Paper Mario: Sticker Star Review

You know, I didn’t even realize this until I was nearly done with this title, but Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door was pretty much the singular game that made me think of games as something more than things to mess around with.  And as a child, made me fully consider them an artform.  It was one of my favorite titles growing up.  Hell, even before I knew what a fan fic was, I wrote one about that game.  So I naturally had high expectations with this game, and suffice to say, it does not pass all of them.

Just a note, I will try to avoid mentioning other titles in this review.  Why?  Because the only connection between this game and the rest is the fact it is an RPG with Mario in it, and he’s made of paper.  And, well, there would be a lot of me saying, “Well, it was better in that game because, um, I think this happened.  I dunno, its been 6 years since I played it!”  So I am just going to judge it as a Mario game in general.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star Review
Release Date: 11/11/2012
Platform: 3DS
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo

In terms of the base premise, it is remarkably unremarkable.  Mario needs to save Princess Peach from Bowser with the help of someone to do the talking for him, as he collects the 7, or 8, or 6 in this case, Star-Macguffins.  Insert Kersti, a relatively uninteresting crown shaped sticker sidekick, mostly because she has maybe two or three pages of spoken text.  I think was suppose to be rash and young, or something along those lines, but her characterization take so long to do, that I see her more as a tool than anything else.  I know that this is Mario, and I should not expect much character, but in this day and age, and since her, Mario, a Wiggler, and Bowser’s crownies are pretty much the only characters in this game, it helps deal in what I believe this game’s fatal flaw to be, the world is unengaging.

A lot of people, including myself, said the same thing about Super Mario 3D Land.  Where the worlds felt more like things built from a toolset made for users.  Here, it is not quite the same, and feels more like they selected six worlds they needed to have, Grasslands leading to a castle, Desert Sections, Poisonous Swamp, Ice World, Jungle Zone, and final area with only one real level.  Oh, there are levels by the way, no longer an interconnected world, just a map screen.  And from there, they decided that was enough, not really giving much story or character to the areas, beyond something that you notice, and never really interact with.  For example, there are penguins with sunglasses in the ice area, who look pretty awesome, and are featured in two levels, but only as set pieces.  You already made some neat looking characters, why can we not interact with them?

And while I thought the very Jaws-esc level had a neat twist, there were some rad looking set pieces like a Yoshi-Sphinx, and the gameshow section being another highlight.  All you do for most of the game is go from level start, to level end, maybe talking to a Toad, or getting a thing along your way.  It does not seem rushed, but more like Intelligent Systems had a lot of restrictions, and could not design a lot of neat looking things, because they were already shifting the series in a direction Nintendo was frightful of.

In other words, the game is just not quite as charming as something I would expect from Intelligent Systems.  Even the most characterized character in the entire game, a Wiggler, feels overly contrived due to a fetch quest you need to do in order to get him to help you.  All while he, “learns a lesson” and, “matures”.  Not to spoil anything, but he literally does two thing in the game.  One that could have been fulfilled just as easily by a tree.  While other could have been accomplished by grabbing a bunch of baddies via some string that tied them together.  Yes, I suppose he is cute, but other than a face, I grew as attached to him, and nearly every other character, as I would to a sock.

Still, an engaging narrative could still be saved by great gameplay, and I must agree to really liking the battle system here.  Controlling Mario, who is partnerless other than his talking sticker, you gather stickers outside of combat, through the trademarked “?” blocks, by peeling them off walls, and buying them.  Once you have the sticker, you can engage in an enemy in a level selected from the overworld, hit them with your hammer or feet, and start a turn based combat sequence.  From there, instead of having an MP replacement, you have stickers, with the only limitation being how many you can hold.

This create an interesting paradigm where your attacks are only given value based on what you think it to be.  Would it be better to get rid of all the baddies by using an accuracy based Fire flower, or use a hammer and hit the one behind him for a few hit points?  Or do I use my line jump sticker to hit all three of them in a sequence, only keeping the back one alive?  There is a lot of strategy to be involved, regarding your designated loadouts before entering a stage, because you can go back and get stickers from levels you already completed.  I actually think it is pretty enjoyable, however, there is one issue, why would I fight these baddies?

You see, there is no experience point system, and all you get from a battle is money, maybe a heart, and maybe a sticker or two.  Even though when you enter battles, you need to use stickers up to beat enemies, with there often being about two or three for every battle, most needing a good two stickers unless you want to stock up on muti-hitters.  So I really only battled enemies when I had an influx of stickers, seeing as how you can not store them anywhere but your inventory, or when they were in the way, and I wanted to hit them outside of battle, so I could get a free hit.  Which, for no explained reason, gets stronger over time.

All of your attacks only vary based on the enemy for the entire game, except for the first hit, which gets stronger.  And this is never mentioned at all.  I will not question the HP increases lying around, because they are a physical object, but how does a hammer strike get weaker if it is done in combat, when it used to be stronger?

Other than that, the combat is an enjoyable mix of strategy with selecting your movesets.  Skill by timing your jumps right before you land on a baddie’s head, when a sparkle appears near your hammer, or before a foe attacks you, in order to minimize damage.  And luck, with the ability to gamble with a slot machine to get two or three moves in a turn, as opposed to one.  However, the stuff outside of the combat is what really gets to me.

As shown through out the trailers, there are 64 different household objects that lie within this world, acting as items called “Things”.  These things are able to be transformed into stickers of varying sizes, that can then be used outside of combat at certain inter holes, or in combat to provide a very useful ability, for the most part.  I dunno, i only used them in boss battles, because getting these things is a pain.  You see, there is an utterly pointless area in the main town where you need to collect one of every “Thing” sticker, and one of every battle sticker.  For what?  A sound test!

I got every “Thing” sticker, and got a sound test mode.  Now, let me explain the problem with getting these “Things” Once you go through a stage, most often time through a door that you are able to use if you pay 80 coins, which is not a big deal, seeing as I had about 9,300/9,999 by the end, to get one of the “Things”.  From there, I exit through the stage if I already beat it, via a very useful exit option, go turn it into a sticker go to the sticker holding area, and place it in the sticker’s designated area.

The process took forever, seeing as how after I placed the sticker, I still wanted to have the “Thing” in my inventory, so I had to go back and get it, again.  Some might call foul on me for saying this, but if something optional makes your game worse, it adds a glowing asterisk to whenever you call it good.  And you never need these stickers beyond boss battles.  Making them seem a bit pointless, seeing as how they are made to not look like they are from this world, which is made up of papercraft structures.

And speaking of things that feel tacked on, there a few puzzles in this game where you need to press Y over something that looks fishy, pick up what looks fishy, and put it somewhere else, replacing the area with a gap of non-existence.  And, well this is not a puzzle, it is getting stumped, pressing Y over a ton of things, and getting things that you peel off and put over things with the same outline.  It is like figuring out that the blue circle does not go into the red square hole, which held a green square prior.  And the act of peeling these things, and pretty much everything, certainly reminds me of peeling off labels, minus the sense of accomplishment afterwards, leaving only boredom.  They are only ten seconds long at most, and they still find a way to bore me.  I am baffled at how this is even possible.

That being about everything, other than how you should hit everything and go everywhere, because the camera is great at making something more cryptic than they ought to be.  Onto what I think of how the game looks and sounds.  As I stated prior, the entire world is made up of cardboard and paper, sadly missing thing like string, buttons, and fabrics, but whatever, it still looks unique and has a chame build solely by seeing koopas turn into folded paper shells.  From peeling away items, to hitting bits of cardboard, the game almost justifies why it has a very boring and safe set of worlds, almost.  I think it is really more that they really do feel like sets, which are not super interesting unless you have action in them.  Something the games does not do especially often.

Look back at Kirby’s Epic Yarn.  Everything from the movement, the enemies, the very animation of unzipping an environment.  Everything seemed structured around the idea of being made of yarn.  While here, even having things like enemies getting soggy via soda, or crumpled via a POW block, feel very minor.  And the enemies are still largely the same old mario affair, excluding the Sombrero Guy, who is the best Mexican stereotype ever.  While the bosses are normally just a big version of a baddie commonly found in the world.
Meanwhile, the ones who do not, tend to be taking advantage of the whole “The world is made of paper” idea.  However, then they seem to only exemplify how they are not actually made of paper.  With the animations being too smooth, and everything being so well connected for it to really seem like a world made of paper.  In other words, it would be like making a film about characters made of clay, and not keeping the jaggedness of stop-motion, and make them always act like they are made of Jello.  The best thing I can say about the visuals is that they remind me of the other titles, with the actual designs being solid regardless, and the ability to have the shine of some sticker tilting as you move the 3DS, is a neat effect.

And sounding much the same, there are a few tracks in the soundtrack that I notably enjoyed, and as a whole, the soundtrack is certainly good.  Yet I believe it  would probably also help from a more stylized sound, rather than being pretty straight Mario stuff.  Which is not bad at all, just another aspect that could use more charm.  The audiovisual stuff could have easily elevated the game.  Although, with the two points meeting in the middle, it cements this game’s charm, or lack thereof.  Even the rewarding timed button press induced sound effects started to lose all meaning by the end.

I will not say that Sticker Star is a bad game, it certainly is not.  Hampered down by expectations from a series that it very easily could have shared little to not staff.  While I appreciate the new direction that works very well when it works, the main game is still very solid.  A combination of too much and too little form another title that I am very mixed about, especially when the series holds such a special place in my mind.  Very enjoyable combat, with a world that feels especially stagnant after spending nearly 35 hours in it.  There is nothing exceptionally bad, but nothing to write home about.  It, like many of the other games I have reviewed, falls into my category of good, not great.  With my personal and bias filled opinion being significantly more negative than that.

30/40
Good
It’s held back by certain flaws, it manages to be a competently executed and fun product that is worth playing.

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