Tech News on G4
Paper Mario: Sticker star wears thin
Nov 23, 2012
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
You have to give credit to Intelligent Systems, developer of titles in the "Paper Mario" series, because it knows how to create games in the Mario universe that are thoroughly unconventional, even if they are flawed. Sure enough, the latest game set in the Paper Mario world, Sticker Star, is exactly that - unconventional and flawed.
Mere weeks after New Super Mario Bros. 2 was released on 3DS, Sticker Star proves to be the stronger of the two latest handheld Mario titles. That being said, lovers of rock-solid platforming may be disappointed as there's not nearly as much running and jumping in Sticker Star, and the platforming itself isn't as tight as what's found in a typical Mario side-scroller.
RPG elements, meanwhile, are essentially non-existent here as well. Mario can earn extra hit points as the game progresses, but that's essentially it, as he doesn't do any levelling up in the conventional sense.
Sticker Star begins the same as just about every Mario game ever created - Bowser comes for Princess Peach, and once he has the damsel-in-distress in his clutches, it's up to Mario to save her.
The difference with Sticker Star is that in the land of Decalburg and the kingdom surrounding it, stickers are as important to Mario as backup singers are to Britney Spears during her live performances. Mario's entire repertoire of attacks is based around the stickers he collects throughout the game, and without them, the little plumber can do nothing but run away from enemies.
Stickers also play important roles within the game's environments, but more on that in a moment.
Battles themselves are of the turn-based variety. Mario traverses the different worlds, and any time an enemy touches him, the action switches to a side-by-side view, where Mario faces off against one or more baddies at a time.
The battles play out like the "Mario & Luigi" handheld games, wherein the player is tasked with doing more beyond simply choosing an attack. For instance, if you pick a POW block, pressing the A-button at just the right time will result in the enemies taking more damage. On the flip-side, when enemies attack, if you time your block just right (again, by hitting the A-button), you can minimize the damage Mario takes.
This all works well enough, but there comes a point in Sticker Star where these battles - every single one - simply become far too easy and repetitive. New stickers are introduced on a fairly regular basis, but many of them are just stronger versions of already existing stickers.
New enemies are also introduced in each subsequent world that gets unlocked, but even they don't play terribly different from one another. Intelligent Systems offers plenty of fan service, and those who love all things Mario will revel in seeing Ninji, Hammer Bros., and Pokeys, but after that wears off, all you have is the same darn battle, done over, and over, and over again.
The bosses are a whole different story altogether. They're usually uber-powerful, and there's an important catch to each: you'll require a special sticker for each one to significantly weaken and defeat it. Problem is, it's not easy figuring out what sticker you need to use on them. There's a lot of trial and error involved with figuring out what sticker to use, and it could, and probably will, require a lot of backtracking to get the proper one, while wasting several other stickers in the process.
The battles are enjoyable once you do have the weakness figured out, but getting to that point is ridiculously frustrating.
A similar problem exists with the stickers that are needed to solve environmental puzzles. There are several instances where the player will have to place a specific sticker on a specific section of the map in order to proceed.
Simply put, there are a few instances where frustratingly little explanation is given as to what you have to do. Not only do you have to find what you're looking for, which isn't easy in itself, you then have to figure out which sticker to use, and acquire said sticker.
It's a shame these issues arise and cause hours of searching, backtracking, and experimenting, because with them aside, Sticker Star is a game that's put together extremely well.
The writing is top-notch and often very funny (I particularly enjoyed the subtle insults thrown at society's current public enemy number one - hipsters), and the score is instantly memorable, as I often found myself humming a few songs from the game long after powering down my 3DS.
The environments are varied, and Intelligent Systems does a solid job getting the most out of the 3DS' power. The camera swings around dramatically in some levels, but it's never frustrating following the action. The Yoshi Sphinx level is a particularly good example of this, and there's no doubt it's a highlight from the game.
The 3D effects, meanwhile, are done surprisingly - and superbly - well in Sticker Star. Snow seems to pop out right in front of you in the "cold" levels, while smacking an enemy with a hammer and seeing it bounce back and forth, right up to the forefront of the 3DS' top screen, never gets old.
There are also some really cool set pieces, such as a Rube Goldberg-like sequence involving mountains, trees, and boulders toppling over, with each falling object adding a note to the Super Mario Bros. theme. It's really cool stuff, and it does admittedly make up for the game's frustrating sections ... somewhat.
There really isn't anything to do beyond the campaign, but it is a meaty one; don't be surprised at all to climb above 20 hours when all is said, done, and sticker'ed. The game includes the usual list of addictive add-ons that Nintendo games are famous for.
Players can work toward filling up a museum with every sticker in the game, while a list of "achievements", for lack of a more original term, opens up about halfway through the campaign. As an added incentive, completing achievements helps toward redecorating a section of Decalburg that was destroyed when Bowser attacked at the game's onset.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star is an extremely difficult game to sum up. It has moments of sheer brilliance, and many others of pure frustration. While the good certainly outweighs the bad, this game could have been one of the year's best, but as it stands, it doesn't quite reach greatness.
If you're seeking a refreshing new idea or are a fan of Paper Mario, it's worth seeking out Sticker Star, just as long as you're prepared to be thoroughly stumped on more than a few occasions.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star
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