The Paper Mario franchise has consistently offered Mario fans an alt-view into the Mushroom Kingdom over the years. Stepping away from the popular side-scrolling gameplay in the Super Mario games, Paper Mario: Sticker Star focuses more on puzzle solving, sticker collection, and features a storyline that goes deeper than the traditional save the princess adventure that Mario games offer.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star tells the story of the Sticker Comet, which has been destroyed by familiar bad guy, Bowser. Mario’s mission is to find pieces of the Sticker Comet, utilizing sticker powers to overcome enemies in turn-based battles, and using stickers in the environment to solve puzzles.
Sticker Star has a beautiful visual style that lends itself well to the 3D capability of the Nintendo 3DS. The world is one that looks familar to fans of other Mario games, but unique in its living diorama aesthetic. Being built around the concept of stickers, this Mario title has players tracking down stickers of all types. Hidden throughout the world, players will uncover stickers of varying strengths that have differing effects on the game’s many different enemy types. The game is broken down into the familiar worlds and zones structure of other Mario games, tasking players with finding a comet piece instead of reaching a castle.
The major difference in story progression for Sticker Star is in the hunt for special sticker types that allow for new paths to be formed in the world. These stickers will be hidden in obvious and not-so obvious places, making this Mario adventure one that requires backtracking and diligence in its exploration. This exploration gives Paper Mario its sense of adventure, and can be compared to games like Zelda in its puzzle solving challenges. For those that enter into Sticker Star looking for the simplistic challenges that other Mario games offer, it won’t be long before the game throws its first curve ball. Hints are vague, and much of the puzzle solving is left for the player to explore in trial and error style gameplay.
Areas will see a wide variety of challenges presented to Mario, outside of just finding the sticker comet piece. There are numerous rare stickers to be found, hidden doors to be accessed, alternate routes to be discovered, and enemies to trump in turn-based battle. Collecting coins and stickers along the way, Mario can also head back to the central town of “Decalburg” to turn in his spoils at the local shop, which gives him the ability to buy, sell, and create new sticker types.
These stickers are everywhere, and you’ll very rarely find a spot where you are lacking the currency that Mario uses to fight his enemies. Traversing an area, Mario can attempt to avoid or initiate combat with a cast of familiar baddies. Low level attacks like stomp, hammer, and turtle shells are numerous, and will make up the majority of your sticker inventory. Encountering a single enemy on a map can lead to a fight with numerous enemies and enemy types. These enemies each have weaknesses and susceptibility to specific attacks. Having played previous Mario games, you’ll know which attacks can be used for specific enemies, and which can not. As the game increases the difficulty of enemies with its progression, you’ll need to utilize better stickers to advance. You can also spend coins to get a combat bonus prior to, and during, any encounters.
These core gameplay elements of Paper Mario: Sticker Star make this one of the most engrossing Mario games in recent memory. This game isn’t as cut and dry as the traditional games in the series. That said, there can be some confusion at times about what it is that you need to do to progress in Sticker Star. Puzzles can be vaguely referenced at times, giving you little to no warning that you may be passing up a crucial item needed for progression. You won’t find out for some time, and you’ll need to do some significant backtracking on many occasions. Having to go back and replay levels isn’t wholly a bad thing, but going back to every level in a zone looking for one specific item is a hassle. The major complaint here is that there are no in-game clues about what you are supposed to do. I had to use a guide to figure one puzzle out, and it turns out that what I was looking for was a doorway that was completely obscured. Without turning to a guide, I would have put down Paper Mario for good.
But what keeps you coming back is just about everything else in this game that’s not quite an RPG nor a side scroller. The beautiful world and creative characters are of the likes that you’ve yet to see in a Mario title. Being more story driven, there are actually some colorful moments that shed a new light on this popular video game world. Paper Mario: Sticker Star is also genuinely funny, with many of the encounters found in the game seemingly intended on at least getting you to crack a smile.
Mario has seen its fair share of doubters in recent years. Iterations of New Super Mario Bros on the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS have left some calling for innovation in the franchise. While Paper Mario: Sticker Star probably isn’t the innovation that they are calling for, it’s definitely a more engaging style of Mario game. You’ll need more conviction to finish this title than just grinding through the simplistic offerings of these other games, and it reeks of Mario fan service all the way through. Outside of some puzzling problems with progression, Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a fine addition to the Mario franchise.