I've always had problems with game systems built around disposable items. I simultaneously hate and love the Grand Theft Auto series because of its sweet rides that ultimately get destroyed 10 seconds after you get in them.
And now the same can be said of Paper Mario: Sticker Star, a game with a combat system built around collecting and disposing of wonderful, colorful stickers. During a preview tour last week, I got to play the first hour of Paper Mario: Sticker Star. The writing, art style and quirky characters were just what I expected from the series, but what I didn't anticipate was a combat system built entirely on throwaway items. And with different levels of rarity to these stickers, I found it pretty hard to part with some.
Stickers drive the entirety of combat now. In past Paper Mario games, battles have been a turn-based affair with some light contextual QTE tossed in – hit A when Mario jumps on a Goomba and you'll land extra hits, for example. That part is still there, but now all of your attacks are initiated by using your collected stickers. Once that sticker is used, it's gone forever.
There are many ways to earn stickers in Paper Mario: Sticker Star: finding them in the environments, earning them through various deeds or simply purchasing them from the store, included. But the point is they're not something you can realistically hold onto, despite perhaps being a person who wants to collect them. Something games have programmed me to do for years.
It's not like I couldn't afford to purchase the stickers I needed. There's a balance here in which you're constantly earning and finding coins, in case you're so bad at the combat that using stickers doesn't necessarily mean you're killing enemies like it should. But finding that powerful rare sticker and holding onto it isn't a realistic option – unless you want to constantly visit the store.
There are two pages to store stickers and, while that may sound like plenty of space, on average I used 1-2 stickers to kill a single enemy. In a single stage, after about five battles with multiple enemies per encounter, my sticker book was barren.
Ultimately, that wasn't such a bad thing, though. The pursuit of stickers added new depth to the environments and I willingly clobbered every little thing in each stage with my hammer to try and extract new stickers; I want new stickers. Adding that layer of hoarding to the charming Paper Mario series, and shaking up the combat system, provided a fresh spin on a series that has traditionally been – for me – hilarious but not very fun to play.