Paper Mario is a roleplaying game in the theatrical sense. It sees series mainstays letting their hair down and ditching their standard routines for fourth-wall-smashing japery. Luigi’s cowardice and Bowser’s toothless buffoonery smack of pantomime, an artificiality cheekily winked at in battles framed as theatrical shows. Sticker Star is the fullest realisation of the idea to date, a world of origami temples, foil sticker oceans and interfaces crafted from corrugated card.
Sticker Star recycles a few tricks, but they are tricks fed through a handheld primarily designed to deliver artificial 3D spaces. Now when levels concertina into life, or when Mario grazes by a skinny Goomba, you can truly appreciate the crisp millimetre thickness of each part. And the new sticker mechanic plays into the game’s DIY aesthetic by letting Mario plant objects into the landscapes to both solve puzzles and aid combat.
This leads to Monty Python-esque moments as desk fans loom over the horizon to turn windmill blades, or stilettos strut into battle before grinding their heels into a Koopa’s face. Each new object, be it bowling ball or four-poster bed, triggers a mad rush to test it on the nearest Goomba, and collecting them fattens out an otherwise lean 12-hour runtime. Object similarity leads to some confusing puzzle solutions, though. Why can a radiator melt snow, but not a lighter or oven?
Stickers prove more straightforward in battles. No move can be performed without its sticker, and each is one use only. Initial worries that the entire game will be spent harvesting moves – yanked from walls with a satisfying pop – or facing enemies with inappropriate kit are soon dispelled, and the ever-changing moveset encourages you to embrace new strategies.
Sticker Star sees a welcome return for the turn-based combat abandoned in Wii’s Super Paper Mario. Mario’s ability to strengthen attacks and blocks with timed button presses is as satisfying as ever, particularly with the 3DS speakers shaking the handheld with each celebratory blast. And the way battles respect the rules of Mario’s universe lends a warm glow of familiarity to proceedings. Jumping twice on a Koopa to harness his shell as a projectile is a great touch.
Indeed, this is a game of great touches. Intelligent Systems takes great care to shape its RPG for portable play. The world is divided into Super Mario Bros-style levels that each pack a tidy little narrative. Levelling is removed in order to keep these vignettes grind-free. And it’s all wrapped up in Nintendo’s typically hilarious localisation. If there’s a complaint, it’s that it’s streamlined a little too well – it’s easy to scoff this box of treats in a single weekend.