Saturday, January 5, 2013

Walk Softly and Carry a Big Sticker Star Review

at 12:57 AM
I have a confession to make. This is not going to be a review of Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the 3DS like the title implied, or outright stated, if you want to get technical. This is primarily because I am only about halfway through the game, which I can say because the collect X Mcguffins then fight final boss system of the Paper Mario franchise is unlikely to be subverted any time soon. I am also past the point of "first impressions" of the game because I have dumped nearly 10 hours on it already, so I did not want to call it that. So maybe this post should be "observations" of Sticker Star. But that is not exactly right either, because really I just want to spend some time discussing how reviewers of the game have completely misinterpreted it. And that is to hard to explain in a blog title post while working a pun into it. 

Most people just check metacritic to see whether they want to buy a game or not, or if they feel like doing a bit of research, will look at one review, skimming the text and fixing their eyes to the final score awarded to it. In Sticker Star's case, this is actually a bit problematic. Reviewers have deducted points from their score of the game, because in their minds, it does not fit the Paper Mario formula. 9.5s are given out to Madden games because they do a good job of being Madden games, not because they are 9.5 worthy games. Genrefication is easy for reviewers, I understand that, but apparently they do not understand what the Paper Mario formula is. Sure, they know that the games are funny, graphically stylized, has RPG elements, and Mario saving the princess. But for me, one of the biggest things about the Paper Mario franchise is that its formula is being unformulaic. 

The first Google Images result for Formulas. Because that is the high quality you have come to know and expect from this blog.
The first Paper Mario had some elements that fans with which fans of the normal Mario games would be comfortable with. Oh look, I am walking along hitting blocks and stomping Goombas just like old times. Just like old times. But when they stomp on a goomba, Mind Blown. One of those Arpeegees battles is now happening. Crazy stuff. Admittedly it might not have been that shocking considering how it borrowed heavily from Super Mario RPG, but it was still radical to look at the Mario world in a kind of Final Fantasy lens--it gave the Mario universe another dimension to it (that might be a joke, unsure). Thousand Year Door had some minor subversions on the theme that SMRPG and Paper Mario had begun to establish. Like the chapter 3 Days of Excess, where Mario rides a train for three days while solving mysteries. There a few fights thrown in, to keep players grounded, but it was significantly different than the rest of the series. Then came along Super Paper Mario. SPM had some elements with which fans of the normal Paper Mario games would be comfortable with. Oh look, I am walking along with a partner and a hammer, let me stomp on this Goomba, just like on game systems without stupid motion controls. But when they stomp on a goomba, Mind Blown. It combined the ideas of both normal Mario games and the "normal" Paper Mario games to create something new. The real time battles and enhanced focus on platforming gave a new perspective to how I viewed the Paper Mario universe (again, was that a joke?). 

So along comes Sticker Star. How is it the same and different from other games in the series? To quote Joystiq's review of it: "Paper Mario: Sticker Star isn't as dramatic a departure as Super Paper Mario. It's still a turn-based game, and in fact has some of the most interesting battle mechanics in the genre. It's still delightfully funny and precious. But it's been compromised by the awkward addition of unwelcome elements from adventure games." (http://www.joystiq.com/2012/11/11/paper-mario-sticker-star-review-looks-good-on-paper/). The writer goes on to say that the game is weak when it breaks from its RPG heritage. Well that claim strikes me odd, because one, the thing I like about Paper Mario games is when they are cool and different, and two because HOW THE HELL ARE YOU EVALUATING THIS GAME AS AN RPG?

Sticker Star is an adventure game, first and foremost. Everything about the game screams it from the top of its lungs. The objective is to get to point A in a level to point B and overcoming the obstacles that prevent you from getting to point B. Instead of jumping over physical platforms or going through a series of random battles, the way to overcome obstacles is by solving puzzles. Usually these puzzles involve getting some cool items, and then using them to help you out of a sticky situation (joke? y/n?) This picture here shows an example of this very early on. One blade of the windmill is blocking a door that you need to go through. You have to figure out that you cannot get past it by conventional means, but instead have to move it in some epic feat. You then, very much according to adventure game logic, summon a giant fan, whose gusts of air move the blades and allow you to go in the door. You even have a hint button, what RPG has a hint button?

Was this entire blog post an excuse to refer you all to this joke about windmills? Probably.

The game has battles in turn-based form, but they are mostly there to make players comfortable by tweaking old elements into their game (am I sounding repetitive yet? I should!). The game's design is indicative that they are not the main focus. You receive no experience points upon completion of a battle, making them a waste of time and resources. That is not to say they are not fun, they are just, for the most part, optional. The one progression of Mario's battle stats, getting permanent HP boosts, comes from exploration and puzzle-solving, not from fights--the game is telling you that fighting is not essential to development and advancement. Even boss battles are not the ultimate test of your battle skills. Boss battles are puzzles as much as they are fights. For example, the World 2 Boss is a giant Pokey that is standing in the middle of what looks like an Ancient Egyptian baseball stadium. He has an absurd amount of health and defense. Theoretically you could beat him without realizing that the baseball bat item is perfect for hitting his segments out of the park, but you would be hard-pressed as well as stupid to do so. 

Many reviewers have claimed that they felt like the sticker system limited the battles because they were afraid they would use up their stickers and they wanted to be conservative with them. A. That is a sign that maybe you are misunderstanding what the game wants you to do. B. Oh no, you might run out of stickers in this world made of two things: Paper and let's see here, STICKERS. If you get into a lot of battles and need to restock your supply of battle stickers, the game lets you, all you have to do is explore the world and you will have no problem. Anecdote time. I was walking around the main town, Decalburg, looking to get more stickers and I stumble on the ruined fairgrounds that served as the start of the game. I had revisited the fairgrounds before, but it had changed since my last time there. The Toads had begun rebuilding, and by talking to them I discovered that some Toads thought that their efforts would lead to a return to a status quo and that others disagreed and thought that too much had changed and that the other Toads were naive. That is neat, the game is telling me that exploration and even backtracking, while serving a purpose for the battle system, is essential for storytelling and having a fulfilling experience while playing the game. 

Let's recap here. The game discourages you to engage in its battle system, encourages you to explore, and insists that you overcome obstacles via puzzle-solving. Calling this game an RPG, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what the game is trying to accomplish. While I do not care much about bad reviewing techniques (my decisions for game buying is predicated on whether or not it has Mario in the title), if reviewers are going to judge a game based on how well it fits the genre, they should at least get the genre of the game right. 

4 comments:

  1. After Super Paper Mario took the series in such a nothing direction, I was ready to be done with Paper Mario after the lackluster reception directed at Sticker Star. Good to see it might be worth a shot, but I swear to god that if I buy this game and hate it again, you'll be the one getting an SPM DVD shoved down your throat.

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    1. I did not necessarily affix my seal of approval to the game, do not hold me to that. For reference, I did not hate SPM as much as every one else (though the game was not great by any means), so when I say I like this game (which I did not in my post), you might want to take it with a grain of salt.

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    2. Still, you made it sound interesting. I'm not going to go out and buy it tomorrow or anything (I've already got enough to play on my brand new 3DS), it's just that this might elevate it from a "definite skip" to a "maybe if there's nothing else to play".

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