Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Paper Mario: Sticker Star is the kind of game that will put a smile on your face one second and make you grind your teeth the next.

But, as with an adorable puppy that's chewed through your favourite pair of shoes, it's hard to stay angry at Paper Mario: Sticker Star for long. It's a difficult game to like, but an impossible one to hate.

Stick it to me

Paper Mario: Sticker Star combines the turn-based combat system of role-playing games with an action-adventure game overworld interface.

On paper, this is a winning combination - and it's worked quite well for the franchise in the past - but Sticker Star introduces a few new twists on this distinctly Mario-style of RPG.

One of the early - ahem - sticking points of Paper Mario: Sticker Star that you'll need to get used to is the fact that every action in combat, except for fleeing, requires the use of a consumable sticker.

From the humblest jump attack to the mightiest blue shell slam, each attack and healing option requires you to tear a sticker out of your inventory. If you run out of a particular type of sticker, you no longer have access to that attack or combat action until you find more.

It's a bit of a wonky system at first - especially for fans of more traditional role-playing games - but it works well because Paper Mario: Sticker Star is not shy about handing out stickers and coins to buy stickers.

Inventory-management and juggling binders full of stickers quickly become a central focus of the game, and soon you won't think twice about burning three to five stickers on a fight with a wandering goomba.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

Paper Mario:Sticker Star starts off deceptively cute and lures you in with a tragic plot involving Bowser hijacking the Sticker Star (a magical comet that will grant wishes) and laying waste to the Mushroom Kingdom after snatching the magic space rock.

In your quest to recover the pieces of the Sticker Star and put things right in the world, you'll wander through familiar levels and encounter equally familiar enemies. It's all good fun, and the first world will breeze by without you breaking a sweat.

In world two and beyond, however, the game begins to punish you with puzzles.

And "punish" is the right word. Rather than give you a hint or even a contextual clue about what you'll need to solve a puzzle, Paper Mario: Sticker Star presents you with an impassable situation to arrest your progress and trusts that you'll figure out how to sort it.

The Thing's the thing

You can solve some rare puzzles using a sequence of timed jumps or swings of your hammer, but many require you to 'Paperize' the level (turn it two-dimensional) and place stickers on useable pieces of the background.

This is a fun mechanic on its own, but the frustration sets in quickly because most of the stickers needed to solve these types of puzzles are collected from commonplace 3D objects like fans, bowling balls, light bulbs, and the like that are well-hidden - and in many cases easily missed - throughout the levels of the game.

Unfortunately, Paper Mario: Sticker Star provides you with 64 Things to find and use, and only one will be the correct solution to a puzzle. Worse, once used as a sticker a Thing is lost from your inventory until you find it, or purchase it, again.

One puzzle that had me absolutely stumped, for example, was in the desert world. You find an oasis being ravaged by a sandstorm and you need to Paperize the level to place a Thing to get rid of the whirlwind.

I placed a fan next to the storm, figuring it would blow the sandstorm away, and was rewarded by the loss of my Thing sticker and no change in the whirlwind. The correct solution involved the use of a vacuum cleaner Thing to suck up the sandstorm, which, I suppose, makes sense in hindsight, but the game never explained why a vacuum would work and a fan wouldn't.

Stuck on you

The real trick to solving puzzles in Paper Mario: Sticker Star lies in figuring out what the design team thought was an obvious solution to a given puzzle.

Despite the annoying and all-too-frequent backtracking through levels and the fact that the game will all but require you to use a walkthrough guide to progress through the later levels, Paper Mario: Sticker Star really is a genuinely satisfying, long, and immersive game.

The music, mood, and humour are some of the best that I've come across this year, and its graphics are so well-rendered that it was the first 3DS game that I actively enjoyed playing with the 3D turned up all the way.

Ultimately, you'll want to pick up Paper Mario: Sticker Star if you enjoyed other Paper Mario games. Just be sure to be patient with it and keep a guide nearby so you'll know how to handle its more trying parts.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Frustrating at times and vague to the point of being obtuse, Paper Mario: Sticker Star still shines where it counts
Matthew Diener
Matthew Diener
Representing the former colonies, Matt keeps the Pocket Gamer news feed updated when sleepy Europeans are sleeping. As a frustrated journalist, diehard gamer and recovering MMO addict, this is pretty much his dream job.