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Backlog Reflections | Paper Mario Sticker Star

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What is a Paper Mario? A miserable pile of crumpled paper? Or is it something more?? I look at Paper Mario Sticker Star to ponder that conundrum for the Well-Red Mage Super Mario Multiverse collaboration!

A Mache of Grins

Since its inception, the Paper Mario franchise has always held a special place in my heart. Its paper craft aesthetics were unique and clever! Plus, the silly dialog, cute characters and simplified RPG mechanics guaranteed there was always a smile plastered firmly on my face. Not to mention, the original Paper Mario was one of the first games my wife and I ever played together!

However, over the years Paper Mario has changed and in some instances moved further and further away from what I believe made the franchise so endearing! Which lead me to ask the question – What makes a Paper Mario, a Paper Mario? I only ask because it seems like Nintendo is struggling with that concept as well. And in my mind, Paper Mario Sticker Star is a great example of Nintendo trying to figure that out. At the expense of a satisfying experience it seems.

It’s All in the Gimmick

The reason I say this is because Sticker Star wholeheartedly leans into its gimmick. I mean, it literally rubs it in your face and makes absolutely sure you know that it’s all about stickers and sticker related paraphernalia. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of peeling a Toad sticker or two off the wall or sticking parts of the scenery back to where it belongs to solve a puzzle, but I think this was at the expense of the gameplay. And that was primarily due to the usage of the stickers in Sticker Star’s battle system.

You see, typically in a “traditional” Paper Mario, the battle system mechanics are very similar to that of your tried and true RPG. You’ll fight enemies, gain experience, level up and learn abilities. And the higher your level or the more abilities you gain access to, the more powerful you become. Paper Mario of course adds a few twists to the formula as well. Like timed attacks where if the button is pressed at the right time or with the right rhythm, your damage output will increase. Or the inclusion of partners whom can be swapped in and out and aid you in battle with their own unique abilities. And finally equip-able items known as badges that can significantly turn the tide in your favor by altering the effectiveness of your attacks or protecting you in one way or another.

Sticker Star on the other hand, scraps 90% of that! You’ll still have your timed attacks, which have become a mainstay of any Mario RPG, but instead of having partners to rely on or accessories to equip or even the faintest hint of character progression, Sticker Star thought it would be cool to just collect stickers. Basically it turned this charming little RPG into a collectible card game where you build decks of cards (stickers) and use those to fight your enemies. 

However, the real sticking point is that every single action you want to take in the game requires you to use a sticker. Whether it’s a simple hammer attack or some elaborate and powerful special move, that sticker needs to exist in your sticker book. And once you use them, they’re gone. Well, at least until you find a replacement in your travels or by buying one from a store. This fact alone removed the light and airy feeling of Paper Mario-ness from the game, and causes you to constantly worry if you’ll be able to handle the next enemy you encounter or if it’s even worth using this cool sticker you have! You shouldn’t have to think this hard while playing Paper Mario! 

The Transformational Omission

But is it the gameplay that makes a Paper Mario? In part, I think so. And also where Sticker Star strays the furthest. It kind of threw all of the things that I knew of as a Paper Mario out the door and replaced it with a “gotta catch em all” sticker collect-a-thon! I mean, there’s literally no point in entering a battle short of extending the amount of time it takes for you to get to the end of a stage! Either that or to waste all of the stickers you just collected.

What you’re left with is the diluted essence of a Paper Mario, gameplay-wise, that only slightly resembles its predecessors. It’s like taking the ability to jump out of a Super Mario Bros. game. It just isn’t the same and it essentially transforms it into something else. Of course, it’s not like they took Mega Man and stuck him into a paper craft world! Then we’d be storming the Capcom headquarters with pitchforks and torches chanting “Paper Mario clone”!

Same Tree, Different Paper

That kind of answers my next question though. Is it the aesthetics that make a Paper Mario game, a Paper Mario game? In my mind, absolutely and unequivocally yes. Because if it looked like anything else, it would just be another Mario game. It’s the fact that everything in the game is made out of paper, folds like paper, and flaps in the wind like paper that instantly translates to Paper Mario. Now you can elaborate that concept with any number of artistic styles, like the digitized aesthetic in Super Paper Mario, but as long as you can origami Mr. Jumpman into a goose and stick him in a mailbox, then we’re golden. In that sense, I have no doubt in my mind that Paper Mario Sticker Star is a Paper Mario. Well, maybe not “THE” Paper Mario, but certainly “A” Paper Mario.

And the fact that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Sticker Star doesn’t mean I won’t be sitting at the edge of my seat waiting for Nintendo to announce the next title in the series. But why does Nintendo feel like they need to keep changing the Paper Mario franchise? Why eliminate the partners or even the inclusion of the badge system and substitute it with a half baked sticker book?

Well, the only thing I can think of is that the Mario and Luigi franchise may have taken up that torch. It replaced Paper Mario as the “core” Mario RPG and forced them to differentiate the two in more than just artistic direction. But that can be a discussion for another time.

Wahoo! You are a Super Reader! But the adventure doesn’t stop here… There’s more of this project in another castle! This article is just one level in an entire Super Mario Multiverse, a galactic collaboration between writers around the world sharing a bit of our hearts and memories about our favorite Mario games. Visit the Center of the Multiverse to see more: