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When news broke about a new Paper Mario game coming to the 3DS, I was simultaneously excited and upset. Excited, because the Paper Mario series contain some of my all time favourites, and upset because this meant I had to shell out the money for a new system during a time when I was not all that financially stable. Money woes aside, I finally got my hands on Sticker Star, and with a few quirks and annoyances aside, it remains a fantastic Mario game and one of the best games on the 3DS.
The first thing that may be a disappointment to some is that the story in Sticker Star is not at the forefront similar to prior entries. The initial layout is set, and while your new partner mentions it from time to time, Sticker Star is all about the situations Mario finds himself in, rather then expanding on the mythos or discovering plot twists. That is not to say this game is devoid of any characters or dialogue though, as Sticker Star contains hilarious dialogue and interesting characters . Whether you are helping a Toad in the desert with his oasis or bowling in the forest with replay shots, you will always have a smile when something humorous occurs. While the characters are funny, it is a shame that everyone is a generic Toad. Look at Thousand Year Door and your have many different races dressed as pirates, chefs, and other appropriate designs. This is one area in the game that feels downright lazy.
As the title would suggest, this game is all about stickers. The introduction shows all the Toads, Mario and Peach celebrating the Sticker Festival, where a magical Comet arrives. One rule is to not touch it, but of course, Bowser does exactly that, spreading the Royal Stickers, and countless others, across the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario will find battle stickers everywhere, from walls on buildings to fallen enemies. At first, I was a bit worried at how it would work out, but after playing it, I am pleased to say it is a functional system that suits that game well. Similar to Resident Evil 4, there is a limited inventory space, and as the game progresses, more room is acquired. Unfortunately, near the beginning of the game where space is severely limited, it can be a hassle having a balance of attacks to handle various situations. Once more space is obtained I found that running out of stickers was never a situation I found myself in.
Another issues I have is about the Thing stickers. Throughout the world there are many objects like scissors, flashlights, baseball bats, goats, etc, that can be turned into powerful stickers. While it sounds amusing to summon a giant goat into battle, they often take up a large amount of space, and since using stickers are a one-time deal, experimenting is not recommended. Some bosses require the use of a Thing sticker to be dealt with, and environmental puzzles can require the use of one as well. I found myself ignoring these as I always waited to see if I needed them later.
Speaking of puzzles, these can range anywhere from clever to obtuse. Sometimes they make perfect sense and have that feeling of accomplishment when you solve them, other times you will be left scratching your head. Looking back, they all make sense, but the first time I encountered some of these I had no clue. Couple that with the fact that when you use an incorrect sticker, it simply disappears rather then go back into your inventory. For example, one time I had to blow out candles so I used a hair dryer, but it did not work. Instead, I had to use a paper fan. It is puzzles like this (especially during boss battles) that I found needlessly tedious.
I know it sounds like I am harping on this game, but the good far outweighs the bad. When the game does click, it is a blast, and the moments I previously described are pretty rare occurrences, it is just that when they do show up, they stick out like a sore thumb on an otherwise delightful product.
Combat with enemies is fun and always strategic. As with the sticker system, I was a bit cautious when I heard there was no levelling up. Instead, Mario can find health upgrades while exploring, and as the game progresses, the stickers become more powerful (a Flashy jump attack is better then a normal one). Since stickers are a one-time use, you will always think before acting. It is one of the most engaging battle systems I have experienced, and it is surprisingly deep. Of course, some of you may be thinking why would you even fight if there were no experience points? Well, at the end of each level there is a star comet, which acts as a flagpole, and upon collecting it, Mario is showered with money: the more enemies you defeat, the more money you get to spend on more stickers. It is clever and will make you think twice about running away from certain battles.
On top of managing stickers, the active battle system that Mario RPGs are known for make a return. Before enemies hit you, press the A button to minimize damage. Likewise, press A just before jumping on an enemy to keep on attacking. Some of the timing for moves take some time to learn, but once you get them down you will be throwing fire balls and whipping back projectiles via Tanooki Tail with the best of them.
Instead of a seamless world to explore, Sticker Star features an over world map akin to Super Mario World with levels to select from. At first, I thought it would be a lazy move, but it actually works surprisingly well, especially for the 3DS. Each level plays out like sandbox similar to the first two Paper Mario games. These can be visited whenever you want for collectables or alternate exits. Thankfully, they are all well designed and I never shuddered when I revisited any of them. In fact, I do recommend you explore every nook and cranny, as if you come across a puzzle and you do not have the proper sticker, then you are forced to retread old ground and hopefully find something you missed.
The last thing that needs to be said about Sticker Star is its amazing presentation. The graphics are some of the best I seen on the system, and while I played in boring old 2D mode, the times where I tried out 3D were really cool and the game popped with neat effects. It is not in your face all the time, but instead goes for immersion. It has been awhile since I played the Gamecube classic, but from memory it is comparable to that one in terms of visuals. One issue I have is that Mario is not as expressive as he once was. In prior games he would communicate with others in humorous ways and have a range of facial features. In Sticker Star, Mario just feels like he is tagging along for the ride. It is not all bad, as he does have some expressions, but compared to the others entries, he seems more laid back. It is a minor nitpick, but it constantly came to mind, especially during the more offbeat moments in the game.
Finally, the music in this game is incredible. It has been a long time since a soundtrack in a video game impressed me this much. Whether you are going through World 1, fighting mini bosses, or battling with the World 3 boss, your ears will pleased. Grab some headphones for this one, as I cannot praise the soundtrack enough.
Paper Mario Sticker Star is an impressive game that constantly delivers memorable moments, engaging gameplay and the quality that Mario RPGs are known for. While I still regard Thousand Year Door to be the greatest accomplishment in the history of anything, Sticker Star is more then worthy of your time despite the minor annoyances that occasionally arise. If you love Mario or RPGs, or hell, have a 3DS, then you owe it to yourself to play this game.