Game: Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Publisher/Developer: Intelligent Systems/Nintendo
Describe This Game in Three Words: Still Ain't SMRPG
Plot Synopsis: The Mushroom Kingdom is celebrating a sticker festival (Your guess is as good as mine, folks), when the festivities are interrupted by Bowser. Soon, he's up to his old tricks of kidnapping Princess Peach, only this time he's endowed with the power of really shiny magical stickers that also apparently drive monsters into meth-like frenzies. If Lewis Carroll and Madeleine L'Engle had teamed up to write a Mario title, this would pretty much be it.
Up Up: The Paper Mario series has always been pitched to me as the spiritual successor of Super Mario RPG, which is one of the greatest games ever made. Even so, I've never really been able to get into the games except to remark on the comedic genius of the villain Fawful.
Sticker Star is a very fun and innovative game. Despite the somewhat ridiculous premise of the adventure, even for a Mario title, it is strangely addictive to run around a 3D landscape with a 2D character looking for stickers to pull off walls and floors for battle skills or to make changes in the scenery.
My favorite so far was a puzzle that ended up causing a Rube Goldberg machine of toppling trees and mountains in the background in order to unlock a hidden item. It's a laughably long sequence in which backdrops all tumble in a domino effect. Those sort of little touches give the game an unique charm no other title can boast.
Down, Down: The battle system of the game is turn-based, but the similarities to SMRPG end there. Instead of commands you collect stickers that allow for attacks. That means if you run out of stickers you can't do anything, which is a real problem in the beginning as you learn the basics. I found myself completely without options several times in the beginning as I learned which attacks were effective against which monsters.
Timed attacks, where button presses at the proper moment increase the effectiveness of an attack, are a huge part of the game. In fact, I would say that consistently winning battles without them is near impossible. The game isn't very quick to let you know how to master these skills, so you'll be doing a lot of trial and era.
Finally, you start with room for about 40 stickers, though you do get more space as the game progresses. This makes the game not-unlike Resident Evil's storage space limitations, and adds a degree of difficulty to gameplay brought on by conservative planning and allocation of resources. You can't just fight every enemy. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does take some getting used to.
Left, Right, Left, Right: Yet another 3DS title that needlessly restricts players to the thumbstick without the option of using the d-pad. That being said, the rest of the experience control-wise is as old school RPG as you could want.
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B, A: There is a lot of strategy in Sticker Star, which is a new thing for me as a Mario fan. Jump on a Koopa to start the battle instead of just touching them, and they'll be just a shell when battle screen comes up. Make your first attack a jump attack, and his shell will hit all the other enemies in a line. Figuring out stuff like this is the key to getting the most out of the game.
I also want to give a shout out to Nintendo for not only bringing back Buzzy Beetle in a big way, but also giving us a giant oversized version as a boss. I always liked the little fire-proofed industrial version of the Koopas, and it was nice to see him back.
Oh, and one more thing... this has got to be one of the first RPGs I've ever played where there is no leveling up of any kind. Battles yield only gold to buy more and better stickers. That was a nice touch for me. I've had it just about up to here with loot systems these days.
Start?: In the end, we're still not getting what we want, SMRPG 2. Here's hoping that Square and Nintendo get the band back together one day. Sticker Star is the next best thing, and even though it will definitely test you harder than its whimsical setting would imply and fails to have as compelling a plot as the 16-bit masterpiece it is still a hell of a fun time to be had.