Paper Mario appears on the surface to hearken back to earlier games in the series, before Super Paper Mario added dimension-flipping mechanics and other complications. And in many ways, it does. Turn-based combat is back; the perspective of the original games, a semi-fixed isometric view of a 3D world, is back as well. And, of course, Mario, Peach and Bowser, and everything else in this adorable version of the Mushroom Kingdom, are made of paper.
But under the surface, Sticker Star is a very different game.
A disclaimer: I haven't finished Paper Mario: Sticker Star, which is why this is only a mini review; call these my incomplete impressions, if you like. But I've played more than enough to get an understanding of the systems under the hood, and to realize that every RPG element of past Paper Mario games—levels, experience, equipment, party members—has been stripped away.
What's left is a simpler game, with a different set of rewards. Like a sturdy piece of construction paper crumpled up and snipped and cut, and unfolded to form a slightly misshappen, if not unpleasant, paper snowflake.
The Paper world has never looked better than it does on the 3DS, and Nintendo has taken the Paper aesthetic to further extremes than ever before; residents of Decalburg, the game's hub town, get folded up and stacked in drawers by the nefarious Paper Bowser. Water is practically a death sentence in battle—to become soggy is to be paralyzed. And so on.
But instead of the typical JRPG formula found in the first two Paper Mario games, Sticker Star has more in common with Zelda or Metroid. Its world is divided into levels in a way familiar to Mario fans—1-1, 1-2, 1-3, etc.—making it easy to pick up and play in short bursts. Each level is filled with puzzles and environmental riddles, many of which you'll solve by placing or removing stickers. Backtracking is not only encouraged—it's necessary.
Stickers also form the basis for the battle system. Gone are "attack," "special," and "item" mechanics; instead, a sticker is used up for every action in a fight. For a normal attack, choose a weak "jump" or "hammer" sticker. For a powerful attack, choose a shiny "fire flower" sticker. The stickers are used up, but there's never a shortage to be found in the environment, and you'll be constantly on the hunt for rare stickers to save for boss fights.
My one criticism so far is that developer Intelligent Systems forgot to incentivize battling in a meaningful way; without experience or leveling up, there's no reward for your average fight with Goombas or Koopa Troopas. Therefore you'll find yourself running from most battles, as it's more fun to simply get back into the puzzle-solving and exploration of the levels.
But despite that major flaw, I find myself jonesing to keep playing even as I write this. Paper Mario: Sticker Star will hit the 3DS Nov. 11. What do you think about removing the RPG elements from Paper Mario? Do you love the paper aesthetic?