We’ve had quite a few Mario games pop up within the last year. New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Mario Tennis Open both came out this year for 3DS, and now we’ve got another title in the fabled franchise. Thankfully, while this is another Mario we’re used to, it’s in one of our favourite versions of the franchise, Paper Mario.
For those who haven’t played Paper Mario games in the past, they’re a real treat. You play as Mario (duh) in a sort of paper craft-origami hybrid mode on a two-dimensional layout. There are also a few three-dimensional elements here, but for the most part, you’re a flat Mario. As you roam the land looking for something that’s lost (or rescuing a certain princess who always seems to be getting captured), you encounter enemies that are eliminated in a decidedly un-Mario way: through turn-based strategy hits.
This time around, you use stickers (hence the Sticker Star suffix on the game) to dole out POWs and whomps on enemy goombas. Collecting the stickers is much like collecting ammo for a gun, although each sticker can be used only once, and while they’re rather easily found in the game, you’ll best serve your character if you stock up quite a bit before heading out into battle.
In every sense, Sticker Star goes back to the original game, Paper Mario for the Nintendo64. Arguably the best game in the series, it got a lot of things right: some RPG-style text dialog to move the story along, exceptionally well-balanced turn-based combat, and a few cheeky (and often super corny) jokes. Stick Star expands on each one of these things with copious amounts of text (although not too much), a new, but still very well balanced combat system, and even more corny humour.
There was a lot of design thought put into a game that seems aimed at a younger demographic. In fact, Sticker Star is almost designed entirely for those who played the original title and are now likely in their mid-twenties or older. See, every little thing is explained in the game. Where most gamers might just be able to assume Mario would use a sticker to swing a hammer or throw a shell, there’s actually a narrative explanation that makes it possible. Sure, the explanation isn’t the best we’ve ever heard, but it’s certainly better than saying “ehh, Mario just uses his stickers to swing a hammer; don’t ask how he does it, he just does.”
There are also a ton of design elements here that are just brilliant pieces of art. Holographic stickers that were all the rage (and somehow, seemingly more rare) when we were kids make their way into the game, and the light that bounces off those stickers is actually controlled by the accelerometer in the 3DS. This put a huge smile on our face and really made us believe again.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star has very few faults. There are a few nagging items, like the occasional long speech by a toad here or there, or the frustration we get when we just can’t hit a block that we’re sure we’re placed right under, but these are tiny details that are easily overlooked when you realize just how much love was put into making the game.
The one concern we have with Sticker Star is that, by nature, it’s not very well suited to the 3DS. We actually thought the use of foreground and background graphics would make the three-dimensional effect even better on this game compared to other 3DS titles, yet we barely noticed it. For the sake of improving our battery life, we turned 3D off for the entire game.
Graphics are, fortunately, above par for what we expect from Nintendo 3DS titles. We’ve been treated to beautiful visuals in Super Mario 3D Land, but while that game was beautiful in its own three-dimensional way, Sticker Star is beautiful in a hand-drawn, paper craft kind of way. The game is extremely colourful and sickeningly cute, and while it doesn’t really have anything jaw dropping about it, the art style of the game is perfectly suited to the characters, and the characters to the art style. It’s clear the designers had a delicate balance to keep in place, and they managed to pull it off here. Note: the screenshots we’re showing do not to the game’s graphics justice. Everything looks a lot tighter on the 3DS’s screen, although we’re sure we’d see some jaggies if we were playing the game on a 3DS XL.
Sticker Star very much feels like it is the true sequel to the N64 version of the game. It is a pretty big world when you consider everything that’s going on, yet has the home-town Animal Crossing-esque feel when you sit down and play at home all cozied up with a blanket. The game could easily be a console title, yet Nintendo chose to give us even more value by popping this gem on the eShop (it’s also available in a physical copy) and charging us less than forty bucks for it.
Sticker Star is comfort food all wrapped up in a Nintendo-branded package. And who doesn’t love Nintendo-branded comfort food?