Sunday, November 10, 2013

Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS) Review

Perhaps a better name for Paper Mario: Sticker Star would have been "New Paper Mario". Not only is the game essentially a reboot of the series, but it feels much more like a paperized version of the New Super Mario Bros. series than any Paper Mario experience that came before. Almost immediately, something feels off about Sticker Star. After playing the game for about an hour, I realized what was wrong: this game feels nothing like a Paper Mario game. I didn't know what it was exactly, but it wasn't a Paper Mario game.

Let me start out by saying that the Paper Mario series (the original on N64, The Thousand-Year Door on GameCube, and Super Paper Mario on Wii) are some of my favorite video games of all time and are what I believe to be some of the finest and most creative games that Nintendo has ever crafted. If you're reading this and have never played any of these games, stop thinking about Sticker Star and go play the others. I'll say it right now: Sticker Star is not only far and away the weakest of the series, but it really doesn't even deserve to sit on the same shelf as the previous three games.

Pictured: A colossally better game than Sticker Star

Before I get into everything that is so wrong with Sticker Star though, I want to talk about what I liked about the game, because Sticker Star certainly has its merits. The best thing about Sticker Star is its level design (not to be confused with level aesthetics, which I'll get into later), which is actually quite good. I said SS doesn't feel anything like a Paper Mario game, but it also doesn't feel anything like an RPG (more on that later as well), and part of this is due to its level-based structure. The game features an overworld inspired by Mario's 2D platforming adventures, particularly Super Mario World with its large, interconnected map. Each individual level is set up just like a course in a Mario platformer, with lots of enemies to fight, some minor platforming to be done, and a goal at the end (in this case, a shining Sticker Comet piece). These levels encourage and reward exploration by containing numerous, cleverly hidden pathways and rooms full of rare items. In addition, a lot of the levels feel unique from each other by having some kind of central set-piece or gimmick. While the first world is admittedly pretty bland, the desert features a gigantic Yoshi Sphinx to explore, the forest has Mario literally falling onto the stage of an eccentric game-show hosted by Snifits; there's ancient ruins to explore in the jungle, a snowed-in haunted mansion reminiscent of The Shining, and more. There are definitely levels that feel repetitive (especially in the forest), but most levels do at least one new thing to keep things relatively interesting.

In addition to its focus on exploring and combing every environment for secrets, Sticker Star is also Nintendo's most non-linear, not to mention tutorial-less, game in quite some time. I don't know if I'd really call this a positive since the game's nonlinearity doesn't really make the game any better, but it's worth noting that after getting stuck halfway through the third world, I was able to, by simply exploring around and experimenting, open the way to the fourth and fifth worlds and subsequently complete the entire fifth world before returning to the third one. The lack of tutorials is also refreshing and it's nice to see a Nintendo game in this era where the player is charged with exploring and thinking their way through the world instead of being led by the hand with endless exposition and hints that constantly interrupt the experience. The lack of direction in the game and the sometimes cryptic nature of what to do next will definitely frustrate a lot of players, but I'm the sort of weirdo who enjoys getting stuck and having to retrace my steps and explore every possibility in order to find out what to do.

Sticker Star doesn't hold your hand and is surprisingly non-linear

Sticker Star also lives up to the title of "Paper Mario" perhaps more than any other game in the series. Previous games used the paper setting in clever ways, but Sticker Star goes overboard with the concept. The entire game is literally made out of digital paper. The whole world is designed to look like an elaborate papercraft diorama, with cardboard mountains, folded-up paper houses, paper shrubbery, paper flowers; the water is made out of paper, the lava is made out of paper, the clouds are paper, the hills are cardboard; everything looks like it was glued and taped together by hand. The characters in the game often get folded up, creased, blown away, and flattened. The designers went out of their way to utilize the paper concept in funny and creative ways during combat as well. Certain enemies can halt Mario's movements with a paper clip, foes can be crumpled and unable to move, water attacks make them soggy, and fire attacks burn them to ashes. The paper aesthetic also comes into play when interacting with the outside world, with one highlight being a segment where Mario knocks a cardboard tree over and causes a lengthy and amusing chain reaction that alters the entire level.

The papercraft aesthetic is quite charming

Then there are the "things". Throughout the adventure, Mario can collect massive real-world objects like a fan, a baseball bat, a pair of scissors, a rubber ducky, a battery, an oil drum, an air conditioner, and much, much more. By utilizing a special shop in the game's central town of Decalburg, the player can turn these "things" (that's literally what the game calls them) into stickers that can be used to decimate Mario's enemies during battle as well as solve puzzles out in the world. These realistic objects clash with the colorful fantasy world of Mario in a nice way and their inclusion also adds to the feeling that this game is really just some miniature diorama that some kid is playing with and he accidently dropped a battery into it or uses his fan as a way to create wind in his little paper world. In battle, these items can be used for comical and often brutal results. Scissors do exactly what you think they do to paper creatures, but enemies can also be bombarded with thumb-tacks, cooked in an oven, sucked into a vacuum, and even eaten by a giant goat statue. It's ridiculous and always amusing to watch. These "things" bring to mind the giant real-world objects that Captain Olimar and crew discover in Pikmin 2, and like in that game, these large objects can be stored in an in-game gallery along with amusing descriptions by Toads who interpret a gigantic high heel as a sleeping chamber and a bowling ball as some sort of demolition device, similar to how the Ship and Olimar would interpret our earthy treasures in Pikmin 2.

Slingin' a thing

The 3D effect of the 3DS only enhances the paper universe and really makes it feel like you are looking in on a miniature, hand-crafted world. While the world's strict commitment to this paper aesthetic does give the environments a bit of a basic, bland feel, this is more the fault of the aesthetics of the environments than the paper idea. And since I've now mentioned those aesthetics twice, I suppose it's time to get into what's wrong with Sticker Star.

While the game has some neat ideas, good level design, and is overall fun to play for the most part, Sticker Star's biggest failing is its rejection of all the wild creativity, personality, and soul that the previous Paper Mario games (and Mario RPGs in general) have in droves. Sticker Star follows up the most interesting story ever told in a Mario game in 2007's Super Paper Mario story at all. Really: there's no more going on in Sticker Star than there is in the latest New Super Mario Bros. title. The game opens with yet another generic Mushroom Kingdom star festival, this time one in worship of the wish-granting Sticker Comet. As Princess Peach is hosting the annual Sticker Fest and welcomes the Sticker Comet, Bowser shows up and touches the thing, yes, simply touches it, after which it explodes into our six shiny MacGuffins for this game (as well as a bunch of little pieces that serve as the previously-mentioned goals for each individual level), which neatly land in the game's five main "worlds", the remaining one landing on Bowser's head (they're known as Royal Stickers; basically sticky crowns that grant the bosses of the game extraordinary powers). After this event, Mario meets up with the sticker fairy, Kersti, who is basically this game's Navi, Tippi, Starlow, "insert advice-giving Nintendo fairy sidekick here", and the two set off to recover the shiny doo-dads, defeat Bowser, and save the princess, who of course has been kidnapped for no practical reason. That's really it. The plot doesn't go anywhere else until the end of the game, when, big spoiler, the MacGuffins are secured, the bad guy is stomped, the princess rescued, and everything goes back to happy fun times.

New Super Mario Bros. U has a more compelling narrative than this

But even if there's no plot, surely Sticker Star has all the funny, quirky, unique characters we've come to expect from the series and every other Mario RPG, right? Well, besides a handful of generic toads with no visual differences besides the odd green, blue, pink or yellow-spotted one among the sea of red-spotted ones, and a handful of generic enemies that we've seen a thousand times before, like goombas, koopas, shy guys, etc., there are really only three characters in this game. There's Kamek the magikoopa of Yoshi's Island fame, who's basically the main villain in this game (more on that in a bit), the aforementioned feisty sticker fairy, Kersti, and a giant wiggler very creatively named Wiggler. I'm not counting Mario, Peach, Bowser, or Bowser Jr. Mario has all the character and personality of a stump (granted, he usually does, but this fact stands out in SS because of the lack of interesting characters around Mario, as well as a lack of any voice clips), Peach has maybe one or two lines of dialogue in the whole game, whereas Bowser, who has traditionally been a standout role in the Mario RPGs, has no lines of dialogue in the whole entire game (side-rant: I know it was made by a different development studio, but how does Nintendo follow up Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, the most recent Mario RPG before Sticker Star, a game that starred Bowser and was generally all about Bowser, and featured a very self-aware, tongue-in-cheek attitude on the Mario series' classic Mario vs. Bowser plot, with a game that witlessly casts Bowser as the main villain, has him kidnap Peach, and gives him zero character and nothing to say at all?), and finally Bowser Jr. is only here to be as annoying and unnecessary as usual and for three easy boss battles.

Kersti adds some much-needed personality throughout the adventure (but not too much) and gets a single touching moment at the end. I call Kamek the main villain because he has the most personality and dialogue out of all the villians, shows up multiple times throughout Mario's journey and actually, you know, does things to try to stop the plumber in his quest. By the end of the game, I found the final encounter with Kamek to be far more meaningful than the one with Bowser, who may as well have been just be a big, spiky piece of plain cardboard. The ocean of generic, completely uninteresting Toads get some lines here and there and some of the generic baddies have some dialogue, but nothing that really stands out. The bosses are either giant versions of standard enemies or returning faces (with one exception) who get little more dialogue than something like "SHINY-SHOOBY!" before attacking. Then there's the game's only actual identifiable "character" besides the main heroes and villains: a giant wiggler named Wiggler who has no defining physical features and looks like every other wiggler out there, but he's really the only named character that factors into the adventure in any meaningful way.

Meet Wiggler, one of the game very few "characters"

Characters aside, one of the best things about previous Paper Marios are all the varied and interesting locales that Mario and friends visit over the course of the adventure. The games are also set up in a chapter-based format where each chapter has its own characters, villains, and sub-story often with some kind of mystery that needs to be solved. Chapters in The Thousand-Year Door include Mario taking part in a fighting tournament high above the clouds, saving a twilit village from a haunted steeple whose bell is turning the villagers into pigs, and even a trip to a futuristic base on the moon. Super Paper Mario sees Mario venturing into the "Bitlands", a world inspired by Nintendo's pixel-fueled past, into a prehistoric land where a war between rock people and flower people is taking place, and even dying and travelling through the Paper Mario universe's version of the Underworld. Not only were the locales different and interesting, but the chapters of previous games were full of intriguing subplots and mysteries to solve. Each chapter usually had its own unique villain and there were also asides between chapters that had the player take control of Princess Peach and Bowser (well, at least in the first two games; in Super Paper Mario, Peach and Bowser joined the main party eventually).

Sticker Star has thrown all of this out the window in favor of the incredibly dull and played-out lineup of grass, desert, forest, snow, and volcano worlds. Not only this, but these worlds are heavily inspired by New Super Mario Bros. aesthetically. Most of the lands have nothing interesting going on visually besides the papercraft aspect I mentioned earlier. The grasslands are as generic as they come in the Mario series, with no enemies besides goombas and koopa troopas, and featuring a backdrop of those spotted cylindrical hills first made famous by Super Mario World. The desert is full of Pokeys and dull-looking yellow pyramids. The forest is full of spotted trees and purple poison. I've seen all of this dozens of times before, and if you've played a handful of Mario platformers, especially recently, then so have you. There's just very little new or interesting going on in these worlds' aesthetic design. Not only did Nintendo release two New Super Mario Bros. games mere months apart in 2012, but they also managed to sneak out Sticker Star, a title heavily inspired by those games aesthetically, that same year. The original Paper Mario featured familiar environment types like a desert and a snowy mountain as well, but these themes were used very well to create interesting and fleshed-out locations that felt original in that game. Even if a theme was familiar in a past Paper Mario game, the environments were still very unique and interesting. Not so in Sticker Star, where the areas are as generic as they come. Sticker Star's central town of Decalburg is also one of the blandest towns in any video game I've ever played, RPG or otherwise, never mind how much it pales in comparison to the bustling Toad Town, Rogueport (especially Rogueport), and Flipside/Flopside, the hub towns from the previous three games in the series.


Each world manages to pass by (or drag on in the forest's 12-staged case) without any of the intrigue, any of the interesting subplots, and very little of the well-written, charming dialogue of past games. Sure you might battle an enemy here or there that has a few funny things to say, or a toad that looks like every other toad might show up to utter a few lines, but when a spark of personality does happen to show up here and there, it feels out of place in Sticker Star's bland world. Luigi, who has traditionally been a highlight of the series, recounting his adventures in the Waffle Kingdom or masquerading as the memorable Mr. L, has been downgraded to a voice-less Easter Egg in Sticker Star; basically just a collectable to be found in each world. This is just another demonstration of how basic and boring Sticker Star's presentation is. It makes no witty asides about Bowser hatching the same scheme for the 70th time, and instead of doing something interesting with his character, it treats Luigi like a nothing.

Sticker Star has a few nice touches, like the way sombrero-wearing shy guys strum their guitars to the melody in the desert, and each world has a few highlights, like the aforementioned game show and snowy haunted mansion levels. Actually, the snow world as a whole gets a special mention for having the haunted mansion and another particularly creative level. Also, the jungle world sticks out mainly because I wasn't expecting it, as it isn't really based on a New Super Mario Bros. cliché (at least its first half isn't, before it turns into the obligatory lava world). The jungle area has some interesting ideas and levels too, like a river raft ride and an ancient temple full of traps. But these glimpses of actually inspired content do little to mute the sour taste left in my mouth by Sticker Star's overall commitment to blandness, to the same and the worn-out, to throwing all the creativity and spirit of past games in the rubbish bin.

Shy Guy mariachi bands rock

Generic locations and characters aside, Sticker Star is also pretty bland gameplay-wise. Let's talk about the central gimmick of the game: stickers. Stickers are everything in this game. Instead of having a set of constant abilities, Mario fills an album with one-time use stickers. Stickers are your attacks, your defense, your health, and your puzzle-solving tools. There's no leveling up and no real character progression at all in Sticker Star. It's all about having the most powerful stickers. SS is basically an RPG built entirely around consumable items. It's fun at first filling up an album of unique stickers, and there's also a collect-em'-all goal because you can store all of the stickers you find in a sticker museum. The shiny stickers even realistically glisten in your album on the bottom screen if you move the 3DS around. It's also fun initially trying out each sticker in battle to see what they do. But by the third world, I'd pretty much seen every kind of attack (besides the "thing stickers", which there are so many of that I probably didn't even use half of them in battle by the end of the game) and the only ones left to find were just stronger versions of each attack.

You see, there's really only two basic methods of attack in Sticker Star: jump and hammer (there are a few others, like throwing fire balls, but mainly jumping and hammering will be your primary attack methods). While the timed button presses that allow Mario to do more damage in battle are still fun to execute properly, battles get pretty monotonous pretty quickly because even if there is a variety of different kinds of jump and hammer stickers, they all use the same basic timed button presses, with few variations. Running out of stickers isn't really a problem, thankfully, because stickers can be found stuck all over the various environments of the game, and can also be bought in a multitude of shops. The only reward for battles is coins (and occasionally a few stickers), so most battles can actually technically be passed right by with little consequence. If you're like me though and fight every battle, and also explore every nook of every environment, you'll have more than enough coins and powerful stickers to mop the floor with every basic enemy in the game. When I was around halfway through the game, I had rows upon rows of overpowered stickers that dealt out damage numbers triple that of the HP of the poor goomba that I was stomping. Previous Paper Mario games and Mario RPGs in general have multiple party members and various special attacks that gave the player plenty of options and kept things fresh. Besides the thing stickers, which act sort of like "summons" in a Final Fantasy game, Sticker Star only has jump, hammer, and a slot machine that gives Mario the option of multiple consecutive attacks.

Battles are fun at first, but become very monotonous over time

Boss battles are a different story, but not in a good way unfortunately. Basically, every boss in the game is weak against a specific thing sticker and there's no real way to figure out what that sticker is unless you first see the boss and somehow figure it out from their appearance (and also just happen to be lucky enough to have the right sticker in your album), die and retry against the boss so Kersti gives you a hint as to their weakness, or simply randomly experiment. The thing stickers are absolutely necessary for most bosses too, as they have massive amounts of HP and, until their weakness is exploited, take little damage from Mario's basic attacks. Some bosses I beat with dumb luck or by simply having more than enough mega-powered stickers, some had obvious weaknesses, others were trial and error because I didn't have the right sticker or use the right sticker at the right time, forcing me to restart and try again. In the final boss's case, a stupidly drawn-out five-phase affair, each of which require the player to have a specific sticker they couldn't possibly guess unless they waste their time trial-fighting every phase once, I just gave up and used a walkthrough to finally put this game to rest. I hope from reading what I just wrote, it should be clear enough how silly and poor this kind of boss design is. Maybe it was a neat idea to have each boss have a specific weakness and be sort of like a puzzle (kind of like Zelda bosses), but I really have no clue how the sloppy end result of this kind of design made it past the cutting-room floor, nonetheless got the thumbs-up from testers and made it into the final product.

Good luck beating this boss if you don't have that one, specific "thing" sticker in your inventory

Most of the game's overworld "puzzles" are also entirely based around the thing stickers and are also just trial and error. Some are really obvious (like needing a bowling ball to knock down some cardboard pins), but others are really cryptic (like a vague brick structure in the snowy mountains). By "paperizing" the world, Mario can turn everything into a 2D picure Okami-style and tear out certain objects or stick certain ones. This is a cool idea and sometimes it factors into some neat designs. The problem is that there's nothing really puzzling about any of the game's puzzles since every single one of them just amounts to "when in doubt, paperize" and then it's just a matter of trying every "thing sticker" you can think of until you get the right one. There are some clever uses of things, like using an air conditioner to freeze over a fiery volcano, and luckily some puzzles give some leeway and allow the player to use a few different things for the same result, but others are very strict and require a specific item. After trying to melt some snow with a lighter, matches, and a radiator, and getting zero results from each one, it turns out all I needed was a simple fire flower. Then in that same area, I used the radiator to melt a different pile of snow (this one, admittedly, was much bigger). It's all a bit cryptic and silly.

When in doubt, paperize!

While some of the puzzles might be obvious (though certainly not all), where to go in the game is often not, as I touched on before. I mentioned how I got stuck in the third world and then ended up discovering and conquering the game's penultimate world by chance (the fact that I could do so with ease is a testament to how the player doesn't really grow at all over the course of the game, besides finding HP upgrades, and there's no real actual challenge to anything, just artificial challenge in the boss fights). While I personally enjoy getting lost and revisiting old areas to see what I missed, I know many will be very frustrated by this and many more will probably just give up halfway through. It might be obvious where you need to use a certain "thing" to solve some kind of problem in a certain level, and it might even be obvious what thing you need, but that thing is often somewhere across the world is some obscure place that you're never going to find unless you simply wander around and experiment a lot.

As a stand-alone game, Sticker Star is a decent adventure. The papercraft design is novel, the level design is good, the adventure has its moments, and it is still relatively fun from the start to finish, if not quite repetitive and monotonous. But Sticker Star isn't really fulfilling in any way, and after it was over, I felt very unsatisfied, almost like I'd just wasted 40 hours playing it. This is because the heart and soul of the Paper Mario series, the vibrant characters, diverse and creative locales, and interesting stories, have been completely stripped away and swapped with a routine, bland, and unspecial experience. But why is this? Why is Sticker Star so dry when the previous three Paper Mario games are a bastion of creativity in the often criticized nostalgia-fueled Nintendo?

Part of the blame lies in the fact that the team that developed Sticker Star was comprised almost entirely of newcomers, and also it seems as if they were unwilling or unable to let their own creativity blossom. Why would they be unable? Well, that's because the other part of the blame lies with, believe it or not, the man himself, Mario's creator, Shigeru Miyamoto.

Pictured: Iwata (right) asks Miyamoto (left) something

You see, thanks to Iwata Asks, all becomes clear and the sad, puzzling truth about why Paper Mario: Sticker Star is so...sigh..."paper thin" comes out. You can read the interview in full here, and I recommend you do, but I'll just quote the most critical parts that apply to this review. Originally, Sticker Star was much closer to the first two Paper Mario games, featuring a cast of partners for Mario and a more story-focused RPG adventure. But after playing the prototype, Miyamoto claimed that it was "just a port of the [GameCube] version" (I don't know what universe Miyamoto is living in where he can say something like that when series like New Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart exist, but I digress...). Now, I don't have a problem with the series changing things up; after all, that is exactly what Super Paper Mario did, and I love that game. While I admittedly prefer the first two games and the more traditional RPG structure, Super Paper Mario kept the heart and soul of the series intact, and also added in some awesome new ideas, so overall I really enjoyed it. No, the problem comes in the form of the restrictions that Miyamoto laid down for the team.

Apparently, Miyamoto really took charge on the direction of the game. According to Kensuke Tanabe, one of the game's producers: "Aside from wanting us to change the atmosphere a lot, there were two main things that Miyamoto-san said from the start of the project—'It's fine without a story, so do we really need one?' and 'As much as possible, complete it with only characters from the Super Mario world.' Now, I am well aware of Miyamoto's aversion to too much story in a video game, especially Mario games, but why the restriction on characters? One of the many strengths of the Paper Mario series was its diverse and colorful cast of characters, both old and brand new. And in regards to story, this is supposed to be an RPG, one that follows other story-heavy RPGs. I don't care if it's Mario or not, it is not "fine without a story." But don't let me tell you, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata basically takes the words right out of my mouth when he says, "In some ways that would be the exact opposite direction from recent games in the series."

Paper Mario has always had a talent for bringing together a varied and interesting cast of both old and new characters

Regarding the characters, Tanabe goes on to say: "But being unable to use new characters is pretty strict. Of course, we could not make any new enemy characters, and as for allies among the Super Mario characters, there's really only Toad in various colors!" Um...okay, except in every previous Paper Mario, even when there were toads, many of them appeared wearing unique clothes and had their own unique names and characters. In addition, Mario teamed up with goombas, koopas, yoshis and all manner of creatures from the vast array of the Mario universe. Co-existing with these more familiar faces, there were new races and new characters which only enhanced the richness of the world. Ignoring how asinine the suggestion is, how the team took 'use only familiar characters' to mean 'replace the varied cast of familiar characters from past games with generic, nameless, featureless toads and generic, nameless, featureless goombas, koopas, shy-guys, etc.', I am simply at a loss. The newest installment in the Mario and Luigi series (Paper Mario's sister RPG franchise), Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, is full of new characters and enemies. The upcoming Super Mario 3D World has new characters and enemies. Hell, even New Super Mario Bros. 2, the most redundant, unoriginal Mario game ever made, had a couple of new enemies. But Sticker Star? Nope, can't have anything new. I'll quote Tanabe again: "Of course, we could not make any new enemy characters". Well, why the hell not? Seriously, Mr. Miyamoto, with all my due respect, just why? And especially in a Paper Mario game. Things begin to make a little more sense when you consider that, according to Tanabe, Sticker Star "started with a near complete renewal of the staff" and according to executive managing director Kenji Nakajima, "A few programmers continued on in order to make use of previous assets, but in planning and design, about 90% were participating for the first time". So basically, Sticker Star was made by an almost entirely different team than previous games, and boy does it really show, and not for the better.

Exhibit A: Creative new enemy characters in the upcoming Super Mario 3D World

Miyamoto has been talking for ages about how he wants to give other developers more freedom and doesn't want them to always need his help, yet his dictatorial stance on Sticker Star is in exact contradiction to that, and once again with all due respect to Mr. Miyamoto, he clearly does not understand what makes the Paper Mario series so special, creator of the character or not. Why so many restrictions? Iwata says that "Creatively, restraints aren't necessarily a bad thing. A lot of new attractive features come out of that." Sometimes that's true. In Sticker Star's case, that couldn't be farther from the truth. All the restrictions turned what could have been another unique and fantastic addition to the Paper Mario series into a bland and unspecial product. Sticker Star has a unique idea in the sticker-focused gameplay, even if it is flawed in execution, and with some tweaking to this gameplay, the game could have been something great if it had the personality and originality, the spirit, and the heart and soul of older Paper Mario games. A few comical lines of dialogue here and there aren't enough.

So basically, part of the development goal with this game was throwing away everything that made previous Paper Mario games so special and enjoyable: the intriguing stories, the great characters, the creative environments, all the personality and magic; the heart and soul of the series, and homogenizing everything so there was nothing but familiar, stale characters, nothing of a story, and familiar, stale environments. I respect Miyamoto beyond words and without him, I might not have ever fallen in love with video games, heck video games as we know them might not even exist, not to mention the countless ways in which his creations have touched and inspired me, even his more recent ones. I have so much love and gratitude for Mr. Miyamoto, but he got it dead wrong this time. Miyamoto is all about the gameplay, and while tight gameplay and intuitive controls are undeniably important in games like Mario and Zelda, they are far from everything. Atmosphere, narrative, character...there is so much more that makes Miyamoto's creations and the series that they have spawned so special. It's troubling that, at least with Sticker Star, he fails to realize that. It's even more troubling how the Sticker Star team blindly followed his orders. Maybe they had to, or maybe because Miyamoto garners so much respect, they really didn't have a choice, or perhaps they even agreed with his decisions, but whatever the case, I'm sorry to say that, despite all the magic he has birthed and everything that he's contributed to the video game world, sometimes Miyamoto makes bad decisions, just like everybody else, and I wish the designers at Nintendo were more willing to take a stand in cases like this and offer a different course of action.

Ultimately, it's downright depressing what Nintendo has done to Paper Mario. Hopefully, Sticker Star, with its mostly lukewarm reviews and seemingly almost universal negative fan reaction, is merely a failed experiment and the series might find some of its magic in a future installment. But with apparently most of the people that made the old Paper Mario games no longer on the team and with Taro Kudo, Sticker Star's co-director and script writer, saying this (I bolded one part myself for emphasis): "We worked hard so that this game would become the new standard for future Paper Mario games, so please play it to the fullest!", not to mention the incredibly homogenized and standardized feel of most recent Mario games, I'm not getting my hopes up.

Oh yeah, but Sticker Star does have a really nice, jazzy soundtrack, though. Great stuff in the musical department at least.

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