Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Paper Mario: Sticker Star adds color and charm to the 3DS library
It's a beautiful package, greater than the sum of its parts.
The Paper Mario series of spin-off RPGs, while great, have typically made me yearn for the Super Nintendo classic Super Mario RPG. The original Paper Mario on the N64, after all, was treated as a sequel to that game, even though they’re relatively different.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the 3DS continues that trend, though it also serves as one of the more charming games I’ve played on the system, and it also plays a much-needed role in filling a gap of RPGs that truly take advantage of the 3DS.
This new Paper Mario, like most of its predecessors (barring the most recent entry on the Wii), is a turn-based RPG, but one that is both more simple and more complex than, say, the early Final Fantasy games. It’s more simple because you don’t have to worry about different party members, equipment, learning abilities, or even leveling up. But it’s more complex in part because it continues the more “active” battle system you may recognize if you played, say, the fantastic Mario & Luigi games on GBA or DS. Hitting the A button at the right times when either attacking or defending can have a tremendous impact on damage taken or dished out.
Thing is, all of your attacks are performed by using stickers found in the environment or purchased in shops. Find a Jump sticker (which looks like Mario’s shoe) stuck on a wall? Peel it off and use it in battle. Did a Fire Flower sticker pop out of a question mark box? Grab it and use it! All of your stickers are kept in your inventory (your sticker book), ready to be used.
Early on, the lack of pages in your book can be frustrating as you often run out of room for much-needed attacks. This means a lot of balancing what stickers you keep at all times (some enemies may be immune to certain attacks, after all. For example, enemies with spikes on top of them hurt you if you try to jump on them with the basic jump), and managing your inventory to decide what to keep and what to toss. As you progress through the game and get more sticker book pages, it becomes less of an issue.
It does, however, mean constantly refilling your supply of attacks and abilities. At the start of the game, I wasn’t a fan of this. It’s the same sort of problem I had with the magic system in Final Fantasy VIII, which required you to “draw” magic from certain areas, giving you a finite stock of different spells. I want to be able to get an ability and have it permanently, to use whenever I choose to.
Similarly, I like leveling up to get stronger. I like buying new equipment to take more damage. Yes, these are tropes of the RPG genre that have been around for decades at this point, but I still find them addictive. Paper Mario: Sticker Star goes away from them, and I wasn’t sure I liked it.
But at the end of the day, the game is just far too charming for me to pass up. I keep finding myself going back to it every day, exploring the colorful environments and finding exciting new sticker abilities. So I don’t want to sound like I’m being too hard on the experience — it’s different, but that doesn’t make it bad. More often than not, I love my time playing Paper Mario: Sticker Star.
You do get stronger over time, just not in the traditional sense. You find stronger attacks, and you can find upgrades for your health meter. It does add up, making you more of a force to be reckoned with as you jump from world to world.
Stickers are used for more than fighting, too. Early on you get the ability to use stickers in various parts of the world, which can affect your surroundings in different ways and lead to some interesting puzzles. A lot of the time you’ll find yourself using big items (like fans and gates) that are obviously important and serve relatively obvious purposes. But sometimes you have to put more thought into what you’re using, especially if you want to track down hidden areas and secret world exits (a la Super Mario World).
So the combat isn’t the thing that keeps pulling me in. It’s the world. It’s the characters and their writing (which is often fun and witty). It’s the puzzles in the environments. It’s the way the 3D works (seriously, this is one of the best uses of 3D in a 3DS game so far. It looks fantastic). It all comes together into a beautiful package that’s great than the sum of its parts.
It’s good to have a great, unique game like Paper Mario: Sticker Star after the relatively bland (but structurally solid) New Super Mario Bros. 2 earlier this year. Does it top Super Mario 3D Land as Best Mario game on the 3DS? No, but that’s mostly because they’re completely different experiences. (It’s like comparing baseball and basketball just because Michael Jordan played both.) 3D Land is one of the best platformers I’ve ever played. Paper Mario, on the other hand, is a solid RPG that’s great to have on a portable system, because it’s perfect for small doses and it’s nice to have when you need something colorful and charming for a few minutes. I would say it’s definitely worth playing, and it’s a great addition to the 3DS library.
That said, Nintendo … If you could just get Square Enix on the phone to talk about Super Mario RPG 2 for Wii U, that would be superb.
This review-in-progress is based on a game that I have not yet finished playing through. Paper Mario: Sticker Star will be available for the Nintendo 3DS at retail and to download in the eShop on November 11.