate new sticker types as you travel to new areas in the world and find new shops and whatever, and that as the game progresses, you can equip more stickers at once. Again, pretty much all old hat if you're familiar with the badge system in the previous games, though from what I understand you consume the stickers when you use them, so it's harder to just keep spamming one particularly awesome ability. The other difference seems to be that some stickers act like HMs in Pokemon, in that they allow you to perform certain actions outside of battle. A cool addition, but it feels like a net loss when it used to be party members that gave you abilities you could use outside of battle.

I know it sounds like I'm really down on this game, but I'm a slave to franchises I like, and Sticker Star is almost definitely the game that will get me to buy a 3DS. I'll give it a chance. I just don't get why Intelligent Systems has twice now decided to just go back to square one instead of building on Thousand-Year Door, which is easily their best non-Fire Emblem game ever. Sticker Star seems like it'll be fine, especially compared to the boring garbage that was Super Paper Mario, but it doesn't exactly sound like it will elevate the Paper Mario series to new heights.

28 Comments
29 Comments
Posted by BisonHero

So Paper Mario: Sticker Star isn't out yet, but on the recent 8-4 podcast, they somehow had an advance copy that they were freely allowed to talk about, which is odd. It reminded me I've been meaning to talk about this.

To step back for a second, I thought Super Paper Mario was a huge misstep. Thousand-Year Door was great, front to back, since it added just enough to the combat system and the world that it was interesting and a joy to play, compared to the original Paper Mario which was just a little too simplistic in the combat.

You jump on him like 4 times and then you win the boss fight. THRILLING, right?

Super Paper Mario was just a chore to play. By being a platformer-RPG, it was the worst of both worlds; the platforming was too safe and easy, and the RPG mechanics barely existed. It was way too easy to accidentally overlevel (seriously, attempt the Pit of 100 Trials even once, and you'll be overleveled for the rest of the game and kill everything in one hit).

While I think the writing remained good in terms of dialogue, most of the characters sucked. The characters in the hub town were all forgettable, and looked bad; the hub town itself was incredibly plain and lacked any sense of character or history. The story just felt disconnected from everything, since the hub town existed in this weird interdimensional limbo; it wasn't as intriguing as the mystery of the Thousand-Year Door. Super Paper Mario didn't have any new party members, and the Pixls were noncharacters. Which leaves Mario, Luigi, Bowser, and Peach, who are what you expect (aka Bowser has all the best lines). The antagonists were all kind of lame, though O'Chunks had some pretty great moments; I hated Mimi and Dimentio, and I found I just didn't give a shit about Count Bleck and his stupid tragic backstory. They just felt like this shitty, cobbled together group of villains from the season of a TV show that everyone agrees is the worst season.

Spoiler: the final boss looks fucking stupid.

The crazy flip mechanic turned out to be kind of dull, as you usually just had to flip whenever you reached a dead end; rarely did they do anything interesting with it like the early exploration puzzles in Fez. The worlds weren't very thematically interesting, with only the 8-bit nerd dimension and the video game afterlife being kind of cool and memorable. And the Pit of 100 Trials wasn't even hard because Bowser was broken as fuck and made a mockery of the game's combat.

OK, the worlds weren't all boring. This prehistoric documentary crew was actually pretty funny.

So Intelligent Systems would've had to try pretty hard to outcrap Super Paper Mario. And I do think Sticker Star looks like an improvement. But the whole thing, mechanically, sounds like it is again going down the Super Paper Mario path of "Instead of building on what we've established in the first two entries in the series, let's completely rework how this game plays and what it even is". Why they keep doing this is absolutely beyond me.

I don't think they've fucked it up nearly as badly as Super Paper Mario, but some of the things mentioned in the 8-4 podcast sound troubling. Such as:

  • the part where they fucked up again, and they still haven't put party members back into the game. Seriously, what the fuck? The party members have been one of the most memorable aspects of Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, and Thousand-Year Door. Party members were a little too silent once they joined your party in the first Paper Mario (what I like to call "Shining Force syndrome"), but in Thousand-Year Door, they were more talkative, and whichever party member you had active would often get involved with conversations with NPCs and stuff in the overworld. It was awesome. Going back to basics and playing the game as just Mario (plus standard Navi character Kersti) seems like a step backward for no reason. Even the handheld Mario & Luigi series has Luigi as a second party member.
  • the part where you don't get experience, which other games have tried but if you don't do it just right, it usually results in the player going "Wait, if I already have enough money, I should just avoid fights altogether". And it sounds like the 8-4 guys were having that exact problem with Sticker Star. Unless the game has a TON of money sinks, or has some kind of system where you steal skills or items from enemies, once your remove XP from enemy battles, you're kind of removing the whole point of battles.
  • the stickers actually sound like the most positive change, though they just sound like an alternative to badges as opposed to any real improvement. Again, you don't level up, so Mario gains more HP or FP as the game progresses by collecting stickers that raise your HP and FP. Like badges, it sounds like you accumulate new sticker types as you travel to new areas in the world and find new shops and whatever, and that as the game progresses, you can equip more stickers at once. Again, pretty much all old hat if you're familiar with the badge system in the previous games, though from what I understand you consume the stickers when you use them, so it's harder to just keep spamming one particularly awesome ability. The other difference seems to be that some stickers act like HMs in Pokemon, in that they allow you to perform certain actions outside of battle. A cool addition, but it feels like a net loss when it used to be party members that gave you abilities you could use outside of battle.

I know it sounds like I'm really down on this game, but I'm a slave to franchises I like, and Sticker Star is almost definitely the game that will get me to buy a 3DS. I'll give it a chance. I just don't get why Intelligent Systems has twice now decided to just go back to square one instead of building on Thousand-Year Door, which is easily their best non-Fire Emblem game ever. Sticker Star seems like it'll be fine, especially compared to the boring garbage that was Super Paper Mario, but it doesn't exactly sound like it will elevate the Paper Mario series to new heights.

Posted by phantomzxro

I don't think sticker star will be a heavy rpg like the first paper Mario if you keep that in mind and don't care i think you will like it all the same. If you have a problem with its more simple rpg system with a big focus on stickers as powers ups which is the main dynamic of the rpg system from what i can see. Then this game may be a disappointment to you. I did not see any parties or earning of XP so i already had a feeling that stuff was missing.

Posted by msavo

I got it for $30 so I'm not expecting much.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I agree with you on the Super Paper Mario front. There was still plenty of clever writing and whatnot, but the game exhausted its bag of tricks less than halfway through and I can't remember most of what happened, other than that part with Francis the Nerd (which is still pretty fantastic) and the part where it mocks old-school RPGs. Meanwhile, literally everything I've heard about this game immediately dissuades me from purchasing it, which is all well and good since I don't have a 3DS anyways.

Posted by BisonHero

@phantomzxro said:

I don't think sticker star will be a heavy rpg like the first paper Mario if you keep that in mind and don't care i think you will like it all the same.

That's the bummer, because Paper Mario was never really a "heavy RPG". It had standard RPG mechanics, but was so simplified and easy to play that it doesn't seem like it is asking much of Intelligent Systems to make that style of RPG, compared to other stuff they make like Fire Emblem which has a lot of stats going on. I just don't get why this series has been dodging its RPG roots lately when they're incredibly mild to begin with. It would be like if they kept edging RPG mechanics out of the Mario & Luigi series, despite the fact that that series has always been about being an RPG.

Posted by Dixavd

As someone who doesn't like Mario games in general, I have to say; Super Paper Mario looks like the one in the series with the most enjoyable, expansive and unique gameplay elements in it (and I have seen a lets play of it with the kinda shitty boss fights in it). But again, that's from the opinion of someone that doesn't really play mario games and only has a fleeting interest in the one game in this specific series which you don't like (which makes me think that since you don't like the look of how development on Sticker Star is going, that maybe this should be the one I actually play haha).

Posted by liako21

im reading that you gain nothing from combat so its best to be avoided. Kinda stupid...

Posted by BasketSnake

I'm going to play it for its charming world and what seems like excellent music. The battle system seems fine to me and I'll be using a guide whenever I need to backtrack for stuff. I will be exploring on my own but I'm not going to spend five hours looking for that one item I'll need to make progress.

Posted by ImHungry

I too am worried from what I heard on the 8-4 podcast. Honestly, the entire sticker system sounds flawed from what I've heard about it. Having every basic action be governed by consumable stickers and removing XP and leveling just seems bizarre. I will submit that I still don't completely know how the system works and will probably end up buying it but it still sounds worrying.

Also, I am totally in agreement about the party members. It really seems like a terrible decision to cut party members from the game. Perhaps it might make sense gameplay wise with how the stickers work but it still seems to be a sad omission.

As a sidenote, I never played Super Paper Mario but those characters looks horrible in design. They look like scrawled children's art rather than the finely designed characters that just happened to be 2D paper people from the first 2 games. Was the entire deisgn aesthetic like that?

Edited by BisonHero

@ImHungry said:

As a sidenote, I never played Super Paper Mario but those characters looks horrible in design. They look like scrawled children's art rather than the finely designed characters that just happened to be 2D paper people from the first 2 games. Was the entire deisgn aesthetic like that?

Yeah, most of the characters in the game have that weird look to them, to signify they're from these weird alternate dimensions that are not the Mushroom Kingdom. Here is Giant Bomb's gallery of the official game art:

http://www.giantbomb.com/super-paper-mario/61-12739/official-art/52-101621/

Specifically, the residents of Flipside (the hub town) all look like that (for example, the chef with the ladle).

Some of the characters in that gallery are from the various dimensions you visit, but yeah, many of them have this weird simplistic box design to them. The bosses were often full 3D characters that looked like they were made of papercraft, with varying amounts of success. Some characters just looked liked normal ass characters without the weird angular aesthetic. For example, this guy on the right, who was like God/Zeus in the video game afterlife, IIRC. I mean, good on them for not going back to the well and just using all of the common Mushroom Kingdom flora and fauna (which is basically all Paper Mario 1 and 2 did), but the new stuff they came up with just ended up feeling a little plain and soulless.

OK, , I give up. Two years later, I still have no idea how to properly add images using Parchment v2 without them completely fucking up my paragraphs. Please tell me this is changing significantly with the site redesign, because apparently I am too retarded to figure out the current formatting tools. EDIT: Goddammit, once I hit post, the paragraphs fixed themselves, so maybe I do blunder my way into success sometimes?

Posted by beard_of_zeus

@BisonHero: Yup, I'm with you, mainly because of the lack of partners, and the lack of XP. I think all your comparisons to Super Paper Mario are quite apt. I'll be interested to see the QL that's lined up for tomorrow.

I know it wasn't an Intelligent Systems game, but as for Mario RPGs, I don't know if any game will ever top Bowser's Inside Story for me. So good.

Posted by Timing

It's a shame. Whereas the charming characters of Paper Mario and The Thousand-Year Door had been replaced with barely memorable 'shapes' in Super Paper Mario, this new game seems to have barely any characters at all anymore. Supposedly practically every NPC is now a Toad, and we know that Mario is all by himself, save for Kersti. Most of the charm of the areas seems to be missing as well.

This video review sums up just about what I feared Sticker Star would be, namely a level-based game with little incentive for battling enemies which also lacks most of the charm that made the previous iterations special.

This game was the main reason I got a 3DS last year and I'll probably still get it, but I'm nowhere near as excited for it as I was when it was first announced more than two years ago.

Posted by FluxWaveZ

UGH.

I knew I had reason to be worried. Thought this was the game that would make me feel like I needed a 3DS pronto, but nope. And it's all so that they can appeal to a mass audience who probably wouldn't care for a TTYD style of gameplay. This sucks.

Posted by JackSukeru

@Timing: Thanks for posting that, it was really interesting. It certainly deflated most of my already catious optimism for the game, which is a shame, but at least those few clips of TTYD reminded me of what a fucking masterpiece that game was.

There's still a fair chance that I'll pick the game up. I think the no experience system where you're apparently discouraged from entering battle could actually be a boon to my otherwise completionist playstyle. I always tend to just fight everything, with the result of me dragging out the playtime of these RPGs to more than I'm happy with.

Other than that it seems decent, if a bit disappointing.

Posted by JJOR64

The game seems to be getting some solid reviews.

Looking forward to it tomorrow. Hoping my Walmart will sell it to me tonight so I don't have to wake up early to get it tomorrow at GameStop.

Posted by yoshimitz707

I'm glad I just like games.

Posted by Klei

I liked Super Paper Mario. I don't think they '' fucked it '' like you proclaim. I liked all the Paper Mario. Pretty sure i'll like Sticker Star.

Posted by Hailinel

I guess I'm not sure what the problem is. I like that they're doing more with the Paper Mario idea than just revisiting the gameplay of TTYD again and again.

Posted by SpunkyHePanda

No experience points.

I know Nintendo catches some shit for sticking too closely to their formulas, but I really just want another Paper Mario like the first two.

Posted by commonoutlier

I recall that I really enjoyed Super Paper Mario, particularly Count Bleck, but maybe that's because I never had a chance to play the other games. I guess oftentimes when another part of the series is of a higher quality, it makes subsequent parts seem more horrible than they actually are. Oh well, I guess that means I'll really enjoy Thousand Year Door when I eventually play it.

Posted by Timing

@Hailinel said:

I guess I'm not sure what the problem is. I like that they're doing more with the Paper Mario idea than just revisiting the gameplay of TTYD again and again.

Omitting features that everyone seemed to love such as badges, partners, a layered story and a colourful cast of characters is not doing more, it's doing less. And ironically, the gameplay of TTYD has been left in, in that you still fight turn-based battles with timed button presses. You just don't gain any lasting reward from them; only coins, which you use to buy stickers, which you deplete again by using them in battles. You don't get stronger from battling, making it seem somewhat pointless, as several reviews have pointed out.

At least that's what I think the problem is. Of course I haven't played the game yet and I'm sure it's not actually a bad game, it just sounds like it could've been a lot better had they left in some of the elements that everyone liked, instead of just removing them and replacing them with nothing.

Edited by BisonHero

@Timing: Wow, no way to sort stickers in battle? Sometimes I wonder whether Nintendo playtests their games with actual human beings, or just assumes that their decisions are all divine and unquestionable. The ability to do that mid-battle really shouldn't be much harder to implement than doing it out of battle.

And yeah, everything else in that video was pretty much exactly as I feared. At this point, it kind of feels like they're turned the Paper Mario series into their experimental series to just try out weird ideas with no consistency from one entry to the next. Super Paper Mario was pretty much just an easy platformer where both you and the enemies have HP for no good reason, and now this game is a weird reinvention of turn-based RPGs where your actions are entirely inventory-based and they decided to just give it the plot of something like New Super Mario Bros. The first 2 Paper Mario games seemed very clearly related, but the two entries since then almost feel like completely separate games that just happen to share a visual aesthetic.

I think I'll put less stock in the Paper Mario series as being "that RPG series that is pretty awesome", since it's just become this "try whatever the hell we feel like series". That's not inherently a bad thing, but I don't think they've made a very coherent or interesting game since Thousand Year Door. These forays into other game design territory just don't seem to be Intelligent Systems' strong point.

Posted by BisonHero

Having now watched the Quick Look, I feel pretty confident in skipping purchasing a 3DS for this game. The battle system is even more simplistic than N64 Paper Mario, and it really does seem like it's beneficial to just avoid battles when you're already rolling deep in coins and stickers. Honestly, why the hell can't you aim your attacks? Sure, just remove as much strategy as you possibly can from the game. So the combat system doesn't interest me, and it has THE most standard story setup of "Bowser is the villain and stole a macguffin or something, Peach is kidnapped, you must save Mushroom Kingdom", and it appears to be basically the setting of N64 Paper Mario which is pretty much standard Mushroom Kingdom with all of the regions you would expect (green hilly area, desert area, etc.). I was fine with those things in the first Paper Mario because it was somewhat uncharted territory, but c'mon, again?

So sure, it still has that Paper Mario visual aesthetic going for it, but that's not enough for me anymore. It sounds like there isn't much in the way of interesting NPCs, and Decalburg is the main town you keep coming back to, which is too bad when the different locales were part of the goofy fun of past entries in the series. So other than the visual aesthetic, it seems like the only other original feature is that they really want to make good use of the "use real world objects" gimmick. So congratulations for finally making good on that TV ad for the original Paper Mario, but that's just not enough to maintain my interest in the game.

Posted by Milkman

Unless they're going back to a straight RPG like Thousand Year Door, I have zero interest. Super Paper Mario did nothing for me.

God, TTYD is so good. You know what nevermind, just give me a HD remake of that please.

Posted by BisonHero

@Milkman said:

Unless they're going back to a straight RPG like Thousand Year Door, I have zero interest. Super Paper Mario did nothing for me. God, TTYD is so good. You know what nevermind, just give me a HD remake of that please.

It just seems crazy that they've technically made an RPG, but they managed to make its systems even simpler than those in N64 Paper Mario, which shouldn't even be possible. Yet sure enough, if you take out party members, the ability to choose which enemy you target, and the ability to selectively customize which active and passive skills Mario has access to, that's what you get. And it disappoints me that the game structure pretty much precludes any chance of there being interestingly structured areas like the Glitz Pit or that level where you solve a murder mystery on a train.

:(

Posted by TooWalrus

It just... doesn't look fun. Guess I don't have much more to say than that.

Posted by JasonR86

I don't own a 3DS but I would get this game if I did. It doesn't look like a complicated RPG. It doesn't even look as complicated as the other Paper Mario RPGs which were pretty damn simple. But, based off of my experience with my phone, I wouldn't really want a complicated RPG on a handheld. This game looks to be a fast-paced, light, simple adventure-RPG that is charming, has good personality, and is fun for short stretches of time. It looks like a really good handheld RPG to me.

Posted by BisonHero

@JasonR86 said:

I don't own a 3DS but I would get this game if I did. It doesn't look like a complicated RPG. It doesn't even look as complicated as the other Paper Mario RPGs which were pretty damn simple. But, based off of my experience with my phone, I wouldn't really want a complicated RPG on a handheld. This game looks to be a fast-paced, light, simple adventure-RPG that is charming, has good personality, and is fun for short stretches of time. It looks like a really good handheld RPG to me.

Yeah, that is a valid point. The new structure of the game where the levels are broken up to be like Super Mario World (and each level only has like 3-5 screens to it) does make it easier to play in bite-sized chunks, compared to other RPGs where the assumption is that the player has like 30-90 minutes available for each play session. Still, it bums me out that after a foray into being a platformer, they returned to an RPG format, except they omitted a whole slew of features and replaced them with basically nothing. This seems like a situation where it isn't so much a "streamlined game" as it is a "lesser game".

It just has so few features and so little gameplay variety in it that you'd think this game was made back in 1998 or something, before the advances of the other 2 Paper Mario RPGs.

Posted by Getz

What the fuck is going on with this series anyway? The first two games were great, charming RPGs and then they totally stripped out the gameplay for the third game. The story was still alright but it just didn't feel right. Now this...