This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Paper Mario: Sticker Star.
I'm very fond of the Paper Mario series; not just for being fun games, but for being my secret weapon. I say that Final Fantasy games are now essentially the same as gluing kaleidoscopes to your eyes and spending 20 hours in the queue at a Brazilian sex change clinic, and then, say, a dolphin or a stoat materializes behind me and goes, "Bwah! You just don't like RPGs!" Or I point out that, ever since Galaxy, the entire Mario franchise has just been rolling back and forth on the floor of a public bathroom trying to catch spiders in its mouth, and I get, "Bwah! You just don't like Nintendo, Mario games, or fun!” But then I can go, "Have I mentioned how much I like the Paper Mario series? They're RPGs that are also Mario games, developed by Nintendo, and are fun! Eat your devastated argument on a crusty bap, Flipper! Fwopah!" And then I dance in the rain of their exploded head. Or rather, that's how it used to go; more recently, they then get to say, "So, does this mean you really like Paper Mario: Sticker Star on the 3DS?" at which point I have to fall upon my secondary master stroke, which is to smash a bottle over their head and run away.
So the game opens with Mario and the Princess holding some kind of open-air festival for stickers, which just goes to show how exciting life gets during Mushroom Kingdom peace time. Stick around, guys, 'cos next week, it's Hole Punch Mardi Gras! Then Bowser shows up, and nature takes its fucking course, and now Mario must recover five magical artifacts from all across the land in order to fill his rescue quota for the day, only this time he has to do it entirely with stickers 'cos he's been doing this so long, he has to come up with arbitrary conditions just to keep his interest in the world alive. Next week, he has to save the Princess with one arm and balancing a book on his head.
The idea is that there are stickers absolutely everywhere, you collect them in your touch screen album, and each one represents a single use of an attack Mario can use in the turn-based combat, which makes Mario the worst sticker collector ever, because half his stickers are the same exact picture of a shoe. And for me, this fails to capture the most important aspect of sticker collecting, which was standing around in the school playground going, "Got, got, got, need, need, got!", like hipster robots trying to reinvent binary. When Theodore Creativeman at Nintendo says, "We've got an idea for a new, unproven core game mechanic and a team with nothing much to do," Conrad Bossperson replies, "Better make a Paper Mario game! Here's the keys to the skip where we keep the art assets." Then Theodore jangles the noticeably rusty and odd-smelling keys for a second and tentatively asks, "Could we maybe have a small budget to make some new art assets?" "Fuck no! What do you think this is?! Some kind of multinational entertainment corporation?!”
Hence, why Super Paper Mario was based around shifting perspective mechanics and all the new characters were made by randomly smashing Photoshop shape functions together, and now we've got all this sticker business and no new characters at all; just reused sprites of the usual crowd. Oh, and several random household objects that someone made for their evening 3D modeling classes. I'm not one to condemn laziness, 'cos I spent my entire Christmas week lying on the sofa, calling all my friends and trying to persuade them to build a conveyor belt leading from the fridge, but my problem is that this isn't a Paper Mario game. It looks like one, it's wearing the skin of one, but that doesn't make it one; I'm not a fat woman, even though I've... I've just been advised not to finish this sentence.
You see, being a Paper Mario is more than just arts-and-crafts lessons with ten-year-old sprites; it was a series that ran entirely on anarchic imagination. Every other Mario game has used pretty much the same roadmap: grasslands, desert, forest, jungle, ice world, fire world, boss; you could make a fucking remix out of it. Meanwhile, Paper Mario 2 has chapters in which Mario solves Agatha Christie mysteries or joins a wrestling federation, and Princess Peach gets sexually harassed by a computer because it caught a glimpse of her juggle buns; even Super Paper Mario managed to have a chapter where you have to find bog-roll for a space monster. You come into Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and it's grasslands, desert, forest, jungle, ice world, fire world, boss, nn-ch-nn-ch-nn-ch-nn. No partners, no subplots, no sidequesting, 'cos it's barely an RPG anymore; your combat ability is based entirely around what single-use stickers you've amassed, so there's very little sidequesting could do to help develop your skills besides maybe grant money, but for no particular reason, the game fucking showers you with coins at the end of every level like Mario's a registered charity and it's the last week of the financial year.
Are stickers a big thing with you young people now? I vaguely remember people at school used to put them on their pencil cases, but they were never a big fad thing, like Pokemon cards or pushing people on the railway track behind the playing fields. I ask, 'cos it seems an odd thing to base all your gameplay around. As well the combat thing, you can apply stickers to the outside world to solve inventory puzzles; for example, there's a exit blocked by a bunch of bowling pins, and I have a bowling ball sticker. Better give the Riddler a call for some advice on this fucking brain teaser! And there are a couple of puzzle boss fights where you get your stumpy little Italian buttocks handed to you if you forgot bring the one really big sticker with no other purpose you wouldn't have thought to bring until this very moment, nn-ch-nn-ch-nn-ch-nn.
I'm left wondering: if this is barely an RPG and barely a platformer - ‘cos by usual Mario standards, his jumping in this game would qualify him to use a disabled parking space - then what the hell is it? A walk-around-'em-up? A walk-around-sticking-things-to-other-things-'em-up? That's not a game; that's how I kill time in a pet shop. In the interest of objectivity, I feel I must reveal the following: what with 2D sprites in a 3D environment, when there was platforming, I was having the River City Ransom problem of it being hard to figure out Mario's vertical positioning, and on these occasions, I found it useful to turn the 3D on. So I suppose the 3DS can feel free to stand on my desk and rub its buttocks on my face, making really satisfied noises like this: "Mmmmmm! Mmmmmmmmmm!" I turned it straight off afterwards, though, before I started feeling the first few itchy specks of eyeball cancer.
On the whole, Sticker Star is an exercise in phoning it in, and I'm left with yet another way to feel disappointed in Nintendo. Every time we come over, they insist that we stand in a creepy white room and take turns hitting really old Mario and Link inflatables with a succession of increasingly awkward-to-hold sticks, but I always felt there was hope as long as they still had that one weird cupboard under the stairs where the Paper Mario games came from. But with Paper Mario: Sticker Star, they're not letting us into the cupboard under the stairs; they’re making us stand outside the cupboard and play with the things being pushed under the crack under the door. I just want to play in the fucking cupboard, Nintendo! I know you're keeping WarioWare in there, too.
Gonna get sticky: Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
They were keeping Conker in that cupboard as well but I think somebody killed him for food.
This is what happens when you base the social calendar around stationery