Reviews: Paper Mario Sticker Star

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Not even good on its own merits
It goes without saying that Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a terrible Paper Mario game. But could it be that, divorced of the broader context of the series, it's a good game on its own? I tried to entertain that thought. Oh, believe me, I tried. But the answer is no. No it's not.

First of all, the writing is atrocious. I'm not talking about the lack of plot— I'm talking about the writing itself. This game has approximately two jokes: Everything is made of paper, and Kamek is a hipster (apparently). Go back to the old Paper Mario games. How many jokes did they make about the world being paper? Were they subtle? Or were they people screaming about crinkled edges and not understanding basic everyday objects? I wouldn't have been surprised if they started saying things like "everypaper" instead of "everybody". (Also: mute Bowser, of course.)

More importantly, the puzzles are horrid. It's one thing not to hold the player's hand. It's another to almost require a guide to beat the game. See: Wiggler hunting. And almost every boss is a puzzle, which you don't have the information to solve (and thus may not have the stickers you need) until the battle has already started! That's bad design, plain and simple.

The soundtrack? Eh, it's okay. Some people praise its jazz leanings, but that's really only a few tracks. Most of the music is so languid as to be forgettable.

But the worst of all? The gameplay is awful! Sure, you get to move around on the field areas and jump around and stuff, and that's... okay. It's serviceable. It's nowhere near as good as a traditional Mario platformer, but that's fine. This is an RPG, right? So the real gameplay focus is in the battles. OH WAIT. The battles are terrible. All attacks are consumable, which is... possibly workable, but suspect from the beginning. But then you don't have experience points of any kind, which removes any incentive for actually battling, or sense of progression. There's barely any thinking involved in these battles, because you can find a strategy that obliterates all weak enemies and even most bosses (once you've found their weaknesses) with little effort.

So, take away the writing, the puzzles, the ho-hum soundtrack, and the gameplay, and what do you have? Nothing but graphics. This game is just a pretty piece of trash.
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One of the worst games in the Mario series
You may be thinking, upon seeing my title, "Gee, isn't that harsh?" ...no.

As you are all aware, many game mechanics were replaced for this installment of the usually-renowned Paper Mario series. What you may not realize, however, is the actual quality and execution of these replacement mechanics. There is no easy way to say this- everything is half-butted and unintuitive, the polar opposite of a good Paper Mario game. Or heck, a good Mario game.

Take the Things, for example. At first, they appear to be the replacement for pretty much every advanced field move and partner ability from previous games. However, whereas with those games, one could use these abilities an endless number of times, here, Things can only be used once, period, regardless of whether it's on the field or in battle. This is a problem since you could accidentally waste a Thing you need to progress and either backtrack to where it was found or rebuy it again. A simpler fix would have been letting Things be used without leaving the Album in exchange for either adding a secondary meter or even using up coins.

Let me address the Mega Muth in the room- the game never tells you important details to beating the game, such as environmental entrepreneurship (using the environment to figure things out, due to a lack of actual substantial gameplay mechanics). Nor does the game ever really explain boss weaknesses before it becomes a problem, or imply weaknesses before getting to the boss room (like in TTYD). I'm not talking about "handholding" as certain types of players try to twist it- there's nothing wrong with having a little help.

Speaking of that, Kersti is useless. Unlike the Goomba partners from past games, Kersti giving useful info is the exception, rather than the norm. This uselessness is really pronounced in a late game stage, where she blathers on about how paper fares in a certain environment instead of giving actual useful info.

Finally, battles. Due to a lack of a third unique type of reward only in battles, besides stickers and coins, there's no point to them. Why not make it so that, for every 5 HP knocked off the other side in battle, a sticker can be powered up...and have enemies give out more coins? That would give way to a new dynamic.

The irony is how, in purposely getting rid of the story, IS subconsciously half-butted it everywhere else.

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It's Better Once You Forget it's a Paper Mario Game.
When I played Paper Mario: Sticker Star, I had already set my plot-standards pretty high after playing the previous entry, Super Paper Mario. As a result, I was rather disappointed with the lack of original characters and plot in this game.

Of course, Paper Mario games are known for their stories and RPG-like qualities. Sticker Star has almost no resemblance to its predecessors (it was "paper", but that's beside the point), but that didn't make it a bad game at all. Like Super Paper Mario, the game almost feels like a spin-off of sorts.

Personally, I adored the jazzy music, and the levels were clearly crafted (heh.) with quality in mind. Kertsi, while not as helpful or interesting as Tippi (the previous game's Exposition Fairy), wasn't nearly as annoying as she could have been. I also found a few of the minor things (like the Sticker Museum and the Toad that must constantly be saved) to be funny and genuinely enjoyable.

However, I do have a few problems with this game. Namely, the stickers and battles. The "thing" stickers (special stickers that have to be made with special objects) are indeed powerful, but it's pretty difficult to find out what exactly each one does (the Lucky Cat one flattens enemies, not boosts your attack) without using them first. However, the game discourages this slightly-necessary trial-and-error by making you pay a ton of coins to get the "thing" needed to make that sticker again. As for the battles, I appreciate that they made them turn-based again, but in order to fight, you have to use...stickers. Consumable-item-based battle is really not my cup of tea, but others may find it okay.

Sticker Star is so different from its predecessors that one can easily forget what it's "supposed" to be, and enjoy the game for what it is.
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