Kaushik here, and I recently got my hands on a 3DS XL for one of my more anticipated games of the year, Paper Mario Sticker Star. As this is the first 3DS game I’ve ever played for extended periods of time, I’ll be mentioning various points about the 3DS XL as well, but mostly I’ll stick to the game. I’d like to mention I haven’t finished the game yet, but I’ve made a good deal of progress. So Paper Mario Sticker Star released November 11, 2012. The last game in the Paper Mario franchise was the Wii title, Super Paper Mario, which is mostly seen as a flop and kind of tarnish on the Paper Mario series. Unlike Super Paper Mario which was mostly a platformer, Sticker Star attempts to go back to the series’ roots for a more RPG-y feel. How successfully has the Paper Mario series transitioned to the 3DS? Let’s find out!
Well, the biggest gimmick of the 3DS is the 3D aspect of the machine. As for how that integrates with Sticker Star, well, so far it’s not very interesting. While there is 3D and it’s kind of cool to see it, Paper Mario Sticker Star hasn’t done anything particularly interesting with the 3D so for the most part I keep the 3D slider turned off. But I didn’t buy a 3DS for the 3D, I bought it for the game. And on that front, Paper Mario delivers… In odd spurts.
Sticker Star has attempted to bring the series back to the RPG fold that it was most known and loved for. Unfortunately, it felt like a bit of a half transition. While you do have health and the battles themselves are fought in a kind of RPG fashion, it doesn’t really have the statistical focus I’ve come to expect (and enjoy!) from RPGs. Your only real statistic in the game is your health, which you can find upgrades for in the game by doing quests or by finding them in certain maps.
Okay, so maybe Sticker Star didn’t deliver the true RPG experience as much as I had hoped, but how does it stand as its own game? Surprisingly well, actually! First and foremost, that charming and humorous Paper Mario feel that has always been there is back in this game. Without the brand recognition and the wonderful writing, I think Paper Mario would have been a series doomed to obscurity based on gameplay merits alone, but at least Sticker Star can deliver on the writing front.
The plot is a fairly simple one, of course. Bowser has scattered the royal stickers off to the corners of the world, and it’s up to Mario and his new buddy Kersti, to collect them and stop whatever nefarious plot Bowser has cooking up. The plot isn’t that important, but all the little events that pop up over the course of the game are cute and well-done, I’ve found. I’m incredibly partial to the sombrero-toting Shyguy enemies. Adorable, really.
I have a confession to make. I’m a hoarder in video games, particularly in RPGs. I’m the kind of guy that will finish a Final Fantasy game without using any of my good items because I think “There could be a time later when I really REALLY need this”. Is it efficient? No. Is it easy? Hell no. But I’m constantly paranoid that there will eventually be that battle where I will really kick myself for using items beforehand, so I just never use items. What’s that got to do with Sticker Star, then?
Well, Sticker Star doesn’t really have “items” in the traditional sense. By that I mean there aren’t really items that exist to supplement your battling and maintenance. Instead, stickers are how you battle and heal. What’s more, every sticker is a 1-use item. So as you can imagine, I had to kick my habit pretty damn quick. While there’s still some element of hoarding the good stickers, I’m much more prone to using stickers if I think it’ll make a battle easier.
But there’s a limit to how many stickers you can hold, and since you could use several stickers in one battle, one might imagine that you could run out of stickers fairly quickly and often. Surprisingly, that isn’t the case. Stickers respawn every time you enter a map, and besides that stickers are really quite plentiful. Moreover, you can exit a map at any time and go to the world map, where you can head to town and buy more stickers. So at least on that front, you don’t have to worry.
On the flip side, since there’s no leveling up or experience in this game… There’s actually very little reason to do random battles. The only tangible benefit you get from battles is more coins, but the game throws coins at you like candy on Halloween, so even that’s not much of an incentive to battle. That being said, there are a few more uses to coins than the normal shop purchases. You can use coins to activate a system called the Battle Spinner which allows you to use multiple stickers in one turn. Using this several times in one fight can get very costly, so for boss fights you can find yourself spending hundreds of coins on just the spinner.
Unfortunately for Sticker Star, a key point of all RPGs, the random battles, are more or less useless. There is no “grinding” in this game. Some people might argue that makes the game better, but I would disagree. I enjoy seeing my character getting statistically stronger in RPGs, and I find myself missing that feeling to a degree in this game.
Still, even if Paper Mario Sticker Star wasn’t the RPG I was expecting, or even wanted, it’s a fun game in its own right. Maybe it doesn’t match up to the excellent titles Paper Mario, or The Thousand Year Door. There are still things this game does well. There are a lot of secrets and puzzles in this game that I’ve been having a lot of trouble figuring out, which is cool. It adds a layer of difficulty I wouldn’t really expect from a game like this. The “paperize system,” in which you interact with the environments with your stickers is an interesting way to handle puzzles, and it offers a lot of options.
I will say that there is a “help” system in that you can ask Kersti for help, but as far as I’ve noticed she’s been largely unhelpful and useless whenever I ask. I also like how the game goes through different “zones” and “levels,” similar to a traditional Mario game. With the “quit to world map” option, the game is split up into easy segments that you can pick up and play at a moment’s notice. While part of me misses a more connected over world, I do enjoy aspects of this segmented approach as well.
As far as graphics are concerned, they look pretty solid. The game’s done in the traditional Paper Mario style so it’s not as if the game is very intensive graphically. I’ve always been a fan of that style, and if you are you’ll probably enjoy the game graphically. I mentioned the 3D effect isn’t that exciting to me, and while that’s true, if you’re a fan of 3D there is a lot of that here. Personally, I can’t play for an extended period of time with 3D on. While the graphics aren’t anything new and exciting, the music is surprisingly good. I really dig some of the themes in this game. Particularly the town theme, some very smooth saxophones there. Definitely some cool music in this game.
So my final verdict? Well, not final considering I haven’t finished the game, but for my first impressions verdict… This isn’t the game I was expecting. I was expecting something more RPG-oriented and a little closer to the roots of the Paper Mario series. That might partially be my fault, since I didn’t look up a bunch of info on this game prior to its release, but it is what it is. Despite all of that, I think this game does some stuff well and has pleasantly surprised me. Battles are fun and the Mario RPG concept of “timed hits” really adds a level of skill to battles that makes the player feel more involved. With all of that and the neat puzzles in the game, I think this game has more to offer than I had originally expected, even if it did disappoint me on some fronts. So I’ll finish this peace with a “not bad.”