Paper Mario Sticker Star Articles RSS Feed | GameSkinny.com Paper Mario Sticker Star RSS Feed on GameSkinny.com https://www.gameskinny.com/ en Launch Media Network Is The Paper Mario Series Dying? https://www.gameskinny.com/c52bf/is-the-paper-mario-series-dying https://www.gameskinny.com/c52bf/is-the-paper-mario-series-dying Wed, 04 Jan 2017 11:00:02 -0500 Rob Kershaw

The once-celebrated Paper Mario series has had a rough few years. At one point it was considered to be one of the highlights of the plumber's deviation from the platformers which made him famous. However, recent releases in the RPG series have seen diminishing returns, and with good reason: they're simply not as good.

Where Did The Story Go?

The first game in the series, Paper Mario, was a revelation. It followed on from Super Mario RPG genre-wise, but established an entirely unique aesthetic in the process. It looked great, it sounded great, and proved that the iconic character really could hold his own in a genre more traditionally populated by teenagers with blue spiky hair and huge weapons. The Thousand Year Door took things even further, with reams of text and a wonderfully weird story that was lauded by players and critics alike.

But with the release of Sticker Star on 3DS, something changed. The focus shifted away from the story-heavy elements that embodied the core of the previous titles, in favour of more accessible gameplay. This, in part, was due to Miyamoto himself questioning whether a story was required in the latest iteration. He may have had a point: the 3DS already had another RPG series in the form of Mario & Luigi, and there was a risk of saturating the handheld with two similar franchises.

However, it could be argued that Mario & Luigi is a comedy RPG series, in comparison to the (ever-so-slightly) more serious tone of Paper Mario. The mechanics of the brothers' franchise were also much different to the solo plumber's quest in Paper Mario. Either way, something was lost in Sticker Star and subsequently the Wii U's Color Splash, despite the relentless meta-jokes and self-referential winks to the red one's career. Humour alone does not make a story, as critics were quick to point out.

Where Did The Fun Go?

A lot of the blame for the decline in Paper Mario's quality can be laid at the feet of the gameplay. Sticker Star simplified many of the game's elements to the point of dreary repetition. Encounters were frequent, and the actual combat was dull. Color Splash basically substituted stickers for cards, but went one step further by attempting to incorporate the Wii U's GamePad into proceedings. The result was disastrous; each round involved you selecting the cards you wanted to use, then selecting the power of each card, then flicking the cards at the TV from your controller. The GamePad's process added literally nothing to the game that couldn't have been handled on-screen, other than extending the length of combat to tortuous levels.

Combat also turned out to be a closed loop of pointlessness. Rewards from battles were either coins which could be used to buy cards, or cards themselves. There was no levelling up, no experience to be gained. At times, your HP would be increased when you reached particular points in the game, but otherwise there was no incentive to fight. After a few hours of playing, you'd be forgiven for dodging battles as frequently as the game would allow.

Fun, it wasn't.

Where Did The Sales Go?

Even taking into account the gameplay changes, when it comes to commissioning a new iteration in a series, the bottom line is king. Unfortunately, sales is perhaps one of the biggest issues the Paper Mario series is suffering from. Color Splash bombed horribly. VGChartz reports that it sold 420,000 units as of November last year. Compared to Sticker Star, that's a drop of over 80% in sales.

Of course, the 3DS has performed admirably worldwide, unlike the Wii U's nosediving unit sales, but when you consider that the original sixteen-year-old title on N64 sold three times as many copies as Color Splash, Nintendo will surely be weighing up the series' future when the Switch is launched.

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Is it the end for the once-lauded franchise? That depends on two factors: the appetite for another chapter, and the performance of the upcoming Switch. Fans were vocal about the perceived "dumbing down" of the last two Paper Mario games, and in particular the similarities in Color Splash's gameplay which many felt were simply Sticker Star's mechanics retooled for the Wii U.

Similarly, Nintendo will likely wait and see what the uptake of their new hybrid console is before pitching another Paper Mario title. If their failed console taught them anything, it's that more of the same simply isn't going to sell. It's also not beyond the realms of possibility that they'll be facing off against another Mario & Luigi title, given the portable nature of the Switch. The future isn't looking too rosy for the paper plumber's RPG outing but, as is so often the case, Nintendo may yet surprise us all.

What are your thoughts on the Paper Mario series? Can it bounce back? Let us know in the comments!

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How the Paper Mario Series Went Rogue and Needs to Come Back https://www.gameskinny.com/kx9un/how-the-paper-mario-series-went-rogue-and-needs-to-come-back https://www.gameskinny.com/kx9un/how-the-paper-mario-series-went-rogue-and-needs-to-come-back Mon, 07 Nov 2016 02:00:02 -0500 Angelo De Bellis

The recent bout of portable and console Paper Mario games have strayed from the well-established RPG formula used in the original titles, causing the very identity of the series to decay. The series simply doesn’t feel like it once did.

The transition began with Sticker Star and continues in Paper Mario: Colour Splash, though to a much lesser extent than its handheld predecessor. What once began as a competent RPG series, albeit with far fewer intricacies than a traditional game within the genre, has become a mess of action, adventure, and RPG elements. Combined, these genre crossovers don’t make for very enjoyable Paper Mario games.

Certain advances are totally acceptable when it comes to modernizing a franchise, but I’m sure many fans have easily detected that the Paper Mario series has been superseded by the Mario and Luigi series. The comedy and nonsensical joy inherent in the Paper Mario series is still there in Sticker Star and Color Splash, but the battle systems and travel systems have all been replaced with features that aren’t all that compelling.

A Hunt for Weapons

A total shock to the beloved series, Paper Mario: Sticker Star does away with the leveling system by forcing you to collect stickers as a stand-in currency for attacks. In the former games, basic attacks would permanently exist, and only specialized attacks required collecting. And even once you've discovered these specialized attacks, called badges, you’d be able to use them during any battle, so long as you had enough BP to do so.

The worst feeling in both Sticker Star and Color Splash is running out of attacks. Because you have to find attacks -- yes it sounds weird to even mention it -- they can run out rather quickly if you’re not careful. But this type of management is not fun or complex in the way that conserving SP or items is. If you’ve run out of stickers in the 3DS game, you have to go hunting for more moves, and in Color Splash you have the option of spending coins once a turn to nab an additional attack, but it’s all so tedious.

Source: KoopaTV

Just include the attacks and make the battle systems more robust! In previous games, when a battle began, you’d get right into it. In Sticker Star you have to select a sticker from your collection on the 3DS touchscreen; even worse, the Wii U Paper Mario has you select and ready battle cards from the GamePad, paint them, confirm that painting is complete, and then swipe them up to the battle screen on your TV. It’s obnoxious and needlessly obtuse.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door did not subscribe to this kind of tedium. You were able to attack at the start of battle with a quick selection screen, and the complexity was found in the various party members you took along with you on your journey. That’s how it should be done -- complexity in battle systems should not mean profuse frustration caused by cumbersome selection sequences. The complexity of the battle systems in the new games are more with the battle procedure than the battle itself.

Throw Me a Bone... Please

The most apparent loss when it comes to the systems adopted by modern Paper Mario games, is the leveling up system. As mentioned earlier, Paper Mario: Sticker Star made the audacious move of sacrificing statistics for stickers, and what is an RPG without stats? Perhaps it was a calculated maneuver to make the series more viable for youngsters playing on the go, but it’s not a decision that I see benefitting the series.

Source: IGN

In the original Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Mario leveled up by collecting 100 stars gained from battle. You could then up his stats like HP, FP, or BP, leading to a sense of progression. In Sticker Star and Color Splash, there aren’t really any progression systems that make battling feel like an endeavor to advance Mario’s abilities, save for the ability to upgrade Mario’s paint hammer in the latter title. Even then, it’s only a twinkle of an RPG element.

This omission really makes battles feel inconsequential. Every battle encountered only serves to progress the game. The lack of a feedback loop points to a once-RPG gone rogue, then having its identity pulled from a bunch of other genres, however, this isn’t a good look.

Mixed Identities

Say what you may about the recent Mario and Luigi games, but they have certainly come into their own. Though they may be riddled with awkward text and some uninspired locations lending themselves to bland stories, but the battle systems are very RPG-like and quite varied. The series, once an interesting derivative of the Paper Mario series, or the other way around depending on how you look at it, now employs systems that should have been injected into the new Paper Mario games.

In Paper Mario: Color Splash, after the ritual of selecting and painting battle cards, you are treated with an effortless A button command used to execute attacks. Whether you’re attacking with Mario’s crushing boots or heavy-headed hammer, the input method used to initiate the attack is all the same. Needless to say, it becomes rather tiresome after but a few turns.

The latest Mario and Luigi game, Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam, made use of bountiful RPG elements when it came to battle. The Bros. attacks offered varied gameplay in the middle of battle, tasking both brothers and Paper Mario to use unique input patterns to conquer their enemies. It’s a much better approach than timing presses of the A button to win.

One Disjointed Step at a Time

More than just the battle system melting out of the series, recent Paper Mario titles have taken systems that don’t make much sense; unless, in some sick twist, the creators want to make the Paper Mario franchise a Super Mario Bros. game. I’m talking about the use of overworld map screens.

My revulsion toward a map system may seem a little misplaced, but let me remind you that it’s the map system that lays out how the game will progress. The map systems guide and segues one sequence of events to another, making the newer Paper Mario games feel more like short levels than fully developed areas. And maybe that makes sense for a 3DS game, because you can pick up the game and play in short bursts, but for a console Paper Mario, I refuse to believe the staccato approach is better than the exploratory experiences offered by the senior games.

Source: Nintendo Wire

If Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine are akin to the Paper Mario of the past -- with enclosed spaces that include more than one objective hidden amongst other interactive elements -- then the Super Mario Bros. games are akin to the current generation’s Paper Mario titles -- with short, often linear objectives to reach the goal.

Whiteout on the Page

I know, I know. You’re probably freaking out about my omission of Super Paper Mario, the Wii game that played ever so closely to a Super Mario Bros. game. I’ve left that game out of the argument because it did maintain the deep RPG elements of previous titles. Even though it did away with the turn-based systems emblematic of the series, the level grinding, puzzle elements, and party systems remained secure.

Source: Amazon

It may not be popular opinion, but I think Super Paper Mario did an admirable job of upending the tea table while still oozing with Paper Mario traditions. When Paper Mario: Sticker Star landed in my hands, it wasn’t hard to tell that the removal of the battle system made the game suffer. In Super Paper Mario the dimension mechanic that enabled you to switch the game from 2D to 3D, along with the exclusive abilities of the Pixls, more than made up for the neglect of the battle system. With a well-balanced approach to game design, Super Paper Mario was deserving of the illustrious Paper Mario name.

Turning the Page

There is much to be done when it comes to reeling the series back in. Paper Mario: Color Splash does do a better job than Sticker Star did, at least with the frugality imposed by the paint system exhibits a glimmer of RPGish elements -- but the progression systems, and puzzle-like elements provided by the inclusion of party members are all lost. That and the structure of the game remains more portable-inspired. Hopefully, once the stickers fall off, and the fresh coat of paint dries, a new Paper Mario game -- something a little more rooted in its days of yore -- will show up on the Nintendo Switch.

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What Made Paper Mario 64 and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door So Special? https://www.gameskinny.com/k9qlz/what-made-paper-mario-64-and-paper-mario-the-thousand-year-door-so-special https://www.gameskinny.com/k9qlz/what-made-paper-mario-64-and-paper-mario-the-thousand-year-door-so-special Fri, 23 Sep 2016 10:00:01 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

The Paper Mario series has come a long way since its debut on the Nintendo 64 back in 2001. What started as a creative take on the typical turn-based JRPG has gradually taken steps further and further away from its initial RPG formula, toward a radically different pseudo-RPG style of game that most people don't seem to be quite as fond of.

Ever since Super Paper Mario's release for the Wii in 2007, many people have been down on the Paper Mario series, saying that the last true installment was the last traditional turn-based RPG the series had -- the beloved Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. While this isn't true for every fan of the series, the general majority seems to believe that the classic RPG times of the Paper Mario series, which at this point is the shorter period for the series, was it's heyday.

But why is that? There are many JRPGs that gather devoted fanbases, whether it be large chunks of a whole series like Final Fantasy or one-hit wonders like Skies of Arcadia, so what makes the early Paper Mario games so special? What makes these two console RPGs starring Mario, the most well-known PLATFORMER hero of all time, stand out as such highly revered classics? 

Let's find out.

We're going to approach both games simultaneously and systematically, in order to get to the general positive qualities of both titles before getting into the specifics. With that said, let's start with the biggest selling point of nearly every RPG of any kind -- the story.

Something that, in Japan at least, the series was initially named for.

The Story -- A familiar and yet far cry from typical Mario.

The general setup for both Paper Mario on the N64 as well as Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door are admittedly pretty typical for the Mario series, and nothing we haven't seen before... at the start, at least. While both installments do start with the classic standby of "the princess has been captured and you must save her", they both go off the rails into uncharted territory very quickly.

While both games hit a lot of familiar notes by the standards of standard Mario plots, the stories told are notably deeper than their Platformer progenitors, and were clearly written with the intent to evoke both the emotional and the imaginative. This is evident in Intelligent Systems' signature excellent character banter and world building present throughout the games.  

From the NPCs, to your party members, to even the semi-mute Mario himself, every character is funny, helpful, or lends to world-building. Princess Peach in particular is the probably the most fleshed out she's ever been in these two games. The audience gets to see her with a wide assortment of emotions, whether she's indignantly angry for being forced to cooperate with the enemy, being understanding of an inexperienced child, or shy as she attempts to explain the concept of love to a computer using personal experience. 

A subplot in The Thousand-Year Door that is both unexpected and surprisingly touching.

Your party members were also all excellent characters. They all had their own motivations for joining Mario, vastly different personalities from one another, and perhaps the most intriguing part of all, they were all different types of enemies that Mario would usually fight. By having this jumbled crew of friendly monsters follow Mario throughout the game, the world felt even more immersive and real, as it showed that evil minions of Bowser were not all that the likes of Goombas and Koopas could be.

These games took colorful cartoon monsters, most of whom aren't even close to human, and made them into likable and believable characters.

The settings explored were also much more fleshed out and believable in these two RPGs than any traditional Mario Platformer could claim. Even if in both games you explored the familiar grasslands, ice worlds, and castles, they were all far from just pallet swapped backgrounds with different colored enemies. They were all far from the Mario norm, even if they felt familiar, and going to each new area felt like crossing over to a brand new continent. 

Every area in classic Paper Mario has a different story to tell. Whether it's the mysteries of the dirty dealings of the floating wrestling league the Glitz Pit, or the desert village of Boos who live in fear of being eaten, they all have a different tale to tell.

The best thing that these different locations did for the games is how they subtly connected to each other, and gave the Mario universe a grander sense of scale and cohesiveness than it had ever had before. These locations coupled with these characters made the world feel truly alive, as you encountered tribes of insects living in giant trees, or a sleazy port-city full of criminals both Toad and enemy-monster alike.  

Not to mention they all looked and felt distinct and atmospheric as well.

What other RPG let you travel around inside a magical toy box by train?

The Combat -- Simple and easy to learn, yet still deep and involving. 

 

The first two Paper Mario games had a combat system unlike any other. 

Paper Mario built off of the strong foundation that Super Mario RPG laid down before it, and its combat reflects that fact more than anything. The use of timed hits during combat for both offense and defense allowed for actual tactile input during battles, which put more control into the player's hands and made the combat more than just strategy like most other turn-based games.

While the story and combat are the biggest aspects of the two games and obviously matter, and are themselves unique, the little things are what really make the early Paper Mario games so great because their immersive detail and sheer quantity allowed the world of Mario to feel the realest and most alive it ever has.

Additionally, something that made Paper Mario's turn-based combat so unique -- as well as easily accessible to beginners or newcomers -- was its use of smaller numbers. In most RPGs, you'll likely be going up against early-game bosses with a health bar in the hundreds or possibly thousands, but in Paper Mario, you'll be up against a first boss with 20 maximum health. This made keeping track of how much damage you were dealing the easy part, and made figuring out the specific weaknesses and strengths of a given enemy the real challenge.

The combat also allowed for adaptive difficulty for players in the form the badge system. It allowed players to use their set number of Badge Points to equip badges that could aid them, or even handicap them, in both the overworld as well as combat.

This allowed for players to customize their play-style in a way that suited the situation, or themselves, depending on what they wanted to improve, and on whether or not they wanted to make the game harder for themselves. This allowed for hundreds of level up strategies paired with badge combinations in any given playthrough, which created an enormous sense of player freedom, as well as replay value.  

  

Just one page of the badge collection screen. Dozens of badges; Hundreds of possibilities.

In conclusion...

Honestly, explaining what made both of these games good is a genuine challenge, as there are hundreds of tiny little details that are all integral to the experience, and all of them are legitimate reasons for both the games' intricate, multi-faceted, diamond-like quality. Everything from optional emails you could get from side quest characters, to the audience cheering you on as you battled, to the countless characters with punny names, it's ALL important. All of it. They're games whose beauty isn't really done justice by just a handful of words.

While the story and combat are the biggest aspects of the two games and obviously matter, and are themselves unique, the little things are what really make the early Paper Mario games so great because their immersive detail and sheer quantity allowed the world of Mario to feel the realest and most alive it ever has.

With Nintendo clearly veering the Paper Mario series away from its native satirical and anarchic style, towards a more casual and less challenging type of psuedo-RPG with the two most recent installments, it seems very likely that we will never see a game in the Paper Mario series quite like the first two ever again. 

While that is a sad way of looking at things, it isn't necessarily a true, and we can all take comfort in the fact that no matter what changes the series goes through for better or worse, Paper Mario on the N64 and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door will always be there. They exist in a joyous spin-off universe that no ret-con or prequel could ever truly lessen, no matter what they might do.

Even if you don't necessarily like where the series has gone since Super Paper Mario, and you think Nintendo should just go back to the original formula, at least there is one additional positive to a world where Paper Mario isn't a true RPG anymore. That being if Nintendo never quite matches the first two entries in terms of quality, that just makes Paper Mario and The Thousand-Year Door even better and more unique than they already are.

The simplest way to explain why Paper Mario on the N64 and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door are great is that they feel rich and complete. They're paper thin, but far from two-dimensional.


 A picture is worth a thousand words. These games are both worth volumes.

  

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Please don't let Paper Mario: Color Splash be like Sticker Star https://www.gameskinny.com/8d6pz/please-dont-let-paper-mario-color-splash-be-like-sticker-star https://www.gameskinny.com/8d6pz/please-dont-let-paper-mario-color-splash-be-like-sticker-star Tue, 28 Jun 2016 06:59:07 -0400 JessDambach

Paper Mario: Color Splash, the next installment in the Paper Mario series, is coming out October 7, 2016. And there's a lot of talk right now about whether Color Splash is going to suck or not. The series' previous games, Super Paper Mario and Sticker Star, were not received well by players -- with Sticker Star being the least favored game in the Paper Mario series.

So let's look at why Sticker Star was a bad game, and what mistakes Color Splash can avoid in the hopes of being a much better game.

Why Sticker Star was awful:

Horrible Battle System

The battle system for Sticker Star is a RPG sort of system that allows leveling up. The problem with this lies in the fact that it doesn't really serve any sort of purpose. You fight by collecting stars, so skill or level isn't really much of a factor. And the stars you need to kill bosses aren't actually found on any of the enemies that you can battle, either. So there is literally no point in leveling up or fighting those enemies.

No Storyline

Most of the game is based on adventuring and its horrible gameplay/combat system. There is not a good story -- or any sort of story, really. There's nothing fleshed out, nothing that makes the player want to know what is next.

Other Annoyances

One of the worst parts about this game was that when you fight the boss for a level, you need a specific star to defeat it. But that star is not easily found, and you must search for it everywhere. It could even be at the very beginning of the level. This gets annoying going all the way through a game.

To put it simply, Sticker Star got all its essential RPG elements wrong. But does that mean Color Splash is doomed to the same fate? Watching the trailer (which you can view above), the objective of the game is to save the colorful Prism Island from being drained of its colors. This at least has some promise.

But what does the upcoming Color Splash need to do so that it doesn't go down in history as the third bad Paper Mario game in a row?

Better Battle System

If Color Splash chopses to use an RPG battle system that allows you to level up, then it needs to have bosses that requires you to be a certain level to defeat them. If Color Splash uses a similar idea of using stars (or some other type of object) to defeat the boss, those stars need to be found on the smaller enemies, or dropped closer to the boss in the level. If the smaller enemies don't drop anything valuable for progress, they need to have some other reason for being there -- or they shouldn't be there at all.

Good Story

Just have a storyline, instead of all gameplay. Even if everything else sucks about the game, at least some people will play it just for the story -- which will make it at least better than Sticker Star.

Not be Annoying

If you need something to progress in the game, don't hide it at the beginning of a level or in an unnecessarily random place. It's understandable if the developer wants to make the game more difficult. But if someone has to go all the way back to the beginning of the level just to pick up one item that you can't face the boss without, have a reason for it that makes sense. 

The good news is, it at least looks like Color Splash has something going for it. The graphics in the trailer look like they're of good quality, which is better than nothing. Let's just hope that the game learns from the Sticker Star flop. If Nintendo solves at least a few of the issues, Color Splash could end up being one of the best games in the series instead of becoming Sticker Star 2.

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Paper Mario: Color Splash Gets a Release Date https://www.gameskinny.com/1jnw1/paper-mario-color-splash-gets-a-release-date https://www.gameskinny.com/1jnw1/paper-mario-color-splash-gets-a-release-date Tue, 14 Jun 2016 18:18:00 -0400 Joe Passantino

According to IGN, Nintendo announced at E3 today that Paper Mario: Color Splash will be available for Wii U on October 7.

The premise of Color Splash is that Prism Island is losing its color, and Mario must restore it using his brand-new paint hammer. As Nintendo's Bill Trinen explained in a March Nintendo Direct, paint not only restores the island's color, but also revives colorless Toads and livens up Toad Houses. Painting cards in battle will also activate them for use.

Color Splash is the Paper Mario character's first appearance of 2016, having previously co-starred in December's Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. However, it is the first actual Paper Mario game since 2012's Paper Mario: Sticker Star.

As Paper Mario fans await the series' next installment, they can check out GameSkinny's review of Sticker Star. True stalwarts of the franchise might also want to check out one gamer's thoughts on its four previous games.

Does this colorful Paper Mario concept excite you? Let us know in the comments below!

Image Source: IGN

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Paper Mario: Color Splash (Wii U) Announced https://www.gameskinny.com/8yvio/paper-mario-color-splash-wii-u-announced https://www.gameskinny.com/8yvio/paper-mario-color-splash-wii-u-announced Thu, 03 Mar 2016 14:16:40 -0500 SilverMorph

Fans of the Paper Mario series hoping that the much-maligned Paper Mario: Sticker Star would be the last installment of its kind in the franchise have had their hopes dashed today. Nintendo has revealed the latest addition, Color Splash, coming for Wii U in 2016 -- and it looks to be following in its footsteps.

Set in a new locale called Prism Island -- which is a nice change from the omnipresent Mushroom Kingdom, I guess -- the title will follow the ever-plucky Paper Mario as he attempts to return color to the bleached landscape of this once-lurid paradise. Accompanying him, as always, is Princess Peach, so it's a fairly safe bet she'll be being kidnapped at some point.

Classic series elements, such as the hammer attack, will make a return. Only this time, it's got a new coat of paint -- literally. Smacking the weapon down onto a black-and-white bit of scenery will spruce it up in technicolor (anyone else getting some serious Epic Mickey vibes from this?) and trigger events, such as Paper Toads being freed or new paths being revealed.

 

The game borrows a lot of elements from Sticker Star, and as such many devotees are likely on the fence about it. Primarily returning is the battle system, which revolves around the use of consumable stickers; as with Sticker Star, each one represents a single-use attack. It'll be interesting to see how Intelligent Systems has fleshed this out -- especially since the dramatic Thing Sticker attacks, such as a planet-sized fan, also look like they're returning.

Also back is the world map layout, more akin to the New Super Mario Bros. series than Paper's Gamecube heyday, with a couple of stage names being immediately noticeable; Prism City and Ruddy Road are the opening two areas, as far as we can see.

According to Nintendo, Color Splash is due out later this year. Despite its similarities to the 3DS entry, hopefully the Wii U's greater processing heft and graphical might will provide a solid, and pretty experience.

Are you looking forward to the latest Mario RPG outing? Let me know in the comments!

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3DS Review: Paper Mario: Sticker Star Comes Unstuck https://www.gameskinny.com/w7qhu/3ds-review-paper-mario-sticker-star-comes-unstuck https://www.gameskinny.com/w7qhu/3ds-review-paper-mario-sticker-star-comes-unstuck Fri, 14 Nov 2014 12:02:13 -0500 SilverMorph

Mario has always been something of a jack-of-all-trades. Purportedly a plumber, we never actually see him at work, despite the vast number of pipes he's crawled through over the years. Instead we catch him trying his hand at kart-racing, golfing, dancing, and, oddly enough, participating in the Olympic Games with long-time rival Sonic the Hedgehog.

Why Mario even bothers in a trackrace with Sonic is beyond me; there's really no contest here.

But despite the wide, and often bizarre, array of activities that our favourite portly Goomba-boppin' Italian has participated in, when you actually sit down for a moment and look at it critically, quite a few of the poor guy's endeavours have failed to hit the mark. While Mario Kart is pure, unadulterated fun, arguably even moreso with the advent of the 8th installment - which, to my knowledge, still isn't getting the attention it deserves, possibly owing to the fact that the Wii U is a niche console few people own, but I digress - the Mario Parties have always been a mixed bag. The earlier titles for the N64 were pretty decent, blister-inducing minigames aside, but the more recent installments for the Wii have been generic, mundane wagglefests that besmirch Mario's good name. Oh, and one of them featured this legendary localisation cockup:

Remember this? You do now. Apparently 'spastic' is an offensive term in Europe. Political correctness gone mad if you ask me.

As for the rest of his roster, the various sporting titles were forgettable at best, and don't even get me started on the Dance Dance Revolution spinoff. The less said about that the better. But despite this mixed bag, there's always been one genre of gaming that the little red-capped leakfixer has consistently excelled at: the RPG, or role-playing-game for the uninitiated.

A Long and Storied History

Starting with the frankly awesome Legend of the Seven Stars for the SNES, a milestone title that showed these characters could function believably in a turn-based environment, we were quickly treated to several more in its stead, most notably Paper Mario for the N64, released in 2001, which was sadly the tail-end of the N64's lifespan, so few played it, which was a shame, as it was friggin' amazing.

              

                    Come on, take a look at this boxart. It just screams fun.

Though it was supposedly a successor to Legend of the Seven Stars, you really couldn't tell; it took what made that game great, removed what didn't, and married it to a gorgeous, papery cut-out, storybook style aesthetic to produce a genuinely entertaining experience all its own, making it a real good swansong for the poor old N64.

In 2004, with the emergence of everyone's favourite Fisher-Price style console the Gamecube, we got a sequel: The Thousand Year Door. This one was arguably even better, adding a far more sophisticated battle system and a genuinely dark story, in which Peach is possessed by a 1000-year-old demon bent on total cataclysmic destruction, which made for a nice breath of fresh air after Mario Sunshine's sickeningly twee Isle Delfino. Again, an amazing title, and one of the best for the GCN.

           

   It's pretty clear Miyamoto himself took over boxart duty between these two.

But then, sadly, a step backwards was taken in 2007 with the Wii installment Super Paper Mario. Originally slated for a Gamecube release, it was ported to the Wii at the last minute, and if its title wasn't indication enough, it was pretty different, and not in a good way. It stripped away the turn-based combat in favour of a more conventional head-bopping battle system, more akin to a regular Mario platformer than an RPG, and reduced the overall feel of the title into something resembling a generic action game rather than the great TTYD.

Even so, it just about managed to scrape by as an enjoyable title with a genuinely witty, laugh-out-loud script - a highlight was a corrupt robotic dragon who spoke in computer terms, telling you, for example, to "press CTRL ALT DEL" to defeat him, then laughing at your expense upon your stark realisation the Wiimote features none of those buttons - an awesome soundtrack, the ability to play as Bowser - which is always a plus in my book, as I adored Bowser's Inside Story - and an even darker story than TTYD, in which an evil count, twisted by many years of separation from his long lost love who he presumed dead, decides to bring about a void which will utterly consume the entire universe. It got to a point where Mario and co. actually end up in Hell. That's just badass.

And he actually succeeds. Kind of a step up from Bowser just wanting a slice of cake.

2012: The End of the World? Yep, Pretty Much 

So, in 2012, we received the next installment, Sticker Star. This time for the 3DS, marking the first instance the series has been on a portable console, it promised a return to the franchises' RPG roots, with turn-based battles making a comeback. Did it succeed? Not according to the fanbase, which ripped it a new one within hours of its release, but were they perhaps a tad harsh? Let's take a look. About time I got round to the actual review. 

Well, the cover art looks promising, at least.  Wait... OH GOD NO THAT'S BOWSER JR. ISN'T IT

As you can probably imagine, it's difficult to examine a game like Sticker Star without drawing comparisons between it and its predecessors, if not outright impossible, but even so, a good reviewer needs to keep in mind that some will be going into this with absolutely no knowledge of the series that preceded it, thus impacting their experience, so during my analysis I'll try and bring up the other entries only when absolutely necessary.

The game opens with a pretty nicely animated cutscene which sets the stage; immediately it's established that the game literally takes place in a storybook, finally providing some form of logical explanation behind Mario's sudden flatness, and we're introduced to one of the Mushroom Kingdom's 1000 annual celebrations - OK, not really, but given the number of Mario games that hinge around some form of festival, it wouldn't surprise me - the Sticker Fest, held once a year to herald the arrival of the Sticker Comet from the titular Sticker Star, with which all the citizens can have any wish they desire granted.

But, as is usual for a Mario adventure - notice the lack of 'Paper' there - Bowser shows up, crashes the party, splits the Comet into six pieces, takes one for himself and also kidnaps Peach for good measure. I'm pretty sure he's contractually obliged to do that every time by this point.

Paper-Thin Plotline

And that's pretty much it, as far as the plot goes. Notice something here? The previous games had awesome, often dark and gritty storylines that really enabled you to develop significant emotional attachments to the characters, and this was often part of what made them such interesting titles. In this one, however, the story is no more complex than, say, Super Mario Galaxy; heck, even that had a pretty sad subplot about Rosalina's past, and if even a platformer can turn out a better yarn than yours, you're doing something wrong.

 Pictured: a game with more narrative complexity than an RPG. 

Given the past history of the series, this is actually pretty unacceptable. Now, I can understand that concessions had to be made as it's a handheld game, and therefore angled more toward casual gamers. That's fine. But, rather than having absolutely no story whatsoever, Intelligent Systems could have at least tried to give us more of a framing device. Heck, to even call it a framing device would be a stretch, as the only times the story is actually relevant are at the beginning and end; throughout the bulk of the game, it's never really brought up.

Now, I'm not saying that the story has to be epic, dark, and grand in its scope. Far from it. In fact, I believe that a videogame's plot just has to be servicable at minimum, as long as the gameplay makes up for it; however, to even get to that point, there has to be a story to begin with, which Sticker Star is sadly inadequate at providing. Even if the gameplay was absolutely brilliant - which it isn't, as I'll be getting to shortly - the absence of a meaningful yarn would still be noticeable.

Not dissimilarly, there aren't really any characters here for you to develop a bond with. All - and I mean all - the NPCs are unnamed, generic Toads, whose only notable personality traits are the different colours of spots on their heads. Party members have been nixed, and replaced with a silver crown... thing named Kersti (geddit?) who's pretty much the only original character here. She pretty much acts as your guide for the entire game - I use the term 'guide' loosely - meaning you never meet any other helpers, which, by extension, makes for a loooong time in her company.

Hey, Listen!

This wouldn't be so bad if Kersti wasn't the single most annoying helper character in recent years. Her primary 'quirk' is that she's a self-entitled brat - in fact, the first thing she does upon meeting Mario is to accuse him of breaking the Comet - which, as you can imagine, doesn't make for a very pleasant experience. Throughout the adventure, she's unnecessarily sarcastic and spiteful, frequently insults Mario and other characters, and acts utterly indignant when you're unable to solve a puzzle or defeat a boss.

This is one such boss. You can't tell from the image, but ingame it's absolutely massive. I'd like to see her try and go up against this thing.

I honestly don't know what they were thinking when they wrote her lines; were they honestly trying to make a character more irritating than Navi? For years it seemed impossible, but they sure have succeeded here. In fact, I 100% guarantee you that by the end of the game, when she finally leaves - and I'm not even going to mark that as a spoiler, since it gives me such great pleasure to type it - you'll be wanting to passionately kiss your 3DS screen in sheer elation. I have truly never seen a character so despicably unlikeable in any Mario game before this one. In fact, I knocked a whole two stars off the rating just because of her. I bet you feel mighty silly right now, eh, localisation team?  

Don't be fooled by her cute, sparkly demeanour. She has a heart of stone.

But all this could be partially - and I mean partially - forgiven if the actual gameplay was any good. Sadly, Sticker Star fails spectacularly in this regard too. The main hook of the game is that everything hinges on the use of collectable stickers; indeed, in this reality the Mushroom Kingdom is so obsessed with the shiny, glittery things that their capital is literally named Decalburg. Mario requires stickers to do pretty much everything here: jump, swing his hammer, eat Mushrooms, breathe, sleep - OK, maybe not those last two - to the point where the supposed return to an RPG-style turn-based battle system becomes more of an extended exercise in inventory management.

A Sticky Situation

Each sticker represents a single-use attack that can be used in battle, and once you've performed the attack, it's gone, and more must be either purchased from Decalburg's shop or peeled off the cardboard scenery. This concept definitely had a lot of potential; in an ideal world, the system would be that you'd be encouraged to try lots of different stickers, and you wouldn't need to use one every single time you wanted to attack. But we don't live in an ideal world. Allow me to elaborate.

The screen you'll be seeing most of in the game. Sadly, it's also the most pointless.

The issues with the combat system ultimately boil down to two very significant problems: one, since each sticker can only be used once, once you exhaust your collection you're left with no choice but to run. But since whether or not you're able to flee battle successfully is totally randomised - and can't be done at all against bosses - you'll frequently have Mario's sizeable butt handed to him on a silver platter just because your inventory's empty. The result is that this isn't a turn-based RPG - it becomes an item-based RPG. Imagine a Final Fantasy game where you couldn't attack unless your bag was full of healing items. T'would get pretty irritating, no? Much the same feeling ends up being evoked here.

What's more is that some of the choices for sticker attacks are beyond ridiculous. A special sticker is required for a Fire Flower attack that rains fireballs on the enemies, fine. But you need to stock up on little adhesive boot icons to even perform a simple jump attack, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Why does Mario need the power of a sticker to jump? He jumps around in the game's overworld perfectly fine! Why does he suddenly need to burn through the game's precious inventory space to pull off a move he's world-renowned for being able to execute flawlessly?

It's like if, every time you wanted to jump in Mario 64, you had to backtrack to Peach's castle to buy something that enabled you to do it. God, Tick Tock Clock would be hell under those conditions. Even moreso than usual.

The end result is that your album ends up being filled with hundreds of Jump and Hammer - he needs one for that too, apparently - stickers, leaving little to no room for more powerful attacks,  some of which are actually pretty much required for most of the game's bosses. Intelligent Systems really fouled up here. If you're going to have a turn-based system, fine. But don't make Mario utterly defenceless without inventory items. I'm pretty sure that's, like, RPG rule #1.

Goombas Never Gave You This Much Trouble

But it gets even worse when it comes to the bosses. Aside from the fact that, in themselves, they're pretty uninspiring - a Goomba, a Pokey, and a Blooper occupy the first three worlds respectively (although Bowser Jr, unfortunately, makes his Paper Mario debut in World 2; doesn't Nintendo know we all hate him?!) - they're incredibly tough, not in terms of attack power, but in defence. Now, that may not sound too bad. A challenge can be good, right? Yes, yes it can, if the challenge is executed fairly. Here, however, the general idea is that each boss has one special Sticker - or "Thing Sticker" as they're known - that, when used against them, whittles down their HP by often up to 75%. This may seem like a secret tactic you've discovered by yourself at first, until the realisation rapidly dawns that they're actually, 100%, unavoidably required if you don't want to be totally owned by the tanklike bosses the game throws at you.

Sometimes these connections make sense; in order to beat a gigantic Cheep Cheep at one point, for example, you need a Fishhook Sticker. Fair enough. But other times the sticker you need is so erroneously nonsensical that you're left wondering how in hell you were supposed to figure it out. For instance, the gigantic Goomba that guards World 1 will take you eons to defeat unless you use a.... Fan Sticker on him. What? Where's the connection there? Fans and Goombas are, as far as I'm concerned, completely unrelated. Suffice to say, the tempting allure of GameFAQs will be rearing its ugly head more than once.

 Need more proof? In this phase of the fight against Bowser, you need to use a stapler. Yes, a stapler. Take a look at this screenshot and tell me if you can find a single thing that suggests you need to use a stapler.

But perhaps the most irritating thing about this is that the game outright refuses to tell you what you're supposed to use until you've died to the boss exactly three times, at which point Kersti will pop out, and, after berating you as usual, spell out the answer. It's as if the developers knew you would die multiple times, and so programmed the mandatory "you're an idiot" exposition to only play out after this. In which case, they should probably also have looked at the OP bosses and realised the issue: no game should have the condition for help be failure. Not a single one. Sticker Star considers itself an exception, apparently.

Inexperienced

Two: you no longer receive experience points for defeating enemies. You read that right. What's that? "What point is there in battling then?" That's a damn good question, and one to which I wish I knew the answer. Instead, every time you fell a foe, it spits out coins, and, if you're lucky, a sticker or two. What this means is that, throughout the adventure, you're locked in an endless, vicious cycle of meaningless combat: buy stickers to kill enemies, which give you more coins and stickers to buy more stickers and kill more enemies. So it goes on, and on, and on, with no rhyme or reason, reducing what could have been a good return to form after Super Paper Mario's head-bopping antics into mindless, fruitless drudgery. Since you get nothing in recompense for wasting your precious stickers on Bowser's mooks, you can easily just bypass every battle with absolutely no repercussions on your ability in later skirmishes.

This game's excuse for a level system. You sicken me, Intelligent Systems.

The only stat boosts Mario receives - to his health only, I might add; no power of defence upgrades for you - are by way of special cardboard hearts that litter the land, hidden in clever little nooks and crannies, which makes for an admittedly engaging sidequest, but it still doesn't excuse the glaring problem here: by rendering the core mechanic of the game, and, indeed, of most RPGs, utterly pointless, not only have Intelligent Systems succeeded in making this the least RPG-like entry in the series thus far (which, ironically, is the exact opposite of what they were supposedly attempting to achieve) but also in making a good 85% of the game feel unrewarding, unnecessary, and synonymous with padding. I seriously never thought I'd come to associate the term 'padding' with the usually bareboned Mario series, but there it is.

All these issues with the battle system ultimately render all the combat except the bosses a waste of your time, leaving only the overworld - or 'field' if you wanna get technical - segments to make or break the game. Sadly, despite a few highlights here and there, these fare little better.

A Step Backwards

I'm getting a serious New Super Mario Bros. U vibe from this. And that isn't a good thing.

Unlike previous entries, Sticker Star's world is divided up by way of a Super Mario Bros. 3 style worldmap. I actually have no qualms with this, as it provides structure to the gameworld, and it's implemented fairly well for the most part. To be honest, you'll spend so long in each 'stage' - often not for entirely the right reasons - that you'll eventually begin to forget you're playing a subdivided area.

What I do take offence to, however, is the theming of each world. Whereas in, say, TTYD, each chapter offered something new - one minute you'd be in a dimly lit town where everyone kept turning into pigs, then the next you'd be in a wrestling tournament under the pseudonym Gonzales - here the six worlds are the classic Mario fare. Say it with me: grass world, desert world, forest world, ice world, fire world, Bowser's castle. That's exactly the structure the game follows, and it creates the impression that they were not only trying to move forward by bringing back the RPG elements, but also move backwards by making it more like a traditional Mario game.

You can't have it both ways, Intelligent Systems. The excuse of it being on a handheld can't be used here. If people want a gameworld like that on the 3DS, they can push off and go buy the decidedly subpar New Super Mario Bros. 2. This is Paper Mario we're talking about, and the series deserves better than this generic tat. I'm sorry, I'm just really passionate about this.

This Reminds Me of a Puzzle. A Real Frustrating One

Anyway, if you can bring yourself agonisingly to look beyond this, you'll find the actual stages aren't great either. The general gist of each is to find the piece of the Comet that marks the end, and to get there you solve some puzzles - I'm hesitant to say you kill enemies as, again, it's utterly pointless - and do some regular platforming. This is pretty much what every level boils down to, aside from a few highlights that include a Snifit gameshow, a ski-lift siege, and the Enigmansion, a Luigi's Mansion-style ghostbusting romp that is genuinely entertaining.

This part made me wish I was playing Dark Moon instead. Sadly, it was not to be.

But these gems are sadly few and far between. Most stages are generic, boring, and whenever they do offer puzzles, they are so mind-bendingly frustrating that your 3DS will be lucky if it comes out unscathed. Ironically, the main problem with the puzzles is the same as the main problem with the battles: the Thing Stickers. In case you didn't figure it out, Thing Stickers are essentially real-world items turned into little adhesive icons - like a vacuum cleaner or a rubber duck, for instance - that, when applied to the landscape, summon a gigantic rendition of the object they represent. Again, some of these make sense, like using a gigantic fan to blow the sails of a windmill around, or using a faucet to fill up a lake. That's all fine and dandy. But, much like the battles, some are just absurd. 

There's a part where you're presented with a gigantic plug socket in the middle of a sandstorm. That's it. No indication is given as to what to put in there, and as there are a great deal of electrical appliance Things in the game, you could conceivably be there for hours plugging in various Things before you find the solution, which turns out to be a vacuum cleaner. For some reason. Sure, why not? What's worse is that, in order to generate the Thing Stickers, you need to find the original item in the world, and, again, no hint is given as to where you may find them, leading to endless hours of backtracking looking for, say, a paperclip that could be literally anywhere, behind any door, in any stage, in any world.

It's clear some attempt was made to curb the frustration with Kersti - oh no - who, upon a tap of the L trigger, will pop out and offer some 'advice', which is typically some utterly useless, indecipherable garbage that, more often than not, is completely unrelated to the task at hand. In the aforementioned scenario, for example, her 'advice' is: "Wow, this sand is really irritating my eyes!" before vanishing again. Look, Intelligent Systems. If you're going to have a hint system, you need to make the hints helpful, otherwise it's just another excuse to have Kersti blather on at you, and Lord knows we didn't need another one.

The scenario in question. Heck, even I can write better hints than Intelligent Systems can: "Wow, this sand sure sucks... hey, sucks! That's it!"

And when the puzzles aren't making you chew your own arm off, they're insultingly easy. There's no happy medium. Through use of a 'Paperisation' technique, you can rip off parts of the world and manipulate them. This had some potential: imagine a puzzle, for instance, where a Whomp guards a bridge. You could Paperise the bridge, flip it over, and watch the Whomp plummet to his doom. See, that would be clever. But most of the puzzles that utilise this mechanic boil down to simply placing something you rip out into a clearly designated purple area. Hardly Mensa-style stuff.

The Good Stuff

In terms of the game's graphics, they're... actually not half bad. What a shocker. This takes the first three games' papery aesthetic and ratchets it up to 11, to the point where even flowing water is made of paper, and the clouds are suspended in the sky by strings. Even the relatively lighthearted N64 original didn't have cartoon physics this skewed, and, to the game's credit, it works. The 3D effect, however, is the typical negligible 'depth of field' shtick that's barely noticeable, so have it off for the sake of your poor 3DS's battery life. Am I the only one who, upon hearing '3D', thinks of things popping out, rather than in? It's a concept Nintendo seems to have failed to grasp.

The soundtrack, however, is absolutely awesome, and - dare I say it - may be the best of the series so far. Highlights include the title theme, the Decalburg theme and the track 'Kersti's Power' which is a rockin' blend of the main theme and classic Mario tunes from the likes of Super Mario World. In fact, the music is so friggin' good that it accounts for one of the stars of my rating, and given that that's 25% of the rating, it says a lot.

Don't believe me? Go on, have a listen. That's some good stuff right there.

However, you may notice that the only positive things I have to say about this stinker are purely aesthetic in nature, and good looks can only carry you so far - a fact which several Kinect games can attest to, but I digress. It's always been my belief that unless a game is fun to play and has memorable characters, as well as mechanics that are actually functional, you may as well be looking at an HD screenshot of it, as the only enjoyment you'll be deriving will be from its graphics, which often isn't worth the steep entry price for most games these days.

Sadly, aside from these pleasant visual and audio surprises, Sticker Star is an utterly disappointing entry in the series in pretty much every way possible. Throw in a genuinely unlikeable character who's with you all the way through, insurmountable bosses that demand a nigh-unfindable item, a dysfunctional battle system that completely eliminates the point of its own existence, brain-melting puzzles and absolutely no story whatsoever, and you've got yourself a recipe for disaster. 

Garnish with $39.99, serves one very unlucky individual.

FINAL VERDICT

Story: 0/10

Graphics: 8/10

Performance: 5/10

Presentation: 2/10

Controls: 5/10

Audio: 9/10

Lasting Appeal: 3/10

OVERALL: 4/10

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