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Paper Mario: Sticker Star

by Scott Thompson - November 23, 2012, 11:51 am EST
Total comments: 11


This game really [insert sticker pun here]!

Despite Nintendo's unwillingness to deviate from the tried-and-true methods of Mario's traditional 2D adventures, they have had no issue experimenting with and reinventing the plumber's paper persona. After the duo of Paper Mario and PM: The Thousand-Year Door, the Wii's Super Paper Mario attempted to apply the paper motif to Mario's classic 2D roots, forsaking much of the RPG system that had defined those previous games. The result was an enjoyable if somewhat forgettable foray that didn't show much benefit from ditching the RPG tropes. Paper Mario: Sticker Star arrives some five years later, with the series still in flux, with a new spin on the formula that brings it closer to the achievements of the first two games while being completely unlike either. Let me explain.

Turn-based battles return to Paper Mario, but with your participation reimagined. Rather than equipping items and learning new skills along the journey, Mario uses a handy sticker collection to defend himself. Stickers, which you can pluck off scenery, purchase in shops, find in "?" boxes, and earn in battle, provide an attack or ability for Mario in battle, and then disappear after a single use. They also come in different styles, from worn-out to flashy, denoting their rareness and power. A worn-out Jump sticker causes a minute amount of damage, while a flashy sticker, which appears to shine and reflect light, causes large amounts of damage.

This reliance on stickers, themselves a finite resource, creates some interesting strategy for players. While traditional RPGs may support simply spamming the most powerful attacks to cut through weak foes, Sticker Star encourages careful management of Mario’s stickers. While using a shiny POW block to dispatch a group of Goombas in one move may prove tempting, that sticker is often better utilized during an encounter with a more powerful foe. Because of this consideration, it is common to use a stockpile of simple Jump and Hammer stickers, which are plentiful and available from the start of the adventure, to deal with common enemies. So, while rarer stickers may be lifesavers in tougher battles, they are no more important than the most common of stickers.

While turn-based battles return, Mario doesn't level up or gain any experience points as he progresses. In fact, his only improvements come from finding HP-Up Hearts throughout the world, which increase his total health by five points. Unfortunately, while these health boosts are an absolute necessity in order to survive later battles, you can only find them through exploration. Unlike Zelda games, which grant Link more health after defeating bosses as well as through discovering secrets or completing side quests, Mario becomes hardier only when he finds these power-ups.

However, finding those power-ups usually isn’t a problem, as the game has you scouring each and every level for "things" in order to progress. From the start, Sticker Star gives the impression of a straightforward affair, featuring a world map not unlike Super Mario Bros. 3. However, the game periodically comes to a screeching halt when it requires a specific item to progress further in a level. These "things" are the real-world items that show up in Sticker Star, like scissors, fans, vacuums, radiators, and more. Lots more, actually. These "things," essential in solving certain puzzles, aren't usually found in your current level, though, leaving you to search every nook and cranny of each available area until you stumble upon the key item. Or, you know, you could just use a walkthrough.

Maybe the excellent pacing of Xenoblade Chronicles, which never left the player confused or wondering where to go next, has spoiled me, but this reliance on "things" is a real pain. I groaned every time I realized I needed a special item to progress, and eventually started resorting to Google. I'm not opposed to puzzle solving, but the fact that these items aren't, at the very least, in the present level is incredibly discouraging. What's worse, the "things" are also necessary to beat bosses. An early boss encounter pits Mario against a giant Pokey (you know, the cactus-looking thing from Super Mario World). The super Pokey has 300 HP and is unstoppable with standard stickers alone. However, if you bring the baseball bat (found two or three levels before this encounter), you can use it to knock out segments of his body, dropping his HP to under 100.

I'd be fine with this if, like a Mega Man game, the "things" merely gave you an advantage, and you could still defeat bosses through conventional means, but that just isn't the case. On top of that, Mario's sticker scrap book can only hold so much at once, so you can't even have all of these "things" with you, just in case. So, unless you read a walkthrough ahead of time, the game expects you to start battling a boss, die, and then return with the required "thing." It's mindboggling, really.

It's a shame, too, because playing the game is so much fun. Easily the most thematically dedicated entry in the series, the game constructs its paper worlds and characters with believability, bending and folding them accordingly. Mario's progress also impacts the environments in interesting ways: a forest world is covered in poison, but once Mario beats the boss, he can return to each level in that world to freely explore and collect items, unencumbered by the poisonous goo. Levels are also surprisingly lengthy and feature some unique settings, such as the aforementioned poisoned forest.

I want to love Sticker Star. The game looks great, the localization is top-notch, and, when things are moving along, it all feels so right. The sticker economy is well realized and forces you to manage your sticker collection well. But the game's obsession with "things" brings it to a screeching halt all too often. This hurdle is easily sidestepped by bookmarking your preferred walkthrough, but it's a shame the game couldn't simply be less obtuse in its puzzle structure. So, instead of loving Sticker Star, I'm left to simply like it.


  • Cuteness overload
  • Great sticker system
  • Localization is well done and often funny
  • Worlds are unique and impacted by Mario's progress
  • Puzzle solving is obtuse and complicated
  • Reliance on "things" stops all momentum


NbzNovember 23, 2012

Great review Scott! I've read a few other opinions on this game, and the general consensus seems to be that such a reliance on "things" really does hinder the title quite a bit. I don't think that it will be enough to hurt the enjoyment of the game for me, but I'll certainly be keeping the internet handy to stop those frustrating moments when I pick this up on the European release. I've always been a fan of the Paper Mario aesthetic, and this game truly looks like its going to continue to uphold that visual fidelity. What did you think of the 3D effect? I've heard its pretty stellar.

Pixelated PixiesNovember 23, 2012

That's slightly dissappointing. I had hoped that after the mixed bag that was Super Paper Mario they (being Intelligent Systems) would take the series back to it's roots a little bit. Not that I don't want the series to evolve, it's just that the real strength of the first two games were the characters and the battle system. With Super Paper Mario the characters were annoying would and never shut up and the battle system was removed entirely. Sticker Star at first appeared to be addressing some of these problems, but it now seems that they've simply replaced them with new problems.

However, because I'm eager to have a more meaty 3DS game to play I'll probably end up picking this up anyway. The visuals alone are a big draw for me. Paper Mario and 3D seem made for each other.

FjurbanskiNovember 23, 2012

If you're willing to look past the "things" aspect and just find a guide whenever you get stuck, the game is really fun. The battle system is easy and simplistic, but I think the most fun is trying to figure out how to get out of battles without getting hurt. That does take some skill and thought. And the presentation is great.

My only real problem (aside from the "things") is the lack of party members/unique characters. Having party members always made the mushroom kingdom feel more fleshed out, like it wasn't just goombas and koopas everywhere. There's lots of funny dialogue in the game, but it would just feel a little nicer if every character wasn't just normal enemies/normal toads. But, I'm still early, so maybe that'll change.

Evan_BNovember 23, 2012

If you're unable to solve any of the puzzles in this game, you're kidding yourself. The game even gives you blatant hints- it's up to you to take them.

As for the Things, they're like, summons, or special attacks. There IS no reliance on them- especially since you can play the game just as easily without them. However, in the latter half of the game, they merely become "powerful stickers" rather than instant-win buttons, which is nice. But attempting to beat the first batch of bosses without them is a delicious challenge, and one that I enjoyed very much. Keep this in mind, folks- you don't need Things to win, but they'll help you quite a bit.

I highly recommend this game, by the way.

Pixelated PixiesNovember 23, 2012

Quote from: Fjurbanski

My only real problem (aside from the "things") is the lack of party members/unique characters. Having party members always made the mushroom kingdom feel more fleshed out, like it wasn't just goombas and koopas everywhere.

I haven't played Sticker Star yet but I too have found the lack of party members a little worrying. Having a colourful cast of partners journey around with you, for instance, was half the fun of Thousand Year Door. It's a damn shame in my opinion that there's no equivalent party system in Sticker Star.

RasNovember 23, 2012

I haven't had any of these problems and I absolutely refuse to look at a walkthrough.  Maybe it helps what order you play the levels in--I played the swamps second, not the desert, and the swamps are loaded with items--but I've found it to be pretty smooth sailing.  I will admit that the boss fights are a pain.  I have to use tons of special stickers, after which Kersti advises me to use fewer.  I think each boss is susceptible to certain stickers, and you just have to try to figure out which ones.

Other than the revamped battle system, I'm surprised when people say it's significantly different from the first two Papers.  It's right in line with them and is just as charming. The conclusion of the oasis puzzle made me bark with laughter. 


There's a clue as to the Giant Pokey boss -- the battle kicks off with the phrase "Play Ball!" on the screen. I expect other bosses have similar clues.

Quote from: Jonnyboy117

There's a clue as to the Giant Pokey boss -- the battle kicks off with the phrase "Play Ball!" on the screen. I expect other bosses have similar clues.

But that involves being set up for a "gotcha!" moment at most bosses. I picked up on that hint, but I didn't have the bat. So, I either had to restart the game or purposefully lose. As far as I know, there was no pre-fight clue regarding the bat.

I'm really digging the game, but I don't much enjoy when a game is just like "lol you should have had the fan" in the middle of a boss fight.

RasNovember 24, 2012

Jonny, if you look closely, the platform to the pokey is a batter's box and home plate, and the whole thing is a baseball stadium.  A major clue, but I'm kind of dumb.  I did actually have the bat, I think, but maybe I didn't use it right, because I still had to use a bunch of other special stickers.

Neal, the first time I face the pokey, I "cheated."  I wasted a bunch of special stickers, but I had saved before the battle.  I dropped to the home menu, closed the game, and was then able to restart with all of my stickers intact.  A cheap way to experiment.

red14November 24, 2012

After reading this review I'd say this game was given a well deserved perspective, however a 7.5 is a little low despite the obvious (for lack of a better word) "flaws". I myself do love this game. It's my favorite game ever just from the fact that it throws back to the 64 version so much (my previous favorite). I just feel that the likeness between the two games is uncanny, and reminds me of back when I first played Paper Mario.

Even though I'm so accustomed to these games in the first place, I wouldn't let something as small as exp or partners get in the way of a good game. I wouldn't excuse it in the next Paper Mario though, it wouldn't work again.

Based only on my opinion however, I'd give this game an 8.5 overall.

oksodaScott Thompson, Associate EditorNovember 24, 2012

Truth be told, I was very close to going with an 8, but I just found the scouring for "things" to be too much for me. However, the game still has charm to spare. If you can deal with some frustration and walkthrough reliance (or lots of exploration on your own), it's worth playing. I think it's much better than Super Paper Mario, that's for sure.

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Game Profile

Paper Mario: Sticker Star Box Art

Developer Intelligent Systems

Worldwide Releases

na: Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Release Nov 11, 2012
jpn: Paper Mario: Super Seal
Release Dec 06, 2012
RatingAll Ages
eu: Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Release Dec 07, 2012
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