It’s been over five years since the last Paper Mario game – my, how the time’s flown. It seems like only yesterday we were piloting the two-dimensional plumber around Flipside and all the fans were getting incredibly angry about a change in art style and combat mechanics. Well fret no more, fanboys – you can complain once more about Paper Mario Sticker Star, the series’ new worst game.
That’s not to say Sticker Star is necessarily a bad game. Paper Mario is after all one of Nintendo’s consistently good franchises and it certainly ticks all the right boxes, moving back to the cardboard cut-out graphical style of the first two games, enhanced by the 3D capabilities of the 3DS, as well as using a turn-based battle system. This battle system manages to improve on the interesting but slow-paced combat of Paper Mario by using stickers collected throughout Mario’s travels to enable him to perform various moves. In addition, the turns pass much quicker than before and instead of spending hours arranging badges in different orientations to suit a particular strategy, Mario can use any move he has a sticker for.
It’s the most obvious but by no means the only way in which the game has lost a lot of Paper Mario’s charm. In shrinking the game down for the handheld, Nintendo have stripped out a lot of elements that made the games so enjoyable to begin with. For instance, badges may have taken a long time to organise, but they added a level of strategy and depth that is sadly absent – it would have been much better to streamline and alter the system than entirely excise it.
The same goes for the replacement of free-roaming with several very small environments linked together with a map screen. It’s very similar to that of Super Mario Bros. 3 and I’m not sure it works very well for an RPG. The argument to be made here is that it cuts down on the unnecessary backtracking that was present in the older games, but once again it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. For one thing, the backtracking in Paper Mario 1-3 was generally only required once – it was easy to open up fast travel routes that made navigation quick and efficient.
What the world map seems to do is remove any opportunity for bonus areas or extra exploration within each stage. Instead, the stages are so small that it streamlines the game too much and makes it incredibly short and unsatisfying. The 3DS game cards are capable of holding up to 8GB of data – six times the size of a GameCube disc – yet this game contains barely one quarter of the content Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door had, even with a development time nearly twice as long.
The game gains some kind of reprieve by having very high quality graphics. Models are high-polygon and look fantastic in 3D, while lighting effects look nice too. The 3D isn’t necessary, as is the case with most 3DS games, but it does work quite well with the graphical style of Paper Mario and it’s definitely worth trying at least once.
Sound is another area where Paper Mario picks up Brownie points because it’s rather lovely to listen to with traditional sound effects all over the place. Unfortunately the soundtrack isn’t of the same incredible quality Thousand Year Door had, most of the songs being remixed versions of the same tune, but it’s never unpleasant to listen to – just a little samey from time to time.
The plot leaves a lot to be desired, lacking any really interesting devices, characters or humour and it’s a real shame because that’s always been one of the areas in which Paper Mario games have been strongest. It’s since been revealed by one of the developers that Miyamoto vetoed heavy use of story elements based on his belief that players didn’t want it. Fair enough I hear you say, except that he got that idea from a poll on Club Nintendo saying that only 1% of players liked the plot best in Super Paper Mario. So guess who I’m going to blame for this mess of a plot? That’s right, it’s you guys. Make sure to fill out forms properly next time.
Overall, Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a disappointing game that is made all the more of a shame by the fact that it shows such potential. With a little more care for maintaining the best parts of Paper Mario, while improving them and adding a well thought out story, Sticker Star could have been an excellent entry in the series. As it is, you’re far better off spending your money on the sublime Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door instead. 6/10.