If you're a gamer, chances are you a fan of Super Mario Bros. For most of us, the chubby Italian plumber has provided us with some of our most memorable gaming experiences. It’s also probably safe to assume that anyone plays who picks up a Mario game (whether he's saving Peach for the umpteenth time or playing soccer) doesn't do so expecting any sort of character or plot development. This neglected area of the series however, is where Paper Mario has always shined. And to that end, Paper Mario: Sticker Star fits right in with the other entries in the beloved series. Unfortunately, it's storytelling and lovable cast of cartoon-ish characters is just about the only thing Nintendo got right.
Paper Mario Sticker Star begins with the Sticker Festival being crashed by none other than King Koopa himself, Bowser (gasp?) who is after the sacred power of the Royal Stickers. The details aren’t that important; it is, after all, a Super Mario game at heart. The game’s charm is evident from right from the start as you’ll soon find yourself un-sticking paper-like Toads, who have been displaced from all the chaos of course, from the trees, benches, and other such objects. And others are crumpled into small paper balls and scattered all over the place…and if that doesn’t tickle you pink, then you and I simply can't be friends, like ever.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star's approach to combat system is a step backward from the series. Combat is initiated by touching a foe, as it always has been, but this time your available moves are dependent on what stickers you happen to be carrying. Stickers are everywhere, and you’re going to want to make sure that your sticker album is full at all times. Choosing a Combat Sticker, such as the Wooden Hammer uses the sticker up permanently, so the only way to acquire more is by finding one or making your way over to ye'old Item Shop. This can quickly turn into a huge problem when facing certain enemies that can only be damaged by stickers with specific effects. Gone, also, are some of the RPG touches. You no longer gain experience, as increasing your health is left up to finding corresponding stickers. This is a disappointment, and it makes combat more dull knowing that the most you might get out of it is a few measly coins or items, and are never really making Mario any stronger – at least not in a way that you can quantify.
Speaking of coins, the glimmering loot can be spent on stickers and to help increase the number of moves Mario can execute during combat. Spending three coins causes a roulette wheel to pop up, and depending on how well you do, you can get up to two additional moves per turn. Most of the time, however, you’ll have no trouble gathering regular stickers on your own. You can also sell your stickers, but coins are plentiful. Stickers come in two varieties: Regular and Rare. Rare Stickers are shiny, much like a rare holographic trading card. Rare Stickers deal more damage than their regular counterparts, and will be worth more if you choose to sell them. Stickers can also be collected and placed in the Sticker Museum. It's certainly a fun little diversion, and definitely recommended if you’re looking to get all you can out of the game.
Aesthetically, Sticker Star makes the most of its paper motif There are times when your path is blocked by a missing object. These are pieces of the world that have been crumpled and hidden away for you to find. To repair these missing chunks in the bright and colorful scenery, you need to access the Paperization Menu, which allows you to put missing paper or stickers in place, and then smooth them out. It’s a cute addition to the gameplay, and can lead to some very interesting results.
Like other Paper Mario games, Sticker Star is a quirky and funny experience; you are never going to have more fun talking to characters in a Super Mario Bros. game. Characters are all too aware that they’re made from paper, and they’re not afraid to joke about it. Throughout your adventure you will find actual, three-dimensional objects that can be turned into stickers. If you need the corresponding sticker however, you can partake in only what can be described as a Mushroom Kingdom backroom drug deal. A Toad literally meets you at a door with an eye slat, and sells you the “goods.” And you really can’t beat that an exchange as hilarious as that.
Most of the time, the humor and quirkiness are strong enough to overcome the weak combat. Unfortunately, it’s not quite strong enough to salvage the entire experience. Paper Mario: Sticker Star could have been a fantastic entry in the series, but the gimped RPG elements and reliance on the stickers really sap the life out of it. You’ll quickly find yourself skipping battles in order to talk to the next crumpled Toad. Or, perhaps more honestly, you’ll be skipping combat to do just about anything else. Parts of Paper Mario: Sticker Star really shine, but the parts that you want to shine just end up brightly falling flat.
Fun Factor: Compromised by the tedious combat and reliance on stickers. Major fun can be had, but you usually won’t find it through the battle system. The many jokes and quirky touches, however, definitely help.
Difficulty: Medium. Battles can be frustrating, especially when they rely on certain sticker effects.
Length: Around ten hours, and the sticker museum may keep you busy for a while longer, but it doesn’t have the instant replayability of many other Mario games.
On the Negative Side: The stripped down RPG elements are a real bummer, and combat can often be lifeless and tedious.
Bang for Your Buck: For a full-priced 3DS game at $39.99, you can do a lot worse when it comes to expanding your portable's library. But while there is plenty fun to be had here, anyone expecting old thrills may want stick those other Paper Mario games instead.