-Beautiful graphics that are the best in the series by far.
-Sticker Combat System is fun and adds a fresh new mechanic.
-Navigating the world and solving puzzles is great and challenging.
-The music is fantastic.
-The humorous dialogue the series is known for is still as strong as ever.
-No hand holding; exploration is key.
-Sticker collecting is fun and adds lasting value.
-Gameplay may be too challenging for some.
-Story, or lack of thereof.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star is the fourth game in the Paper Mario series. This title undoubtedly had some expectations to live up to, after the strange turn the series took with Super Paper Mario. Because of this, it seems everyone was expecting it to be a true sequel to Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, and because it is not, this game was destined to be polarizing from the very beginning.
Visually, the game is magnificent. The visuals have the Paper Mario flair we're used to, but now there's tons of cute little details, like environments made out of cardboard. It's small details like that, and the 3DS's 3D ability that makes this game feel like a paper cut-out world. Some other details, like the way shiny stickers shine when you move your 3DS, or enemies merging together into paper monstrosities. It has a sense of style that is unmatched on the system so far.
The soundtrack is equally impressive. Thankfully the music wasn't completely bland, which was something of a trend with the NSMB series, and there are some great tunes here that live up to the spirit of the Paper Mario series, and include little references to loved Mario tunes.
The story is perhaps the only disappointing factor for me. Even Super Paper Mario had an interesting story, but Sticker Star's been-there-done-that story is quite a disappointment. Simply, Bowser breaks the legendary Sticker Comet into 6 pieces, kidnaps Princess Peach, and now it's up to you and your new sidekick Kersti to recover the pieces and rescue Peach. That's it. No twists or surprises are to be found here. That said, there are still charming moments to be had in it, like helping Wiggler and clearing out a mansion full of Boos. The game still has some hilarious moments, particularly with the use of "things," real-world 3D objects that are inexplicably appearing in the Paper Mario world. All in all, while the story is not very interesting, the dialogue and characters you'll run into are still very charming and funny.
What is the most polarizing factor about this game is the gameplay. People are picking it up expecting an RPG, and not being very happy because it doesn't play like one. That's because this game is not a true RPG; it is an action-adventure game, albeit one with a turn-based combat system. It lacks the character building aspect of an RPG, and because of that it brings the game closer to something like Zelda.
Another polarizing element is the world. The game features a world map, which doesn't really change much, except that it makes the game more linear than before. If you truly want to do the worlds out of order, though, it's possible, although difficult with the first three worlds. That said, It's been awhile since I've seen a game world that not only asks gamers to be curious and inquisitive; it requires it. You have to look through every nook and cranny to find secret paths, HP Hearts, stickers, "things" and even exists into alternate levels. I enjoyed this very much and made it my favorite world in the series so far. It was an absolute joy to explore Sticker's Star's world, and the only thing adding a world map really did was streamline the travelling factor to make it easier to get from point A to point B.
The combat system makes is one thing in the game that makes a return to the original Paper Mario games. Like in the first two games, you will encounter enemies in the world and enter battle by running into them. What is changed drastically are the battles themselves. There are no "actions" like you would encounter in an RPG; instead you are forced to use stickers. You may only have a finite number of stickers, and if you don't have any stickers left, your only option is to run from the battle. While this sounds odd, stickers are everywhere. You'll find them stuck to nearly every environment, in question blocks and even in shops. Because of this, the chances of you actually running out of stickers is nil. I never ran out of stickers while playing this game to the end. However, what this system adds is strategy. You are required to have the correct sticker for every particular situation. If you go into a boss battle with a bunch of weak jump stickers, chances are you won't make it. But if you go and get the right powerful sticker for the particular fight, it's a breeze.
There were times where I had huge struggles beating bosses, and when I finally beat the boss using regular stickers, Kersti informed me the fight could have been easier if I had used the right sticker. Inversely, if your sticker book is filled with powerful stickers, you may have no other choice but to use it on a weak enemy. Like in the past games, timed button presses can block attacks and deal extra damage. Another complaint I've seen is that without experience or character building, battles are meaningless. This is false. Battles reward you with coins, which are most importantly used in a roulette that allows you to use up to 3 stickers per turn. Of course, using this roulette costs coins. This is particularly critical in boss battles, where you may be required to make two actions in one turn to defeat them. I've collected hundreds of coins throughout the course of a world, only to spend them all in the boss fight and be left with nothing. If you don't have enough coins to win a boss fight, it might be a good idea to go out and win some coins from enemies.
For completionists, there are achievements and for the collection freaks, there is a "Sticker Museum" where you can display all the stickers in the game after you've found them. There are six worlds for you to explore, and the game took me around 15 hours t beat, and I got stuck in several parts.
Destined to be a polarizing title, Paper Mario: Sticker Star has hit nearly all of the right spots with me. If you go into this game expecting The Thousand Year Door, you will be disappointed. To be honest, if they had made another game like that, I wouldn't have been as excited about it. If I wanted to play Paper Mario 64, I'd play Paper Mario 64. However, if you're looking for a fresh, new experience that bends genre rules in style, this is your game. This is the best 3DS game I've played this year, and it's a title that I'll continue to play for a very long time.
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