This game gets a gold star.
I spent a couple hours with the latest Paper Mario iteration at Nintendo last week where the company again shows just what it is that makes Nintendo games special. The dedication to stickers and the paper environment of the RPG cannot be understated.
The Sticker Star title, while it could refer to Mario in the fame or expert sense, also refers to an actual physical Sticker Star. Much like the beginning of Super Mario Galaxy, the game begins with the paper version of the Mushroom Kingdom celebrating Sticker Fest and the arrival of the Sticker Comet, which collects the wishes of those it passes by. In a Triforce-esque scene, Bowser appears and touches the Sticker Star, which grants him its power and turns him into a shiny foil sticker. Mario tries to attack, but is overpowered and later wakes up in a crumpled mess to find the princess missing and all of the Toads affixed to various surfaces by yellow and black Bowser-themed tape. He is quickly joined by Kersti, a shiny crown-shaped sticker not unlike the Pixls of Super Paper Mario. Though she has an attitude, she helps Mario throughout his quest and directs him to find six Royal Stickers in an effort to contain the power that the Sticker Star expelled.
The battle system, while retaining the series' turn-based trademark timed action mechanics (which significantly boost attack and defense when buttons are hit at he right time), is also radically changed by the introduction of stickers. These stickers replace the traditional party system, so this time, Mario fights alone. The stickers impart a wide array of abilities, which include a wide variety of stomp and hammer techniques as well as traditional fire and ice flower and leaf power-ups. However, each sticker can normally only be used once, meaning that if you don't have enough stickers, all you can do is run away or die. And while there are stickers everywhere imaginable, bosses often require a specific set of stickers to be defeated without great trouble, adding an extra layer of planning early on -- a combination of the sticker and timing mechanics means that the game can't necessarily be breezed through without thought, and you definitely can't just spam attacks.
There are normal stickers, gold and silver stickers, and shiny crystalline stickers. Besides looking cool, these fancier stickers impart more power in battles. The sticker motif is done very well, and everything has a near physicality to it. Stickers are collected on the touch screen in an expanding album and can be reorganized there. One of the neatest extra touches is that the metallic stickers actually appear to reflect light differently as you move the 3DS around physically as a real shiny sticker would. There's a tenancy to want to save up your fancy stickers, but you will go through so many stickers in battle, so it's important to manage them well and be willing to experiment with their effects. It's a real change from traditional RPGs where people often tend to hoard items. You just can't do that here, and making everything stickers enhances the triviality and feeling of childhood materialism.
Sticker Star plays up the paper nature of the environment even more than previous games both visually and verbally. For example, some enemies use their papery nature to fold themselves into a sharp point to better attack Mario. Toads can be found in all sorts of amusing situations, often stacked on top of one another. There are hidden items everywhere; it's a collectionists' dream (or nightmare). There are stickers and even characters stuck onto all sorts of surfaces. You can even flip over cardboard puddles and find stuff hidden there.
The environment's cardboard and construction paper is occasionally intruded upon by a real 3D object, such as a fan, scissors, and even a lucky cat. These objects can be transformed into stickers, which are extremely powerful when used in battle, but may also be needed at key points within the story to progress. These larger special stickers take up more space in your album.
A new feature that plays up the paper nature of the world is called Paperization. In this mode, the world becomes flat and Mario can affix stickers and other scraps of paper that Mario's collected to the environment. Some stickers, when placed in the right location, marked by dotted outlines, can drastically change the landscape and activate events. Sometimes parts of the environment are missing and pasting in the scraps restores access to blocked paths. For example, early on, Bowser Jr. tears out a bridge and Mario must find and paste in a replacement to continue his journey. Faint outlines of doors mark where you can add stickers later that will open secret areas. Sometimes flowers indicate the presence of a hidden block or a place to affix a sticker.
Coins also play a critical role in the game. These coins can be gambled before big battles to bias a "battle spinner" slot machine in your favor. The number of matching items in the slot machine determines how many stickers you can use during a single turn in the battle. Coins are maximized by completing action combos during battle. You can also purchase needed stickers.
Even the previous games' chapter-based structure has been replaced with something more resembling an action game. There's a world map, which includes encompasses locations with Super Mario Bros.-style level numbering. You begin in Decalburg, and at the beginning Surfshine Harbor and three worlds appear to be open to explore, 1-1 Warm Fuzzy Plains, 2-1 Drybake Desert, and 3-1 Leaflitter Path, but you're quickly turned back in Worlds 2 and 3 by RPG-trope barricades, such as a giant and impassible sleeping Wiggler that won't wake up. Areas are meant to be explored multiple times as you may not have the proper stickers to reveal all of the levels secrets. Some levels even have multiple exits like the games platformer counterparts. World 1 includes recurring battles with Goomba soldiers across Boquet Gardens, Hither Thither Hill, and ends at the Bob-omb fortified Goomba Fortress.
The game is light-hearted and humorous, and while credit goes to Intelligent Systems for all of the sight gags, localizer Nate Bihldorff has left his mark with American audience-appropriate text such as "unburrittoing" the rolled up town and characters exchanging barbs about being a hipster. The game is less text-heavy due to the lack of partner characters, but what's there is truly funny.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star refines and re-invents the world of Paper Mario. It isn't afraid to play up the absurd nature of the paper world, and indeed showcases it with an interactive pop-up book feeling. The game launches November 11 in North America in both physical retail and digital download formats.