|Jazzy as jazz can be.|
I was worried. I loved these parts of The Thousand Year Door as well- what if I ended up being very upset with Sticker Star? Should I risk that money? I recently thought back to Other M, and how critical people were of that game, though I ended up enjoying it- largely because I played it with a friend looking on, who had been a fan of Zero Mission and Fusion, and thought it looked cool. I steeled myself for the release day, repeating to myself- "I love Paper Mario, and I'll like the game no matter what."
I slapped down the money and popped in the gaming cartridge.
And I loved it. I really do, even now. I've completed the story and I'm not scouring the land for Things, Stickers, and completing the other achievements the games sets forth. It may not be Paper Mario, or The Thousand Year Door, but what it does is awesome, and enjoyable.
So! The plot- one of the more simplistic ones in the Paper Mario franchise, about on tier with the original's story- the Sticker Festival has begun, during which the Sticker Star has fallen to earth and fulfills the wishes of those who gather around it. However, Bowser interferes and touches the Sticker Star, granting him the power of a Royal Sticker, a crown-shaped sticker that grants the wearer immeasurable strength. The five other royal stickers are spread around the world, and Mario enlists the help of a sassy sticker named Kersti to find them and save Princess Peach. Cue adventure.
Paper Mario utilizes a overworld map similar to many other Mario titles, but it's split into certain regions, three of which are easily accessible at the start of the game, while the other three are much harder to get to. However, progressing via the world signs (each of the six regions is known as a world, in classic Mario tradition) is the most logical method of getting through the game.
What Sticker Star is, is not an RPG. It's an adventure game, with puzzles and dungeons. The reason I say this is because it doesn't really have role-playing elements, anywhere. The Sticker mechanic ensures that. But it does have puzzles, some of which are extremely difficult and require a bit of critical thinking and multiple tries. Essentially, I'd put Sticker Star with Zelda II- if you run into an enemy, you're taken to a whole new screen and combat plays out- but it's just as easy to run from these battles... sort of.
Sticker Star marks the return of the turn-based battle system, though it's been simplified a bit. Stickers now take the place of every type of attack. You cannot jump, or hit with a hammer, without a sticker. While this is a massive change, it's not necessarily worse- in fact, in some cases, I found myself enjoying the new battle system more- especially with the problems it creates. The enemies are positioned in a row and you can only attack down the row if you pull off a roulette spin properly. This allows you extra spaces for attacks, which is largely beneficial. However, it costs coins. There's a high risk/reward function that occurs within the battle mechanics, what with so many expendable aspects coming into play- and running from a battle is not a guaranteed thing, which can often lead to more damage dealt.
However, the game is a bit flawed in the way it takes care of escaped battles- instead of the enemy remaining outside of combat, they disappear. This makes escape from battle just as viable a method of getting rid of enemies in levels as combat, but with one minor difference- the more enemies you defeat in a level before completing it, the more coins you'll get as a reward once you reach the Comet Piece at the end. While some might not see this as much of a reward, Stickers are purchasable at shops, and you'll often have to go back and repurchase certain types of Stickers and Things in order to progress through levels- and getting a perfect Roulette Coin spin or a perfect battle will reward you with tons of coins.
There's no reason to avoid battles in Sticker Star. The enemies are amusing and feature great animation, utilizing papercraft aesthetic and shiny sticker effects. They are the difficulty of the game- they become more powerful as you progress and their behavior changes up- tackling them becomes a challenge as their tactics force you to change stickers as well. Good stickers that you've picked up will not last long in the second half of the game, and weaker stickers become a liability when they fail to one-hit kill enemies. If there was merely more of an incentive to fight enemies beyond that of simply obtaining more rare stickers and learning to nail the Roulette and action commands better, this game would go from "great" to "excellent".
The story is tongue-and-cheek, as most Paper Mario games are, and the cast of characters is fun and rewarding to interact with. Levels have a large amount of variety to them, both in concept and in design. Personal favorites included the pyramid and sphinx areas in world 2, the game show and spider bit in World 3, and the Enigmansion in world 4- there's just so much fun and silliness to be had in the levels that makes it a joy to play. Boss battles are tough and feature the most HP in a Paper Mario game yet, but many of them have "quick fix" routes that cushion their difficulty- hard mode is all about not using them! However, in the late game, it becomes more about utilizing your stickers to their best ability and overcoming the limitations of the battle system (having a limited amount of attacks, only being able to use one at a time, exploiting elemental properties). There's a ton of extra content, as well- a whole museum where you have to collect all the Stickers and Things in the game, finding Luigi five times in the game world, and the accomplishment flags which are a bit tougher to complete than one might think- they're not story-based, but they're a bit difficult to obtain.
There's an argument floating around that what Sticker Star DOESN'T do does not justify what it DOES, but I fail to agree. The Paper Mario franchise has never been known for its difficulty, and this game is no different, but at least it has a number of brain-picking puzzles, a ton of good level variety, solid writing, and MY GOODNESS does it have amazing music. Like, it's fantastic. Just because this game is different, doesn't mean it's bad- in fact, what Sticker Star attempts to be- an adventure game with a turn-based battle system- is quite fun.
Final Verdict: Sticker Star is not an RPG. It's an adventure and puzzle game, with a great amount of content and charm. Music, graphics, and level variety are in full-force here, but the game suffers from a bit of brevity in its final act. However, with the main game clocking in at around 23 hours, you'll certainly get your money's worth. Play the game, enjoy every aspect, it's not often we get titles as cozy as this.