Paper Mario is back in the relentlessly charming Sticker Star on 3DS. VG247’s Dave Cook dives into Nintendo’s papercraft world and reminisces about his old sticker collection.
Stickers are something that many of us grew up with. Swapping sticky images of football’s biggest stars in the playground, spending pocket money on a pack at our local grocers, and punching the air in excitement when that one elusive, shiny sticker came along.
It’s amazing how addictive hoarding could be when you were an ’90s kid, as anyone who used to have a collection of Pogs, Boglins, Monsters in my Pocket or Beanie Babies will surely agree. But stickers were head and shoulders above the pack. It was a simple and inexpensive way to spend your pocket money, and yet you still felt like you were investing that 10p wisely.
It was like, ‘Sod buying a poke of cola bottles, I’ve got a rare Eric Cantona sticker to hunt down’, but then you’d usually end up with two normal edition Paul Scholes instead. Disappointing indeed, but at the height of the sticker craze, few feelings could match tearing open that pack in the hope that something special lay inside.
This is a feeling Nintendo and developer Intelligent Systems has tried to re-create in Paper Mario: Sticker Star, as it has tons of normal stickers to collect, a large album to fill and yes indeed, several rare ‘shinies’. It’s a fun hybrid of mechanics from previous Paper Mario titles, so it caters to all fans of the series, but with a new sticker combat system threaded throughout.
In this new take on the Paper Mario world, Princess Peach is hosting Sticker Fest, an annual event in the town of Decalburg, in which citizens come from far and wide to see the Sticker Comet fly over the sky. Rumour has it if you see the comet and make a wish, it’ll come true, so it’s no surprise that Bowser pops up and tries to steal the comet for himself.
It’s a pedestrian story – as predictable as the coming of night – but the Paper Mario series continues to be so damn charming that you hardly care, and to be honest, the writing on offer here is absolutely hilarious and is peppered with an oddly British sense of humour.
Now, I don’t know if the UK localisation team got their paws on the dialogue, but I’m petty sure Japanese gamers don’t constantly call each other ‘mate’ or indulge in regular ‘cups o’ tea’, suggesting that yes, they did have some input. Either way the humour is cracking and really drives you forward.
So then, to the stickers. As Mario explores each stage he can peel stickers off the scenery and paste them into his album, or gather them up from defeated enemies. His scrapbook only consists of a few pages at first, but it doesn’t take long until you’re carefully re-arranging a large collection of stickers using the 3DS touch screen, desperately trying to cram more in.
Anyone who’s spent a good two or three minutes dicking about with Leon’s attaché case in Resident Evil 4 so those extra grenades will fit in will know that this – like sticker hoarding – is oddly satisfying. You’ll find yourself doing this a lot to wedge more rare ‘shinies’ into your collection as you’ll need as many as you can get.
Stickers are important as they’re your only weapon against Bowser’s army of Goombas and Koopa Troopers. You start a battle by hitting enemies with Mario’s hammer, or coming into contact with them, and this takes you to a turn-based arena where you can call out your stickers to activate attacks.
There are stickers for Mario’s trademark jump attack, ranged Fire Flower bursts, POW blocks that act like smart bombs and even Bob-Ombs that can be hurled at groups of enemies. Everything has a purpose here, and rare shiny versions of standard stickers signify that they deal extra damage. As such, these rare stickers are best kept for boss battles.
That’s not all however, as your floating companion – and guardian of the Sticker Comet -Kersti gives Mario the power to turn 3D objects into large, even rarer ‘shinies’ that have powerful properties. They’re comparable to summons in the Final Fantasy in that they can wipe out a whole screen of enemies in one swoop – often with drawn out and frankly insane results.
This mechanic also factors in to the game’s puzzles, but they are threadbare at best. Basically if you get stuck, try to turn things into a sticker and chances are it’ll work. It’s the same as Super Paper Mario’s flip mechanic that gave doled out mild brain-teasers along the way. However, that’s not to say that your ‘stickerfied’ 3D objects are insanely fun.
Some stand-out object attacks include the Lucky Cat, a totem that paints the background in a glorious Japanese art style before tripling in size and stomping on top of enemies repeatedly. You can also call on a squadron of flying scissors to shred enemies to pieces, or use a tap to flood your paper foes until they turn into squishy damp wads.
While these attacks are absolutely crazy, they play into the madcap style of the game’s humour. You can also use healing items and defensive stickers – such as a spiked helmet to repel jumping enemies – to even the odds, but as intriguing as the sticker mechanic is, it is also one of the game’s greatest flaws.
If you run out of stickers mid level – and you absolutely will if you try to defeat every enemy in stage – you can’t do a thing in battles except run away. That becomes a problem when you realise that all stages are book-ended by a boss. All you can do is get yourself killed and try again.
There are some attack boosters and defensive moves you can trigger without stickers handy, such as tapping the action button just before an enemy strikes to block, and you can also increase your own attack damage by tapping just before your hit lands, but base attacks require stickers, and as such, resource management is vital.
This becomes more manageable as new album pages are doled out along the way – rather than a traditional XP levelling system – but it can prove irritating at the outset, especially as you have to throw stickers away to make room for others. It’s almost like swapping and hunting down elusive stickers in real life, but with less satisfaction.
Like the recently-released New Super Mario Bros. U, Intelligent Systems has focused predominately on the enemies and backdrops of Super Mario World – although cameos from other games pop up as well – and while it doesn’t offer the deepest combat mechanic by a long stretch, Paper Mario: Sticker Star still manages to entertain and engage.
Most of the fun comes from the game’s paper world, which crumples and folds – one early scene featuring a rolled up city is particularly hilarious – and where enemies can roll themselves into cones to give themselves spiked defence, fold themselves into spinning origami ninja stars, or stick together to grow larger and more powerful. It’s playful, just like sticker-collecting can be for young minds.
I don’t know if kids still collect stickers any more, but I absolutely loved the feeling that came with finishing a sticker album, considering how much of my pocket money and time went into chasing those last pieces of my collection.
I’d spend so long looking for that last sticker, trading with mates, offering some of my lunch money as a little added incentive, and shortly after I’d complete an album, it became old news. What’s fun about having a completed sticker album? There’s no more chase, no more searching for those rare collectibles, nothing. But the journey was always worth it.
That’s a parallel to be drawn with this game. Mechanically, you see everything the game has to offer rather quickly, but Mario’s quest through bright papercraft worlds and nostalgic encounters with a wide range of classic characters drives you on.
If you enjoy the Paper Mario series, or just Mario’s adventures in general, then this is an essential addition to you collection, even if it just falls short of ‘shiny’ status.
- To assist in writing this piece, Dave was sent a download code for Paper Mario: Sticker Star. No official event was attended, and no other merchandise was offered.