Paper Mario: Sticker Star – 10 things you need to know about the first hour

Get out your sticker album!

Many are eyeing Nintendos big November 18 release of the Wii U, but three days before that, the publisher releases its biggest 3DS game of the fall, Paper Mario: Sticker Star. We recently went hands-on with a near-final version of the game, playing the first few stages in the flat (and yet somehow 3D) adventure. Weve already been pleasantly surprised by some of new features to the series in Sticker Star during our brief time with it. Even Paper Mario veterans will be caught off guard by changes like

It doesn’t waste time

In previous Paper Mario titles–and RPGs in general–the story can take an hour or more to really begin. But Sticker Stars story gets going in mere minutes. The game begins with Bowser interrupts Sticker Fest, steals the power of the Sticker Comet, kidnaps Princess Peach, and then makes a mess of the Mushroom Kingdom. Since we came into the game assuming Peach would be kidnapped by Bowser, it was nice of the game to cut to the chase. Further along in the game, we noticed similar streamlining of the story.

The soundtrack is already amazing

When we first turned on the game, we had trouble leaving the start menu, but not because of any technical issue. We were just in love with the jazzy title screen music, so much so that we were listening to it for a good five minutes before we started the game. Once we began the actual game, it was great to hear that the soundtrack quality was maintained in the early stages. Sticker Star is on track to continue the tradition of Mario RPGs having great music.

Kersti is your only friend

This might seem like a negative to longtime fans, but Sticker Star does make one big break in tradition early on. The Paper Mario games on N64 and GameCube had Mario accompanied by a big group of companions that assisted him on the field and in battle. This time Mario looks to be limited in friends to the sassy sticker sprite Kersti. Otherwise, this is a solo RPG adventure for the plumber.

It’s less of an RPG than you expect

Mario has never followed the norm in his RPGs, whether it was exploring with precise platforming or having more direct control over the turn-based combat. And Sticker Star turns its back on genre conventions even more than its predecessors. There are no experience points, standard leveling up, or a traditional overworld map. The game breaks the most rules with its sticker-intensive combat. One important thing to know is…

You better conserve your stickers

As the title implies, this Mario adventure is crazy about stickers, with different stickers plastered all over the world. You should get in the practice of grabbing every sticker you see, because you cant attack without them. Each sticker you collect goes in your sticker book to be called upon later in and out of combat. Every move in a fight uses a different sticker of varying quality, and stickers disappear after one use. The idea of using MP or stamina for a move is gone; you either have a sticker or you dont. It seems pretty simple, but…

Don’t assume the combat is that simple

With no teammate to back you up, no experience points, and no MP to worry about, combat seems straightforward, perhaps even too easy. After a getting in more than a dozen fights, things got much more complicated thanks to our shrinking sticker collection. We were left with stickers that were either too good to use on a common Goomba or not strong enough to finish the job. We were planning for the fights ahead as well as the enemies in front of us. The situation made us take random battles far more seriously than we did before.

Bowser Jr. is a real jerk

In his landmark first appearance in a Mario RPG, Bowser Jr. is his usual annoying self. Nice to see that becoming flat doesnt change your personality. Hes searching the Mushroom Kingdom for rare stickers, getting in Marios way as usual–though now hes powered up with the same sticker strength as his father. He demonstrates his new strength by flattening the world and ripping a bridge off the land, turning it into a sticker, and then crumpling it up. How are we supposed to deal with that?

The power of Paperization

Marios talkative new friend Kersti is useful for more than conversation. She can flip reality on its head using the power of Paperization. Hitting the Y button stops time and pulls the camera back to a flat version of the world. From here, Mario can grab special stickers from his collection and add them to the world to complete objectives. Its a cool new power that takes the series paper theme to new heights.

The levels are smaller than you expect

Instead of the sprawling worlds of most RPGs, Sticker Star has really segmented its adventure, though in a way thatll feel familiar to Mario fans. There are distinct worlds, but theyre divided into smaller levels, like 1-1, 1-2, and so on. 1-1 and 1-2 were both pretty brief, taking 10 to 15 minutes before we reached the goal of the stage. We arent exploring as much as we used to, and this shortening of stages is likely done to make the series fit better on a portable. Fans of the series might not like it at first, but at least the change fits with Marios style.

There might be more classic power-ups on the way

Near the end of our time with the game, we had grabbed both Fire Flowers and Ice Flowers, which transformed him into Fire Mario and Ice Mario respectively. If the start screen is anything to go by, that isnt the end of iconic Mario transformations in Sticker Star. In the start screen we spotted power-ups that looked a whole lot like Frog Mario and Kuribos Shoe power-ups from Super Mario Bros 3. Just how deep is Sticker Star going to go with its special moves?

Fasten your stickers

We had a great time with the start of the game, but we won’t have our full review for the game until next month, likely around the US release date of November 15. For now, we’d love it if you told us how interested you currently are in the game. Please tell us in the comments!

And if you’re looking for more info on Marios and portable games, check out our list of 12 most important portable games of holiday 2012 and a collection of Mario’s greatest boss battles.

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