Weirdly enough, in all my years of owning Nintendo consoles; from the very first 3DS that I saved up my own money to buy at the age of 13, to the Gamecube I bought a few years later, I’ve never owned or played a Paper Mario game. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always admired them from a distance; their fantastically stunning presentation always had me attracted to them, and from what I always heard, their RPG mechanics also tempted me time and time again. Alas, years later and at the grand old age of 28, I decided to pop my Paper Mario cherry. Suffice to say, I’m glad I did.
There’s more to the game then just the visuals; Paper Mario Sticker Stars takes place in a book/land where the world is not only made of paper, but knows about stickers and their incredible abilities they hold. Once a year a sticker comet comes down to the land during the sticker festival, for all to marvel at how much power it holds. Unfortunately, with Bowser being Bowser, he decides to try and steal the Comet Stickers power, and thus begins Mario’s adventure through this gorgeous and crazy world.
The sticker/paper motive is really taken to the extremes throughout the course of Paper Mario Sticker Star, both to it’s advantage visually, but also to it’s deterrent mechanically.
From a visual standpoint the sticker/paper combo really helps to bring a visually stunning world to life, with every character fitting nicely into two dimensions. Mario for example can be crumpled up like a piece of paper, and due to all the characters two dimensions, see them on their side and they’re basically invisible. Stickers are commonly found throughout the world; on walls or under bushes, it’s fantastic peeling them off whenever you find them to see them fall with grace like a piece of paper in the wind. It’s all a wonder to behold, and truly is a stunning feat for nintendo to achieve; Paper Mario Sticker Star is one of the most visually pleasing games I’ve played in a long time.
Whilst the stickers and world are really a delight to be seen in action, the mechanics of them are not great. Battles take place with enemies like a traditional turn-based RPG, meaning you’ll select an attack and proceed to block oncoming offences. The problem is, the stickers you find throughout the world (and can buy) are the very stickers you need in order to attack and defend against enemies. It’s a cool idea in theory, but left me stuck many-a-time when I didn’t have the correct sticker to take on a specific enemy; an annoyance no gamer wants to come across after putting hours into a game.
Another problem with the stickers is the very core of the gameplay loop; there’s no XP for gain in Paper Mario Sticker Stars, meaning your progression through the game is on the stickers alone. Nintendo have done good to provide stronger and stronger stickers as your proceed through the story, but in focusing the whole game around this stickers, it never felt like I was progressing. Typically in RPG’s I enjoy fighting as many enemies as possible at the stat of the game so I can become strong enough to kill hard enemies with relative ease, helping me to feel empowered in an otherwise atypical game. The problem with a system like Paper Mario Stick Star is that in giving you no reason to fight enemies for a gain at the end of the combat, and instead giving you a net loss of losing your hard earned stickers from damaging goomba’s, you’re under no incentive to actually fight any enemies at all unless absolutely necessary (e.g. They’re blocking an exit). I spent the first few hours fighting everything I came across until I made that realisation; I wasn’t gaining anything at all, so what was the point?
It’s just a shame about the combat system, as I actually really enjoyed the fighting. Timing jumps is always enjoyable and keeps a user engaged with turn-based RPG’s, and the ability to block against enemy attacks is always a bonus and incentive for keeping you engaged with the game at all times. I still had fun with the game overall, but as said previously, I genuinely let like there were no progression. I just went on a linear path the developers wanted me to go on gaining stickers strong (or weak) enough for the current enemies.
Another annoyance about the sticker system is the ability to go into a fight with the wrong stickers in the first place. There are certain “things” that can be found around the world. These 3D household objects can be turned into rare and powerful stickers, that, during combat, can have huge effects on your foes. The problem is, some of the bosses in the game (and levels!) are absolutely essential on you having one of these stickers in your possession.
Case in point; I wasted dozens of minutes fighting a fish that would simply jump into the water and heal itself once you first damaged it. Not knowing what to do I would constantly try and hurt it, all to no avail. After getting so annoyed of getting the game over screen time and time again, I decided to check out a guide online. Turns out in one of the levels you can find a fish hook; this fish hook should be used only when the fish goes into the water, and that allows you to continue fighting him.
It’s genuine annoyances like the example above which really made the mechanics of Paper Mario grate on me after a while. If it wasn’t for the charming graphics and gorgeous presentation, I may not have made it to the end.
Whilst this article makes it sound like I’ve shitted on Paper Mario Sticker Stars more than sang it’s praises, I should say here that I genuinely still enjoyed the game from start to finish; but only in a presentation and story way. The mechanics let me down because they (in theory) should have complimented the art-style, but instead they detracted from the games’ mechanics as a whole. As I said at the start of the article, I’m glad I finally popped my Paper Mario Cherry, but man oh man was it a bittersweet time.