Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Since its debut in 2000, Paper Mario’s unique take on the Mushroom Kingdom has ably stood alongside Mario Kart as one of the portly plumber’s premier side-projects. For the latest instalment, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the series pushes into some new directions that may leave fans divided, but it has undoubtedly found a perfect partner in the Nintendo 3DS – who would have thought that the most two-dimensional of materials could make a 3D handheld sing?
Though Super Paper Mario on the Wii saw the series move towards a more action orientated template, Paper Mario has generally stuck to an RPG-lite structure, with turn-based combat, character levelling and ever increasing skillsets. Paper Mario: Sticker Star might aesthetically look very similar to these outings and it does retain the turn based combat, but it still liberally jettisons many established RPG elements, replacing them with a resource based combat system centred on stickers – innocuous, adhesive-backed icons that double as ammunition for Mario’s many methods of attack.
The lure of collecting stickers – which can be peeled off scenery with a pleasing pop, bought from shops, liberated from question blocks or won in combat – initially brings the same type of thrill that comes with catching ‘em all in Pokémon. The number of stickers you can collect is limited by the number of pages in your album and grabbing new stickers and testing out how they work is an adventure in and of itself. Sadly, the excitement of discovery can fade somewhat as it dawns on you that the stickers are little more than ammunition, bullets for the guns that are Mario’s feet and gloved fists.
The problem is that unlike more traditional RPGs – where every action feeds into your character’s development via levelling – the disposable nature of stickers sucks some of the thrill out of combat as each confrontation leaves you with fewer resources and, seemingly, very little to show for the time spent stomping and thwacking the usual selection of Koopas and Goombas….very little, that is, aside from a pocket full of coins. Understanding the role that currency plays is key to understanding Sticker Star’s overarching systems. Though there may not be any levelling per se, the number of coins you have in your possession feeds directly into how capable Mario is of handling himself in combat, most obviously by enabling him to purchase a top-notch selection of stickers (or not, as the case may be) but by spending them to play a mid-battle mini-game to obtain additional moves. Furthermore, as the game progresses, the number of pages in his sticker book increases which in turn increases the resources available to Mario at any given time, in effect increasing his overall power or, if you like, levelling him up. In this, it could be argued that the loss of RPG elements is to some extent a case of smoke and mirrors, a recalibration rather than a wholesale reconstruction job.
Another interesting addition comes in the form of fully three-dimensional objects, otherwise known as ‘Things’. These objects are for the most part of the household variety, ranging from vacuums, fridges and drawing-pins to bowling balls, trumpets and fans. Their existence within Paper Mario’s world is a curiosity in itself, marking further experimentation with the notions of two and three dimensions. They do serve a purpose beyond being mere curios, however, as each can be flattened into a sticker to be used in a couple of ways. Firstly, they can be used in combat, unleashing powerful and often humorous attacks against your foes; the joy of discovery is key to the experience so we won’t divulge too much here but let us just say that if you’ve ever wondered what kind of damage a goat could do to a Piranha Plant, then Paper Mario: Sticker Star is your game.
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