All things considered, the 3DS has had a better than average year. The XL reinvigorated the platform with a properly sized 3D screen, and a handful of titles like Kid Icarus Uprising, Resident Evil Revelations, and New Super Mario Bros. 2 offered something for every type of 3DS gamer.
As the calendar year comes to an end, the 3DS has one trick up its sleeve with the first Paper Mario game ever to be released on a portable system.
If you're well-versed in the Paper Mario universe, Sticker Star seems to cherry-pick bits and pieces of each game in the series, all while falling short of establishing any sort of identity of its own. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it will assuredly spoil any preconceived notions players might have coming into the game.
Sticker Star isn't quite a true platformer and also isn't a real RPG. Instead, both of these elements are present here. The theme of the game works great with the concept of a paper environment, as Mario must collect stickers scattered across the world to help him engage in turn-based mini battles. Whereas the Wii's Super Paper Mario abandoned a lot of RPG gameplay, Sticker Star relies heavily on much more of it.
The decision to take Sticker Star in the RPG direction might have been made because of the abundance of platform Mario games already available on the 3DS. A game too close to Super Paper Mario would probably have been overkill for a system that's not even 2 years old.
This new direction resembles a hybrid of genres that occasionally can beat up the pacing. Too many times I found myself searching for the most trivial of items. Sure, this encourages exploration, but I'd prefer those excursions to be extra credit -- not vital to progressing in the game.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star is undeniably charming and most importantly fun to play, even if there are a few hiccups along the way. Fans of the franchise should experience it regardless, but newcomers who aren't familiar with RPG turn-based games might be turned off.
Mario games aren't all made the same: some are genres unto themselves. In addition to the extensive Super Mario Bros. series, there are two unique spin-offs: the Mario RPG games, and Super Paper Mario, a game that debuted on the Wii. Paper Mario: Sticker Star is like a combination of both; it's neither a true platformer nor a role-playing game, but the various levels that unfold have you collecting attack moves and discovering odd secrets and story lines all at the same time.
It's an odd game, a different game, and credit Nintendo for taking the leap with a holiday release on the already somewhat odd Nintendo 3DS handheld. It's not what you'd expect. Collecting stickers, which are your currency for power-ups, involves lots of hoarding and buying. The game's various worlds, which look like tiny folded-paper dioramas, have lots of weird hidden treasures to uncover. Sometimes areas can be flattened out and parts of the world rearranged. Stickers can be laid down and turned into parts of the landscape. It's part puzzle, part adventure, part Mario. And even part Pokemon in its endless spirit of collecting.
The Nintendo 3DS has a growing library of quality titles, but not a fast-flowing one. Paper Mario is one of the few prominent holiday games Nintendo's releasing this fall, and it needs to be hit.
I can't say it's a perfect game, or even a slam-dunk like last year's Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land. It's a game that will suck up a lot of time and offer a lot of value, and it feels perfect on the 3DS. I'd say it amounts to the system's biggest cult hit-in-the-making. Mario fans, buy with confidence.