This year marks the 2012 Olympic Games, an event which comes around once every four years. It also marks a much bigger, more exciting, less boring (and God only knows cheaper) event that also comes round every four years - the release of a new Paper Mario game, which up until fairly recently, has made an appearance every four years or so - on average, anyway. There were three years between the N64, GameCube, and Wii games, but there's been an unprecedented five year wait for the newest game, which probably averages out at somewhere approaching four years, thereby making this Olympic themed metaphor relevant and factually true. Er, anyway.
Never one to enjoy keeping his fans waiting, Paper Mario: Sticker Star on the 3DS marks the series' debut on a handheld, letting you carry the Mushroom Kingdom themed roleplaying game around with you in your pocket.
The spiritual cousin to the "Mario and Luigi" games that have been making their entertaining homes on the DS and Game Boy Advance for a number of years now, the Paper Mario games are rather similar things. Perhaps what's most noticeable about Paper Mario is the way the entire world and characters look like they're made out of paper – buildings built like boxes that fold out when you enter, characters which seem to flip over rather than turn around, and Mario himself can fold himself up into paper aeroplanes and the like. Besides looking pretty, the games are pretty fun to play too, with a mix of exploring and platforming, some simple puzzle solving involving your companions' special abilities and a load of awesome turn-based battles – all wrapped up in developer Intelligent Systems witty scripts.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the 3DS begins on a peaceful day in the Mushroom Kingdom – in fact, it's no ordinary day, but the day of the annual Sticker Fest. As always, giant fire breathing dinosaur-turtle thing Bowser decides to show up and make a nuisance of himself, by crashing the party and scattering the six Royal Stickers across the land, sticking them to himself and his allies. As you may imagine, with the Royal sticker family in jeopardy, it's up to portly plumber and general Mushroom Kingdom dogsbody Mario to toddle off and find them again. And so off he trots on his adventure, accompanied by Kersti the sticker fairy, as he trudges through deserts, forests and scales snowy mountains and volcanoes, helping the many people he encounters on his journey.
Nintendo seem to have cottoned onto the fact that stickers are awesome things, as there'll be thousands of the things scattered around the place for you to find on your journey – you'll find them plastered on walls, taping down parts of the environment, and even being sold in shops. And as anyone who's collected stickers in some form or another knows, Shiny stickers are the rarest of the bunch, and the same is true in the land of Mario; each Shiny sticker you find is a more powerful version of it's plainer brother, which becomes important when you consider the main purpose of these sticky items...
Whereas in previous games, Mario had his own range of attacks to choose from, Paper Mario: Sticker Star uses the stickers you collect as the basis for all your options in battle. There's Mario staple items like mushrooms to restore health, fire and ice flowers to toast and freeze your enemies and various hammer-related stickers for bonking some bad guys – each one is one use only though, so you'll need to think about things a bit more carefully in battle. As in the previous games, battles involve Mario and his enemies taking it in turns to attack, and you can reduce the amount of damage they do to you or increase the amount you deal out with a well-timed button press or two, which adds some extra depth to the turn based battles. We do hope Mario has some kind of back-up attack though, and doesn't rely entirely on stickers, as we can see ourselves managing to completely run out of stickers and be a bit stuck...
Paper Mario has always involved that role-playing game staple of gaining experience points as you fight in order to go up levels, with new levels bringing with them increased health, power or whatnot. Sticker Star has your abilities getting better as you play in the same way, but how it gets to that point is a little different – instead of collecting a hundred star points before you gain a level, you'll find HP Up Hearts, sticker book size upgrades and the like hidden around the environment, or as rewards for helping people out. For example, one Toad was more than a little upset that his beautiful flower garden had been destroyed – but, by using his paper-isation technique, which freezes a scene and shows you any potential spots to place stickers, Mario can come to his rescue. Planting a selection of flower stickers in Mr. Toad's flowerbed restored it to it's former glory, showering you with extra stickers and giving you a HP-Up Heart as thanks, which ups your HP by five points.
To say we're pretty excited about Paper Mario: Sticker Star here at Everybody Plays would be a bit of an understatment – in fact, after finishing off the original game on the Wii Virtual Console fairly recently, we may even go so far as to say it was our favourite role-playing game EVER, beating previous favourite Neverwinter Nights by a long shot. Hopefully, the 3DS version will be just as good – and until then, we have the GameCube and Wii ones to tide us over till this 'Holiday 2012', when Paper Mario is due out. In the meantime, we have a trailer: