Review

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

In The Stick Of It

Paper Mario: Sticker Star straddles the line between collecting and hoarding.

By Steve Heisler • November 12, 2012

When I was a kid, I didn’t have many hobbies other than video games, which concerned my mom. So she shoved a book of stamps in my hands and said, “Now you’re a stamp collector.” I was skeptical, so she overcompensated. Sometimes she’d buy extra stamps at the post office for me. Sometimes she’d find a few lying around in a drawer. Once, when going through some family heirlooms, she stumbled upon a very old framed parchment containing a few stamps from the Civil War. It was a wonderful artifact that I have never looked at again.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Still, it wasn’t long before I began organizing my stamps in my spare time. For fun. I had a few favorites that I prized above all else, and when I was asked to list my hobbies for a school project, I found myself writing “stamp collector” by my own volition. The more I collected stamps, the less I remembered why I’d started in the first place.

Mario and I have a lot in common. His hobbies, to the best of our knowledge over countless titles and consoles, include starring in his own video game and not much else. (I suppose he’s technically a coin collector.) So Nintendo shoved a book of stickers in his hands in Paper Mario: Sticker Star and said, “Now you’re a sticker collector.” He was skeptical, so his Nintendo masters overcompensated. They made his life all about the stickers. Every step he takes stems from the all-important collection—to whack a goomba with a mallet, you choose the mallet sticker. When the game introduces shiny three-dimensional objects, like a pair of scissors, into the two-dimensional, Etsy-spun world—they come with a mandate that Mario turn said treasures into stickers. Want to rescue a few stray Toadstools? Grab that sticker holding ’em in place, and pull. Then get back to collecting.

Despite the compulsory nature of its sticker obsession, Paper Mario: Sticker Star maintains an unfussy charm. Like its Paper Mario predecessors, the game looks like a children’s diorama that the parents probably helped with. Bridges and stairs are constructed out of cardboard; blocks collapse into delicate piles of papier-mâché. Each level folds and bends around itself, creating immaculate mazes that spring up like from a pop-up book, with hidden walls and trap doors. And Mario can admire the world from afar, taking a snapshot and leaving the page entirely to drop special stickers, like a fan sticker that turns the blades of a windmill. Here, obsessive sticker collecting isn’t a sickness. It’s heralded as a noble pursuit, and Mario is game to oblige.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Like many a Mario game, the game gets underway when Bowser shows up to wreak havoc just as the Princess was about to do something appropriately royal. It’s so rote at this point that the characters barely take time to acknowledge this particular atrocity: the interruption of a sacred sticker festival. Mario marches off, with only a blank book of stickers at his disposal, to collect pieces of the grand sticker star that have been scattered. Well, there’s also the guidance of a talking, glowing crown—like the Navi fairy from The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, but much less annoying.

Barely two minutes go by before Mario is ripping boots and mushrooms off the sides of buildings for “collecting” purposes. His sticker book looks awfully empty, and he doesn’t have to look far for his next fix. There are stickers inside blocks, on fences, plastered to the floor, hiding behind cardboard bushes he knocks down. Or sometimes there are merely coins, which just so happen to be the preferred tender at the sticker shop.

That may sound excessive, but Mario needs all the adhesive help he can get. Fights in Sticker Star, which take place outside the papercraft landscape, are turn-based: Mario attacks his enemies, braces himself for their counterattack, and so on. Each action, be it “jump on bomb with springy shoes” or “shoot a koopa shell directly at a Mariachi shy guy” requires you to burn off a sticker, never to be seen again. You’d be wise to maintain a robust stock, as the menagerie of enemies have a wide array of specialties. Mario can’t, for instance, leap onto a goomba that’s turned himself into a paper airplane. That’s what the side-swipe hammer is for. (Obviously!) Variations like this set each fight apart and justify Mario’s collecting zeal.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Success in Sticker Star is a byproduct of the meticulousness with which you maintain your scrapbooks. New and twisted enemies (and because they’re made of paper, I mean that literally) pop up all the time, like a goomba king who can organize his friends into a single sheet capable of steamrolling Mario. At one point, I used up most of my stickers taking down a single monster, at which point the crown-face popped up to tell me that, next time, I should probably use more powerful stickers to conserve my supply. That’s the moment Paper Mario: Sticker Star turned me into a hoarder.

But these stickers are enjoyable things to stockpile, and not just because sometimes you find a shiny one—ooh, the shiny ones are the best. The sticker book is not just utilitarian. It’s a way to measure progress, a keepsake in a Super Mario universe that usually asks Mario to consume or destroy all that’s around him. Sticker Star is informed by the sentimental value we attach to tiny, paper-thin treasures in everyday life. Just as a note from my dad provides me emotional strength to weather the volley of everyday stress, a boot sticker provides Mario with a more tangible strength. Mario may have been forced to take up sticker collecting, but it’s a hobby that grows to define him. And perhaps when it’s time to put that book of stickers away, he won’t be so quick to let it go.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $40
Rating: E

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  • Brainstrain

    I’ve heard about a lot of people getting stuck at a certain point in the game. Any word on that?

    I love the Paper Mario series, but I’m not quite sold on this one. Badges are cool, but stickers?!

    • TheASDF

      Yeah, I dunno. It seems like they went all-in with the gimmick of the game instead of just making, you know, an actually good Paper Mario game.

      • Bad Horse

        Sadly, “going all-in with gimmicks” basically describes Nintendo’s entire corporate strategy for the past decade.

      • SergeantKabukiman

        On the flipside, they went all-in with the performance battle system in the GameCube Paper Mario, and that was pretty awesome.

        • http://www.facebook.com/superfantasticawesomeface Robert J Lake

          That was also a -game.-

    • RidleyFGJ

      Surprisingly enough, this game actually does expect you to go off the beaten path quite often, and it doesn’t hold your hand doing it, too. It’s a pretty damn unusual game in the Mario RPG series, and not just because there’s barely any role-playing aspects to it. I’m tempted to say it’s much more of an adventure game, but the general lack of story should temper that expectation.

      I don’t know; it’s really hard to pin this game down, and that’s usually a sign of praise in my book.

      • logicalDemoness

         ”Surprisingly enough, this game actually does expect you to go off the
        beaten path quite often, and it doesn’t hold your hand doing it, too.”

        This single sentence has rekindled my waning interest in this game.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

    I’m sad that the narrative section of the story is meager.  I’m happy that the environmenal/graphic adventure section of the story is innovative and well-executed.

    I’m sad that the fighting system (Experience points?  Fleeing?  Party members?  Anyone?  Make it more like Pokemon.) is lean.  I’m happy that the fighting mechanics are focused and spot-on.

    I’m sad that platforming elements weren’t incorporated into the graphic adventure elements.  I’m THRILLED that the care taken in world creation is extended to the aesthetics.  My soundtrack of the year consideration just got a new entrant.

    I would be less satisfied if this was meant to be the magnum opus, but it’s brilliant as something new, something handheld, and 1 of 3 phenomenal Intelligent Systems games this year.  Also: I just want them to design Luigi’s Mansion 3.  The maps are so satisfyingly built.  When people talk about how they feel about discovering The Legend Of Zelda’s secrets, I have to translate that into my feelings about Sierra games and titles like this one.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      Intelligent Systems is Nintendo’s George Harrison. He’s there in the background, churning out amazing work, but nobody notices him.

      This obviously makes Shirgero Miyamoto John Lennon and Reggie Fils-Aimes Paul McCartney.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        Oooh, ooh.  Actually,
        Miyamoto is more of the populist, charming, hard worker, so I’ll slot him in the McCartney role.
        We’ll combine Yokoi of Intelligent Systems, actually, and his spiritual successor Koizumi’s timespans to create the diversity and sensitivity of Lennon.
        I propose Konno as Harrison, since he’s bringing Mario Kart, Yoshi, and Luigi’s Mansion with no real credit.
        Yamashiro is Starr, the oddball.  The Mario Versus Donkey Kong series is his Octopus’ Garden.
        Iwata and Martin brought each to new heights.

        • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

          Then can Reggie at least be Brian Epstein, the powerful manager?

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Perhaps Howard Phillips could be Ed Sullivan – the man responsible for the ubiquity and fame their work received on our shores.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Still sounds like a big step up from Super Paper Mario. I’m hoping that we get some new Mario & Luigi games as well. But mostly I want a proper followup to Thousand Year Door. 

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        It is unimaginable without Super Paper Mario’s existence, however.  Instead of a puzzle-platformer-role-playing game with a heavy focus on environments, you have a graphic adventure (or at least adventure)-role-playing game with a heavy focus on environments.  Same concept, different execution.
         
        And you and me both.

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    It’ll take some sort of 3-D magic to unseat ‘The Thousand Year Door’ from it’s throne atop “Best mario RPG ever (yes including the one square made on the SNES)”

    I really feel bad for the 3DS as it seems to have some cool games (like this one) but still hasn’t got anything even resembling a killer app.

    • Brainstrain

      I feel the same way. If I owned a 3DS, this would be a cool game to pick up at discount sometime, but there aren’t any games compelling me to pick one up. I got my DS for Golden Sun and Okamiden – which both ended up a bit subpar – but because I had it, I ended up picking up some really excellent games (Spirit Tracks, FFIV, Dragon Quest, etc). 3DS just hasn’t justified a purchase to me yet.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        @twitter-88752419:disqus 

        Solution: start living in my world, where Luigi’s Mansion 2 is a killer app! I’M SO EXCITED, GUYS.

      • ghettojourno

        Super Mario 3D Land and Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward.

    • rvb1023

      I was really hoping that this was the game that was going to do it, but from what I’ve been hearing is no.  Unfortunate, as I was finally planning to pick one up this holiday along with Revelations and Theatrhythm and the eventual SMT IV, but after Super Paper Mario (A fun albeit flawed game) I was kind of hoping for a return on this one.

  • rvb1023

    This was my first reason to get a 3DS, though I am unhappy about a lot of the mixed reactions it seems to be getting. I’ll give Nintendo credit for trying something new with the formula, but they seemed to throw out the formula entirely.  I will still be getting this, but with reservations instead of overwhelming joy.

    Can you guys really not one-up TTYD? 

    • plzidgaf

      I think they realize that TTYD is absolute perfection, so they’ve abdicated trying to top it.

      • RidleyFGJ

        Although I’m not even remotely as taken with TTYD as a lot of people are (way too much damn talking), I’ll put forth the theory that Paper Mario effectively Star Foxed itself with that game. Nintendo happened upon the pinnacle of the formula so early on in the history of the franchise that copying it would seem entirely moot, and yet the games that followed often made controversial deviations from the established formula that have often been met with derision, and some of it justified, at that.

        • plzidgaf

          Accurate. Nintendo has a lot of IP that will sell on name alone, so they’ll keep making games despite there not being a creative imperative to keep going. And for every Metroid Prime style reinvention there’s an Other M style flop.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

    The intro to Bowser’s Inside Story is not only the best intro to any SMB game, but I’d argue the best intro to every video game ever. At least somewhere near the intro to Mass Effect 2.

  • EmperorNortonI

    I have never owned a core Mario title.

    I owned a Gamecube for a few years – oddly enough, the killer app that made me purchase it was the Robotech game, fulfilling a childhood dream of piloting a Veritech Fighter in a video game.  Really, i don’t know why they took so long.  The main games played on that system ended up being Naruto:Gekitou Ninja Taisen 3, and Super Smash Brothers Brawl, I think.  That Naruto game was solid.  I also owned a DS for a year, which I mainly used to study Japanese via Final Fantasy 3.  I learned the words for Arctic and Antarctic!  But then I discovered that, in the few moments of my life where a portable gaming system would be useful, I just preferred to read.

    I did own the Mario Cart title for Gamecube, though.  Does that count as a core Mario title?  I dunno.

    I suck at platformers, which explains most of it.  When young, I did spend a fair bit of time with a friend on Super Mario 2, and nearly beat Super Mario 3 with my cousin.  But that’s about it.

    The various Mario RPG’s have been vaguely appealing, and I must admit the look of this one is rather compelling.  I’m a bit of a sucker for games with innovative visual styles and bright colors.  Still, I don’t own a 3DS, and since I also want to try out the Persona titles, I’d be torn about which one to get.  In the end, most likely neither.

  • RidleyFGJ

    I should note that this game has one of the best soundtracks of recent memory. The big band stylings are so energetic and catchy, and as an added bonus, they’re also dynamic based on what’s happening at that moment.

    This has been a pretty damn good year for soundtracks in games; Journey, Closure, Fez, Max Payne 3, Lollipop Chainsaw (in both the original and licensed department!), and now Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Some of those are even good games, too!

  • plzidgaf

    I feel bad about the lukewarm reception this game is getting. It’s honestly pretty great once you get past the fact that’s it’s totally different from the other games in the series

    • RidleyFGJ

      I think a lot of people have been hungry for an 3DS RPG for a while now (surely, man isn’t meant to subsist on ports of Devil Survivor and Tales of the Abyss), and if for nothing else, the Mario RPGs tend to satiate that appetite. That Nintendo and Intelligent Systems decided to, well, not make one is certainly an unexpected surprise.

      At least the outlook for next year is a lot brighter with already-announced titles like Fire Emblem Awakening, Etrian Odyssey 4, and virtually guaranteed localizations of Bravely Default and Shin Megami Tensei IV.

  • http://www.facebook.com/the.em Matthew Espinoza

    I really enjoyed this game, despite the fact that your attacks are a finite resource. It had great level design, fun music, and a fairly good (if sparse) storyline.

    Until I got to one level at least halfway into the game where I lost all of my stickers and had to try and get them back in rooms full of enemies who attack me and who I couldn’t attack because I LOST ALL MY STICKERS. And to rub salt and lemon juice into the wound, the stickers I was able to grab before an enemy attacked me did not hurt the enemy, or would hurt me (regular jump vs a spiky enemy).

    I understand the gimmick of stripping the hero of his abilities for a level or so, and forcing him to get them back. Especially in good RPGs, that can add some real gravitas and challenge to the game. But this is a more-or-less side-scrolling Mario game, and the creators have chosen to give Mario no option of attacking without stickers. That’s making it unnecessarily difficult.

    So after waiting a half a year for this game, buying it brand new after paying off a pre-order in full, I have put it down and haven’t touched it for over a month, nor do I have any burning need to return to it. That’s not a good sign.