Intelligent Systems seems to have operated on the theory that Paper Mario games needed less RPG in them when making Paper Mario: Sticker Star. The first two games in the series were universally admired for their witty and voluminous scripts, so that aspect was massively cut back — Sticker Star's text is lengthier than that found in current Mario platformers, but not by a whole lot. Pairing Mario with chatty partners to give some variety to combat was also defenestrated, making the game feel further stripped down.
The biggest change of all would be eliminating experience entirely, making turn-based battles that might have a point otherwise just plain annoying. Mario gets coins at the end of a stage and through hitting blocks, making fights feel completely superfluous. The game is best compared to other platformers instead of RPGs, and judged on that basis navigating the Super Mario World-like levels is kind of fun. Where a quick jump on the head or a fireball will dispatch enemies in his platformers, and hidden exits are fun to find without being mandatory to proceed, Mario is forced to enter much more time-consuming combat and sort through the guessing game of what items in his inventory do in order to get anywhere with Sticker Star. It's not enough of a platformer to please twitch reflexes, and the RPG elements have been toned down so much that they're aggravating instead of engrossing.
Coming in second is a game that wasn't bad, but still managed to miss enough important points to be a disappointment. Final Fantasy XIII-2 did a lot to improve on the complaints that people had from the first game. It wasn't as linear, offered monsters you could collect and use as party members, and gave players full control of character development from the start. Where it fell short was in giving us two new main characters mostly devoid of personality, a time travel story repetitively reliant on paradoxes and brain-damaging attempts at logic to explain everything, story sections ransomed as DLC, and a cliffhanger ending that left things unresolved. Square Enix took two steps forward here and then two right back.
But that wasn't the only place the company fell short, as aside from giving writers amusing ways to alter its subtitle such as Destructive Dropkick Delivery, the latest Kingdom Hearts entry Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance did a terrible job appealing to anyone. Newbies got the disorienting sensation of trying to comprehend all the convoluted backstory, and veterans got a 99% filler plot and were apparently baffled by the remaining 1% as well. The whole experience just makes one long to experience some Disney movies again instead of this mess.
by Mike Moehnke, Michael A. Cunningham