One subset of games I am hopelessly devoted to are the Mario RPGs. There’s the original Super Mario RPG, of course, but my fondness is mainly for the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario games. Both series tend to be fairly consistent, quality-wise, making it hard to pick out a single favorite. I have fave characters across them all (Goombario, Vivian, Fawful, etc.), plus the level designs, writing, graphics, and music are all great. Even the most un-RPG-like of the crop, the Wii title Super Paper Mario, is a fun and engaging game, with much to recommend it.
Unfortunately, this streak has now been broken, as I have just finished playing a Mario RPG that would definitely not be in the running for my favorite—not even close. In fact, this game, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, is unequivocally the worst Mario RPG I’ve played to date.
Sticker Star by itself is unusual: it’s a 3DS game; in other words, the first and only portable entry in the Paper Mario series. I’m not sure why it wasn’t made for the Wii U instead, as that would seem to be a more fitting home for it, though maybe it has something to do with the fact that it looks great with the 3D effect cranked up. As for the game’s structure, it goes back to the turn-based battle styles of the first two Paper Marios, but this time, there’s no additional party members.
Mario is accompanied by a helper character, though: a silver crown sticker named Kersti. She is introduced shortly after the opening, where, during a festival in which a magical sticker comet receives the wishes that the Mushroom Kingdom makes on it, Bowser disrupts the activities, causes the comet to break up and disperse, and, of course, kidnaps Princess Peach. Kersti, a steward of sorts for the now-scattered Royal Stickers contained within the comet, appears before Mario and immediately blames him for the chaos. When he sets her straight, she doesn’t believe him, but changes her tune after he offers to help her find the Royal Stickers. From the very beginning, she is an ingratiating, pushy, judgmental presence in the game, and, aside from her many neutral moments, is more annoying than any other friendly character from previous Mario RPGs.
So, right away, we have Mario and the self-appointed Nagging Sticker Mom going off on their quest. After dealing with their town’s destruction, the Toads are startlingly nonplussed about their Princess being kidnapped; she is pretty much never mentioned by any of them until near the end of the game. As for the rest of the game’s characters, Peach is mostly just a goal to reach, Luigi is reduced to a background element (literally), Yoshi appears only as a sphinx, and Bowser doesn’t even speak. Recurring flunky Kamek plays a role, as do Bowser Jr., a Wiggler, a Snifit, and a few of the Toads, but that’s about it for the cast. It’s as bare-bones an ensemble as there has ever been in these games.
The quest itself starts off well enough. The battle system is basically the same as in the other games, with the core attacks involving jumping or hammering, and bonus damage for getting the timing right. However, the twist this time is that all of Mario’s moves—attacking, healing, whatever—can only be pulled off by using a corresponding sticker. There are limits to the number of stickers that can be carried at any given time (these inventory limits are expanded during certain special events, such as when a Royal Sticker is collected), and some special stickers are bigger than others, which means that space management is a huge factor in getting through the game. Aside from your typical stickers which can be picked up at stores or on the field, there are also special ones made from “Things”, which are non-paper, three-dimensional objects that appear throughout the land. Once turned into stickers, these Things can carry out elaborate super moves, much like summon creatures in other JRPGs (my personal favorite is the Soda). Of course, there are limitations when it comes to these Thing Stickers—for starters, they don’t have in-menu descriptions like regular stickers—but this isn’t a problem most of the time.
However, some of the puzzles and other situations that require stickers can be surprisingly tough to figure out. This is especially true of the boss battles, where it is far too easy to lose because you used up all your stickers and the enemy is still alive. Conditional battles, such as many of those against bosses, are nothing new in JRPGs, but when one is completely reliant on items and inventory limits to fight them, that’s when problems arise. Sometimes, if you’re lucky and pace your attacks right, Kersti will appear and maybe even drop a hint.
One of the most convoluted puzzles in the game involves a giant Chain Chomp. It’s obvious that the goal is to guide the Chomp to a specific place, but every time Mario gets within range of it, a battle is triggered. Keep in mind that all Chain Chomps are invincible in Sticker Star, and thus, attack items are, for the most part, useless. The solution to this problem is a lengthy six-step process which I had amazingly somehow figured out myself over the course of much trial and error, though it was less of an “Ah-hah!” moment and more of a “Finally” one. Given how the whole scene is set up, it shouldn’t have been hard to craft a simpler puzzle that gave the same results, but instead, one has to execute a clunky solution for which only the barest hints had been given in advance.
Aside from the sticker puzzles and boss battles, the levels are standard Paper Mario fare at their best—which is the majority of the time—and minor annoyances at their worst. The puzzles which require not stickers but “scraps” of the papery world tend to be both more sensible and interesting, and there’s the usual plethora of hidden areas and treasures to discover. Some levels are more entertaining than others, and most all of them encourage repeat visits. The levels are largely plot-free, but, unfortunately, the two areas that are story-heavy feature the most tedious bits of exploration in the game.
As for the more aesthetic frills, the writing (what little there is this time around) and localization is as witty as always, the music is pleasing and catchy, and the graphics look wonderful. Mario RPGs have always excelled in these categories, so these are just things to be expected.
Given my history with the previous Mario RPGs, I really wanted to love this one, but in the end, I just couldn’t. If this was another franchise, and another set of characters, Sticker Star may be seen as a great game with a few niggling issues, but this is Paper Mario, dammit, and as such, I expect a first-class experience. Part of me wonders if the reason that this installment is sub-par might be because Intelligent Systems wanted to devote more resources to Fire Emblem: Awakening and made Sticker Star less of a priority, but this is mere speculation on my part. As it stands, I know this developer can do better with this franchise, as it has in the past. Anyway, if you’re a fellow Mario RPG devotee, you might want to check this out, but keep in mind that it’s not as good as the previous games. For everyone else, I can safely say this is nonessential.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is now the only Mario RPG I’ve yet to play. Here’s hoping it’s better…
Sorry I haven’t posted lately, especially given that I’ve only just relaunched this blog recently; you can thank a big fanart project and the usual autumn sickness/sluggishness for much of that.
Anyway, I updated the Links page this evening. Amongst other links, I included all of my favorite screenshot Let’s Plays. Most of my top recs are fairly short, so if you have the time, check them out. Also, if you have a link you think I should add, let me know.
Finally, I’ve changed one or two things with the site itself on the technical end of things, but it’s nothing you all need to worry about
I haven’t owned very many computers, but my first-gen, base-model Mac Pro Setzer has been the best of them. I got it back in October 2006 as a replacement for my aging Dell, Carbunkle, and still use it to this day. Setzer has helped me do all sorts of creative work, both freelance gigs and personal fan projects, and, built-in Ethernet ports notwithstanding, has never given me any major problems hardware-wise. In addition to OS X, it’s also been running Windows XP pretty much since I first got it, and has served me well for gaming.
Now, here in 2013, poor Setzer is getting on in years (for a computer). In general, my programs work fine, but at least one tool in Sketchbook Pro 6 lags a bit, and I constantly have to dial down the graphics settings for many current-gen games. Unfortunately, at the time when I started seriously considering either upgrading Setzer’s GPU or replacing the whole machine outright, the last new Pro that Apple had released was at least couple of years ago. Other Mac Pro users were in the same boat as I am, and Apple CEO Tim Cook assured us that we weren’t forgotten about. Then, this June, the new Pro was announced, and… it was different.
That keynote left me cautiously optimistic. The specs sounded great and the unusual design was interesting, plus it would be less of a space hog than the old G5s and Pros (it’s worth noting here that the other name I considered for Setzer was Umaro). However, it also looked less easy to customize—the original Pros are enormous in part because they’re so expandable. Also, there were no ports on the front of the thing, apparently no Nvidia card options, and once again… that design was weird. The one major detail left out of this sneak peek was the price, and it also happened to be the one thing left that I absolutely needed to know about this new machine.
Yesterday, there was a fresh new Apple keynote with a lot of announcements, including the base price for the Pro. Fortunately, this just reaches my personal limit, so chances are I will get one. However, upon considering how I’d actually use such a machine, more of the New Mac Pro’s limitations jumped out at me, with the biggest one being the lack of USB ports. There are only four USB 3 ports, while the still nascent (and expensive) Thunderbolt 2 gets six, and there’s no option to install a USB expansion card on this thing. On my current Pro, I typically have between four and five USB ports in use at any one time, and wouldn’t mind having more. Four ports means I’m definitely going to need some sort of USB hub.
Then there’s the hard drives. I want to reuse at least a couple of the drives I already have; there’s nothing wrong with them, they hold a lot, and sticking with them would save me quite a bit of time when I migrate to a new machine. However, on a New Mac Pro, that would mean using them externally, so I started looking at enclosures. The Thunderbolt ones are all ridiculously expensive, so I’ll probably go with a USB 3 solution of some sort.
I’ll also need an HDMI adapter for my monitor, though perhaps not, since I might already have one lying around somewhere; I’ve gotta check on that. Then there’s AppleCare, a copy of Windows 7, and… I think that’s it.
We’ll see what goes down once these New Mac Pros start shipping. I’ll probably check out some reviews once they do, and get a new desktop machine in January. Oh, and decide on a new name for the thing. My Air’s name is Celes, so if it is another Mac, then Locke, maybe? My Windows machines/partitions have used an FFVIII-based scheme, and after Carbunkle and Iguion, I’m really not sure what I would go with next.
Also, my older-than-my-Mac-Pro Wacom tablet seems to be a little flaky lately, but I have to run some tests with it to be sure that it’s the hardware and not something else. At least replacing that, should it come down to it, will be a much easier process.
One of the older, better-known Neon Genesis Evangelion-related fan projects out there is ToastyFrog Thumbnail Theatre, which, in addition to other properties, distills all 26 episodes of the original Eva TV series into snippets of snarky commentary. My favorite is the one for the famously controversial Episode 26. In this Thumbnail Theatre, main character Shinji is personified as series director Hideaki Anno, his mecha EVA-01 is Evangelion itself, and so on. As silly as it is, it also makes a whole lot of sense.
The Rebuild of Evangelion movies, the first one of which was released in 2007, and the fourth and final one due for sometime in the future, don’t have Thumbnail Theatres, since Jeremy Parish doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore, but if they did, I imagine they might start off a bit like this:
Shinji: I am 1996 Hideaki Anno, director of the recently-aired smash hit Neon Genesis Evangelion. EVA-01: I am the Evangelion franchise. Gendo: I am present-day Hideaki Anno, director of the Rebuild of Evangelion movies.
(Lots of Rebuild of Evangelion spoilers ahead; familiarity with the original Neon Genesis Evangelion is highly recommended.)
I’d been neglecting this place, and I’m still not completely sure why.
Perhaps it was disinterest, or some medical problems I was having (I won’t get into that), or that I was fine just talking about what I was playing on Twitter or various forums. I also suspect that my approach to this blog was part of the problem, and that’s why I’ve decided to refresh the site’s look, rewrite most of the “About” page, and start posting here regularly again.
So, welcome back. It’s been too long, hasn’t it—well over a year! I’ll do my best not to let this project fall by the wayside again, and part of how I intend to accomplish that is by writing about more than just games. In other words, now that I’m no longer active on LiveJournal, this is my main blog. It’s been awhile since I’ve had one of those, too. Figure reviews and most other collecting-related posts will remain on Tsuki-board, but everything else? Here.
The new theme I’ve come up with, or rather, frankenstein’d together from other WordPress templates, is something I call Tizia, after the homeworld of Opoona, the main character of the Wii game of the same name. I played Opoona this summer; it had problems (most notably a very-bad-by-modern-standards localization), but was unique and charming. It is also probably the only game I’ve ever played where art appreciation is a core part of the world. Hell, art in general is; one of Landroll’s towns is entirely devoted to the arts, and art-related careers are among the many jobs Opoona can pursue while on this planet.
Opoona has lingered in my mind ever since I beat it, in a good way; this is particularly true of the soundtrack, which is composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto and others at Basiscape, and which I have recently finally ordered a copy of. It’s not the best game I’ve beaten this year (that would probably be 10000000), but it’s certainly among the most memorable. I’m not going to ramble on at length about it, since it’s been months since I’ve beaten it, and as such, it’s no longer all that fresh in my mind. However, it’s a curiosity worth checking out if you like charming games as much as I do.
When a game leaves that strong an impression on me, I usually do a piece of fanart. In this instance, it’s a crossover with another memorable game, Ghost Trick, which was one of my favorites from last year’s stack of playthroughs. I’ve also (and this is a first for me) posted some of my process in creating this piece at my new Redirectorium at Tumblr. Yeah, I finally broke down and created a Tumblr like everyone else. I predict that a few years from now, everyone will have moved on to the New Internet Hotness and I, once again, will drag my feet in getting there, but for the time being, yep, I’m on Tumblr.
I wasn’t excited for E3 this year. Of the games I knew that were coming out, there wasn’t much that I absolutely needed to see more of, and my anticipation for the as-yet-unannounced was low. It turns out that I was right to skip the Microsoft and Sony press conference streams, as there was practically nothing of interest to me in the liveblogs that I read (well, there wasHalo 4, but I’m doing my best to avoid spoilers for it at the moment). The following day, I caved and watched Nintendo’s presser, but found it to be sorely lacking.
After several days’ worth of coverage, only one new game piqued my interest, and that was “Project P-100″, a crowd management action title, directed by Platinum Games’ Hideki Kamiya, that seems to have gotten barely any attention from the press at all. This game is similar to his earlier Viewtiful Joe in its Super Sentai aesthetic, and the basic concept of controlling a crowd that turns into weapons to beat giant villains is pretty awesome. The one thing about this game that came as a disappointment was that it is for WiiU, a system I don’t have any interest in getting. Other than that, and a welcome reminder that the 3DS Paper Mario exists and is on its way, there wasn’t anything for me.
In the meantime, I’ve been continuing on with my main personal goal for 2012: reducing my backlog as much as possible. April is the current record-holder month with seven games beaten, including one (Soul Nomad & the World Eaters) that took me nearly 45 hours, and the two Pinky:st DS titles that I reviewed in my previous post. Some highlights these past few months include the DS remake of Dragon Quest VI, massively moe and just plain charming doujin shop sim/dungeon crawler Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale, bare-bones browser-based JRPG Parameters, fantastic expansion pack Tropico 4: Modern Times, and Pokemon White Version, which I’ve written about before and was top-notch all around.
There was also Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, played co-op with my Halo-detractor husband. We had a good time, playing the game with the new graphics and old soundtrack, though I have some quibbles regarding the former. The new maps are brightly lit compared to the original versions, which, along with the whole co-op thing, made the game’s scariest moment a bit less so. Also, some of the new character models were lacking, especially Sergeant Johnson and 343 Guilty Spark. More than anything, I’m now cautiously optimistic about Halo 4.
I also played a couple of platformers, namely The Legendary Starfy on DS and Ratchet & Clank for PS2. Starfy was a decent game with a lot of character, but it was also much wordier than I expected, with more cutscenes than is average for a platformer. Ratchet is not as good as its first-party brethren Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and Sly Cooper & the Thievius Raccoonus and also has some irritating bugs. However, the weapon/gadget system at its heart is well thought-out, and the storytelling, which is similar in tone to Jak and Sly, is enjoyable enough.
There have been a smattering of others, including the two Izuna games, mystery dungeons with an emphasis on humor and fanservice, and, on the negative side, vague endings that lack so much as a credit roll or “The End” text before dumping the player into Postgame Territory. I also beat the puzzle game RUSH and attempted to play EDGE, but the bad controls and mediocre design of the latter led me to quit. Finally, over the weekend I played through Breath of Death VII, a parody RPG that resembles an early Dragon Quest and contains jokes and references that range from the silly to the sillier; despite some design quirks, it’s well worth a play if you love the genre.
That’s it for what I’ve beaten these past few months. As for what I’m actively playing right now, I’m approaching the end of “The Journey”, aka the main game in Persona 3 FES. This RPG has been unlike most others I’ve ever played, in a good way, and I hope to write about it at length later on. I’m also playing Dance Dance Revolution again (SuperNOVA 2, specifically); after a long ordeal, a couple of new, working pads arrived yesterday.
Once I wrap up “The Journey”, I plan to put Persona 3 FES aside for awhile before taking on the bonus episode “The Answer”. Right now, I’m considering starting de Blob 2 and/or Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 as my next game (or games). As usual, we’ll see.