I wanted to make sure I got the review up in a timely manner. I'll pretty it up with some screens later in the day. For now, enjoy the giant wall of text!
The Paper Mario series has always been one that brings innovation and a unique style. I have come to truly love the series over the years, even though I'm not much of an RPG fan. The games in this franchise always bring such a fantastic sense of humor with them. It's easy to see just how much care goes into making stories/dialog that really feel warm and engaging. A charm you just don't get anywhere else.
Within the confines of the Paper Mario series, Nintendo has taken things in some different directions. Super Paper Mario really did away with almost all of the RPG elements that had been a series' staple up to that point. That didn't sit well with a lot of people. That also puts the pressure on Paper Mario Sticker Star to twist things back in the previous direction.
I can definitely say that Paper Mario Sticker Star has more RPG to it than Super Paper Mario. I can also say that the RPG elements here aren't in line with what you've played in previous entries. Sticker Star puts its own wrinkle on the battle system of previous Paper Mario games. What you end up with is something you won't experience anywhere else. It's also something that you'll most likely love or hate.
Actually, that could be said for Paper Mario Sticker Star in general. It carves its own path moreso than any other Paper Mario game before it. While the paper aesthetic is there, the game itself broadens its horizons by piecing together a title that offers up multiple fresh mechanics while trying to stay familiar. For me, it ends up being one of Nintendo's most ambitious and entertaining outings yet. With that said, I can fully understand how some people might not like the direction this title takes things.
Those of you reading this review most likely know the big change in Paper Mario Sticker Star. Gone are the battle mechanics of previous Paper Mario games. What you instead have is a sticker system that doesn't match up to anything else I've ever played, RPG or otherwise. There are some recognizable gameplay elements like timed button presses for extra oomph, but how you actually battle is something you'll constantly learn as you play.
Sticker management is going to be key to your experience in Paper Mario Sticker Star. If you don't have a sticker in your collection, you're not going to be able to battle. You simply can't fight without stickers. Lucky for you, there are stickers all over the place. You'll find them stuck to tress, hidden behind bushes, locked away in blocks and even falling to the ground after enemy battles. Stickers will always seem plentiful, and a new batch of freshly-stuck stickers will be available in levels when you revisit them.
That doesn't mean you can't get yourself into a situation where you'll run out of stickers. That gets harder and harder to do when you get deeper into the game, since you'll earn more notebook pages to hold stickers. Even with those pages, you could stumble upon a collection of enemies or boss battles that have you depleting your collection through a string of bad choices.
Sticker Star offers a truly deep experience with its battles. While you can find stickers all over the place, finding the right stickers for a battle is paramount. Some enemies have spikes, which means a regular boot sticker will result in you hurting yourself. A hammer sticker won't do a single bit of damage when a Koopa Troopa is in his shell, but it could smack him into other enemies. Try a hammer attack on a flying enemy and you'll find yourself with a wasted opportunity. These situations crop up as you play, and sometimes you'll have to learn through trial and error.
Every single sticker counts, and collecting the right stickers is going to be something you'll have to keep a close watch one. Why keep a regular boot sticker when you find a shiny sticker? Yes, there are shiny and rainbow versions of stickers, which mean you'll pack more of a wallop. Run out of space in your sticker book and you'll have to do some management. Pick/choose what stickers to toss out and replace them with better versions. Even the size of the sticker itself factors into your collection. Some stickers are bigger than other, requiring more space in your book. Just make sure you use those bigger attacks in situations where they'll get you the most bang for your buck!
Speaking of bucks (perfect segue!), another element to the battle system involves the battle spinner. You'll have the option to grab yourself not one, not two, but three chances to attack in a row. You can make three bashes to the enemies before they even get a second to bust you. All it takes is a little cash. Well actually, it takes a lot of cash. You have to spend coins to win the chance for a second hit. This is all done with a slot machine-like game. Match two icons and you get two slots. Match three and you'll have three chances to attack. You can even spend more coins to slow down the battle spinner, which gives you a better chance of matching all three slots.
I've got news for you. You better spend some time collecting cold, hard coins. You'll want a nice bit of bank for when you take on boss battles. Sometimes battling bosses one turn at a time will never, ever get you to victory. There are fights where you absolutely have to have two attack slots or more to even win. In some instances, shelled enemies can flip over after just one attack, never giving you the chance to actually hurt them. You need two turns in a row. One to flip, then one to smash the fleshy underbelly. It's battle elements like this that show you just how deep the experience can go.
Furthermore, the game will even belittle you a bit if you use too many stickers during a boss battle. Even if you win, you'll learn that you might have been able to take out that boss in a smarter way, meaning the job could have been completed without reducing your sticker collection to scraps. Messages like this may seem a bit harsh, but they teach you to fight smart and not hard. It also pays to fight smart, because that means you won't have to replenish double the stickers by either collecting or buying them.
As you most likely know, you're not going to get experience points from battle. You don't level up for beating a certain number of enemies. All you can hope to get are stickers and coins. That may seem like a waste of time, convincing you to blow past enemies and finish levels. Go ahead and try that...see how well it works out. When you get into major battles without access to the battle spinner, or battles where you have only a few coins to use, you'll realize that you've made a huge mistake.
I love...LOVE the battle system in Sticker Star. It can be harsh and unforgiving, but that's because it wants you to learn how to use it. There's a method to the madness here. Whether you decide to use all that's offered to your advantage is up to you. It'll make for a fantastically enjoyable experience, especially when you learn what stickers to use and when. Wasting sticker after sticker after each use is no fun, especially when each sticker is only good for one turn. Take the time to learn what works and why it does. Trust me, you'll be much better for it.
Those extra large stickers you find can be the perfect way to finish off a boss. They might also be the only way for you to progress in the game. While there are certainly some stickers in Sticker Star that are optional, there are others that you'll absolutely need to collect in order to keep the story moving along. Most of these stickers come from real-world items that need to be paperized.
For reasons that I'll not get into, there are real-world items dropping into the Paper Mario universe. A baseball bat here, a vacuum there. If's up to you to collect these items and turn them into stickers. This can be done in the game's hub world. You simply visit a specific person that helps you get that job done. Then you paperize the game world (with the single press of a button), drop your real-world item onto the screen and it gets turned into a sticker. Now you can harness the power of that real-world item in sticker form.
As I said, sometimes you'll have to do this in order to progress through the game. This is where I really, REALLY enjoy Sticker Star. The game does a great job of making you think of how to solve issues with stickers. It doesn't hit you over the head with the answers. You actually have to stop and figure these things out on your own. You can always get some help from an in-game partner with the press of the L button, but even then you might not get all the clues you need. Sticker Star hearkens back to a time where gamers had to use a bit more brain power and a little less hand-holding.
Again, this is another element of the game that some people might not enjoy at all. To be completely honest, I had more than a few members of the press reach out to me with questions about how to progress in the game. They couldn't figure out how to access a new level or find what they needed to do in order to move things forward. This elements of the game can range from opening the next level to finding secret exits in worlds prior.
What's the key to not getting stuck and frustrated? All you have to do is take your time. That's something I think a lot of gamers have trouble doing nowadays. We're all used to rushing through with little resistance, with games telling us exactly where things are and what we need to do with them. Hidden elements are relegated to collect-a-thons that only serve to get us an imaginary achievement. Sticker Star forces you to use your mind, take your time and think things out.
Here's a good example of how Sticker Star makes you work for your progress. At one point in the game, you'll have to collect three 'things' to create a door. This door allows you access to the boss battle in a world. You can't progress much in the game without opening up that boss battle. It's up to you to find out where these things are hidden. This means actually talking to in-game people, exploring hidden areas and looking for access to levels off the beaten path. You even have to hunt down treasure chests that may seem like they offer optional prizes, but you'll see that they serve a purpose in the main story as you continue.
I love this kind of exploration. I love this kind of gaming. This is the stuff we don't see anymore. I want to scratch my head from time to time. I don't need to be told how to do things and have flashing indicators on screen as to what I should do next. Let me take in the game world. Let me immerse myself in a battle, a puzzle or an obstacle. Sticker Star never asks you to take on impossibly complex puzzles that you'll never figure out on your own. It does ask you to be inquisitive, explore what it offers and seek out answers along the way.
Even the game's soundtrack asks you to keep an open mind. From the moment I heard the first couple songs in Sticker Star, I knew I would love it. I mean absolutely LOVE it. It's my kind of music...but I can't even tell you what genre it is! I actually had other friends/family listen to the tunes to try and label them. There's some jazz, there's some funk, there's a bunch of different things meshed together. What I can tell you is, it's not going to be a soundtrack for everyone. I actually think quite a few people will dislike it...and I get that. This soundtrack takes some familiar tunes and twists them in ways you've never heard, genres you've never seen Nintendo approach. There are also brand-new tunes that take on this approach. Personally, I really hope to see a Club Nintendo release of a soundtrack. I'm absolutely dying to know what you'll think of it.
What's the one thing that most people will agree on with Sticker Star? Once again, the story is top-notch and the writing sits among the best that Nintendo has ever pumped out. The localization team truly deserves a pat on the back, as do the original writers. They've absolutely nailed the charm and style that you'll only get from the Paper Mario series. They've even taken the paper theme further this time, both story and gameplay wise. It all makes for a wonderful world that is more realized than ever before. As with the Paper Mario games before it, you're bound to at least chuckle and smirk at what you'll be hit with.
I have no problem discussing the gameplay mechanics, design and music as I did above. What I have a problem with is talking about the story. Paper Mario games have stories and writing that needs to be experienced for yourself. I always make it a point not to spoil major plot points or elements in game stories, but I feel that's even more important in Paper Mario games. Sticker Star is such a joy in this department that it would be downright wrong for me to divulge any details. If you're the kind that absolutely, positively wants to know some of the story elements, please feel free to email me with your questions. With that said, I highly suggest you hold out and experience it for yourself.
That's the question, though. Will you actually experience the game for yourself? Paper Mario Sticker Star takes the Paper Mario series in a new direction. There are a few familiar faces and gameplay elements, but by-and-large, this is a truly fresh take on the franchise. Will you like this title if you didn't like Super Paper Mario? I honestly don't know. You may find yourself longing for Super Paper Mario! You may also feel that this entry is the best yet. The one thing that's for sure is that this game will be a polarizing one. Previous entries in the series have been easy-to-follow slam dunks with most of the gaming press. This time around, don't be surprised to see some ranging opinions.
I like games that change things up. I like games that think outside of the box. To be frank, I didn't think Sticker Star would challenge franchise ideas as much as this title does. Just because things are changed up doesn't mean a game deserves praise. In this case, I happen to feel that the changes made are both interesting and entertaining. I doubt we'll see this system crop up in another Paper Mario game, which truly makes me sad. You may think the opposite once you play. If you don't mind a franchise testing the water with new ideas and different executions, PLEASE dive right into Sticker Star. I find it to be one of the year's best. I won't be alone in that statement, but I bet other reviewers will strongly oppose that statement.
I indeed recommend this title with every inch of my beard. In the same breath, I also have to recommend that players keep an open mind. Don't go into this title with expectations of things going a certain way. You're bound to have your ideas challenged, and for some, that'll result in a poor experience. Be ready for a Paper Mario title that really experiments in ways you haven't seen before.