Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a title that has garnered mixed feelings and divided opinions since its release. For some, it's a game that broke away from traditional RPG norms and attempted something different within the beloved Paper Mario series, with some thinking it is a good game, just not a good Paper Mario game. For others, it's seen as a departure that fell short of expectations, leaving a sense of disappointment in its wake, with some going as far as to say it is one of the worst games ever. To be quite frank, I don't agree with either of these stances... I'm caught smack dab in the middle because I love some things about this game and am indifferent about others. In this review, I, Brighton Nelson, will examine Paper Mario: Sticker Star from a balanced perspective, considering both its merits and shortcomings. Now, without further ado, let's embark on a journey through the world of papercraft and stickers to uncover what this unique installment brings to the table in today's article... a Paper Mario: Sticker Star Review: Overhated, yet still paper thin.
Battle System - 6
I don't hate this battle system as much as many others do. I found using the stickers fun, even though they were less good than badges and partners, and this allowed for many unique abilities and incredible boss fights. I actually enjoyed the item management and collection of stickers—it was an amazing and charming idea. So, what's my problem with this fun battle system? It's contrived, trivial, and redundant and punishes you for fighting battles. Since all you get from battle is coins, which only buy stickers, it is an endless cycle of wasting coins. This game doesn't incentivize the player to fight, which is so sad! A simple fix for this system would be bringing back experience and allowing you to upgrade three things: HP, BP, and SP. If the Max Up Hearts were replaced with badges and coins that could net you said badges, there could be some extraordinary passive abilities to add depth to the game! And SP, which could further increase how many stickers Mario can hold. I would be okay with this system if it was executed in a way that justified his existence, but unfortunately, that is not the case. I will say I had a great time with the boss fights here, though.
Story - 2
This game barely has more story than a New Super Mario Bros game... in the series known for its beautiful stories. The whole premise of the story is that a Sticker Festival occurs, and there's a Sticker Comet that grants the wishes of anyone who asks for it. This comet is used by Bowser, split into six Royal Stickers, and you have to collect him and beat him up. That's basically the only memorable story moment outside of Kersti's moment in the finale. I also enjoyed the little pop-up motivations for the Royal Stickers after you beat the bosses, and some of the dialogue with the toads was funny. My favorite character was Mizzter Blizzard, a cute little snowman who didn't want to melt. But in the end, the slightly memorable characters are few and far between, and the story is incredibly paper-thin. This game tries to focus on humor while not being nearly as funny as other entries in the series, and that focus on comedy and style rids it of a complex story that fans of Paper Mario had grown to love. There are no more chapter-long partner stories or exciting narratives, but instead, it is just a crown collect-a-thon that only has superficial meaning... just a little more incentive to complete the worlds over the most basic of New Super Mario Bros games. All things considered, this story is bad at best and offensive at worst.
Quality of Life - 6
One point is taken off for the lack of experience and no reward for battles outside of coins, and another is taken off for the limited inventory space. But my biggest problems with this game are 1) its pacing and 2) its overly cryptic nature (and this is coming from a guy who adores The Legend of Zelda on the NES). Regarding the pacing, the world could be much more cohesive. Some worlds are much larger than others, and generally, the levels felt completely disjointed—something even Super Paper Mario didn't do. This game didn't feel like an RPG with short stories like previous games, but instead, discount Super Mario Bros. The second is the Things, which are cool in concept but are incredibly frustrating to track down and use without a guide. These real-world objects were neat, and I wish I could think of an immaculate way to implement them, but in the end, requiring cryptic solutions for levels and bosses just wasn't good game design. As a whole, I can see what the development team was going for here, but it wasn't exactly the most well-executed.
Characters - 2
This is where Mario RPGs went off the deep end with uninspired Toads. While I am okay with generic looking characters, like the phenomenal Bobby in The Origami King, I am not okay with generic acting characters. These characters acted so generically and unmemorably; in the end, the chapter bosses and Kersti were the only characters with any memorable moments. And saying the moments were memorable is being generous. Sadly, these side characters can't carry the game's narrative or gameplay, and as much as I could love the characters in this game as much as in the other Paper Mario games, these characters were pretty laughable in the end.
Art & Graphics - 8.5
This game has some of the most beautiful graphics on a handheld console, especially in 3D. The cardboard, pop-up-book style art was never done previously and has never been done again, making this game feel unique. I love the ever-evolving style in the Paper Mario series, as no two games look anywhere near the same as the last. While the environments are graphically inspired, there aren't all that many unique set pieces here to show off the graphics, something the next two games in the series do a much better job of. This game looks great, but there's room for improvement here.
Music - 10
As a major jazz enthusiast, this is easily my favorite soundtrack in the Paper Mario series. Every song is nostalgic for me, and I listen to this soundtrack regularly. From the phenomenal battle themes like the evolving Gooper Blooper theme to the earworm that is the Megasparkle Goomba theme, from the absolutely banging music of World 6 to the simple desert theme. From the atmospheric pieces that define the theme for every level to one of my favorite video game songs of all time: the Sticker Star title theme. I literally have cried just listening to that main theme, and that theme makes me really want to replay this game every time I hear it. Granted, as soon as I had that urge, I remembered I didn't even love this game that much, but not many video game songs can compare to the feelings I feel listening to that song. Only some of the Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, and Octopath Traveler II tracks can compare to how much I love the soundtrack in this game. Without question, Sticker Star has some of the best video game music I've ever listened to and is definitely up there with the greats in terms of its soundtrack. Yes, I stand before you and say that it surpasses the music in Super Paper Mario and The Origami King. I know, absolute heresy, but I just adore jazz so much... I'm in a jazz choir for a reason. Overall, I love this soundtrack and can never get enough of it; it is easily the best part of this game and one of my favorite video game soundtracks of all time.
Customization System - 6
Like I said... I kind of liked the Stickers. Sure, this should've been a one-and-done idea that didn't carry into Color Splash, but it was fun. I always loved finding new ones, and those blocks that changed the stickers into other stickers were always fun. The Things were fun to use in battle, and the Battle Spinner allows for quicker and snappier encounters. I won't pretend I didn't have a jolly old time with the stickers, as basic and fundamentally flawed they were. As aforementioned, if we also had a badge system with this? It could've been something extraordinary. However, that just isn't the case, and the system feels too much like a baby's first RPG. Also, having a few partners thrown into the mix and the return of the Superguard mechanism would've added so much to this game, but everyone has stated this before. Overall, I didn't hate the gameplay here, but it was incredibly mediocre as a whole.
Sidequests - 6
Finding Luigi, the Max Up Hearts, the Secret Doors, the Things, the Megaflash Stickers, and the Stickers for the Sticker Museum? I had some fun times here, I will admit. Were these sidequests great? Not necessarily. But they were an amusing enough diversion from the main level progression, and I have fond memories of them, even if they weren't all that. My favorite memory of this game's sidequests was playing this game at six years old and going to the ends of the earth to collect every sticker from the Sticker Museum! Those were some good old days. Anyway, let's move on before I become blinded by nostalgia and put on those wacky rose-tinted glasses I try to banish from existence...
Chapters - 6.5
There's definitely a nosedive in chapter quality here compared to the other games in the series, but there are still some lovable and memorable moments here. I loved the Enigmansion level, the final levels of the majority of the chapters, the level where you are being chased by a giant Cheep Cheep (I know that level is widely hated, but I had a good time with it), the Airship level, Bowser's Snow Fort, et cetera. Each one of these stages has continued to stick in my mind years later, and even though they did not possess any stories, they still were fun for what they were. However, while some stages have solid gameplay that I thoroughly enjoyed, the lack of fun stories, beautiful worlds, and interconnectivity made it lack the charm of previous and later entries in the series. Super Paper Mario demonstrated that it could be possible to make levels the series norm, but this game proved Super was a lightning-in-a-bottle experience, and Sticker Star stomped on that game's legacy. Super could be the gold standard for level-based Paper Mario, and Sticker Star is more of a what-not-to-do game in terms of its levels. Luckily, The Origami King and (to an extent) Color Splash fixed these issues, but in the end, these chapters (or, I guess, worlds) were mediocre, even if there were some highlights. I don't hate the levels in this game—they aren't as bad as many say. But that doesn't mean they are great.
Fun Factor: 8
Overall Score: 61%
Letter Rating: B
I don't hate Sticker Star. I don't hate the direction it took the franchise because, quite frankly, Paper Mario: The Origami King is my fifth favorite game of all time. I still recommend this game to many people because many find things to love here, and it isn't the abomination many people say it is. However, even though I defend this game, I will not say it is anything but mediocre in all ways except for its soundtrack and boss fights. If you want a cozy RPG to play and turn off your brain, Sticker Star might be the game for you. If you miss your good old generic New Super Mario Bros, I recommend this game. While it isn't a great and certainly isn't a great Paper Mario game, it is still one I liked and had a good time with. It is by far the worst game in the Paper Mario series (my favorite RPG series of all time), but it is by no means a dumpster fire. Sure, this game was misguided. Sure, it did something different. Sure, it wasn't great. But it is still a game I have fond memories of to this day, and I recommend that those who haven't played it give it a chance before they jump on the bandwagon and shout that it is the worst game ever made. Because it isn't. I've played so many worse RPGs than this, and so many people who love this game feel like they can't say they love it because of the stigma it has. I love that people love this game, and I wish I did too. But in the end, it is just a mediocre experience that I only recommend to the truest new Paper Mario or action-adventure fans.
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Primary Version: Super Paper Mario (Nintendo Wii)