In a good way! Nintendo is really good about polish, presentation, and character, and the latest Paper Mario installment is no exception. The game is also a strange blending of genres, not quite following any rules, so I'm just going to say it tastes like a well-baked 'sticker adventure.'
The 3D visuals are stunning. This may be the most visually impressive game I've played on my 3DS and is easily the best 3D presentation I've seen on the system. Per Mario standards, everything is bright, vivid, and colorful, but it really is the 3D that impresses me. The paper world comes to life like a pop-up book on the top screen. Characters are flat paper cutouts and props (such as scenery and items) are like cardboard stand-ups. Set pieces look like they could be child-made dioramas. Plus, the camera is angled just right so that, with the 3D turned on, depth is shown off very well.
Then, with the "paperization" mechanic, the difference between an expansive 3D world and a flat 2D image is shown off even better. I almost wonder if the feature was included just to show this off. It also helps to reinforce the idea that, yes, you are living in a world made of paper. No, this does not make any sense (and we don't care); yes, it does break the fourth wall and act a little "meta." It's a brilliant idea and, of course, fits in with the sticker theme perfectly.
Battles are literally clashes of paper-made forces. So what happens when my paper-man goes up against your paper-man? Well, one of us may get crumpled. You may decide to play dirty and throw water at me, making my paper-man soggy and weak. I may just get fed up with the whole thing and set your paper-man on fire, reducing him to ashes. That's pretty much how these fights go. Status conditions do actually included "crumpled" and "soggy." I've even been "clipped" by a Shy Guy: he put a paper clip on Mario, immobilizing him. Scissors chop up enemies and fire does reduce them to ashes. Intelligent Systems took this stuff literally. It's clever, it's hilarious, and it actually plays into the battle system well. These are the results you would expect from real world experience, meaning there's almost no learning curve. I already know what happens when I get paper wet, so I don't have to be explicitly taught that in the game. This keeps action moving, less tutorials, I get to laugh and feel competent -- we're all happy.
In battles, enemies will often fold themselves up into different shapes for attacking you: Koopas fold into their shells; Ninjis fold into shuriken. Sometimes the enemies will become more three-dimensional, making them stronger and granting new abilites (the first boss was something like this). Again, it's clever and fun. The animations look good and the applications can add a lot of variety.
It's the little things that matter. Then there's that "special sauce" polish. Two "woah" moments stand out to me, both using the system's motion sensor: (1) shiny stickers actually shimmer as you move the system, as though they were real holographic stickers; (2) shaking the handheld causes props, such as your hanging health bar, to shake and swing about on the screen. These touches are cool. They're otherwise meaningless, but very cool. It makes the world feel more real, more tangible. I love it.
I love that Nintendo has taken this hilariously ridiculous idea of recreating their world as a paper-made diorama and has completely run with it. Not a single centimeter was left untouched. The world looks like paper and cardboard; objects and characters behave like paper and cardboard, reacting to interactions precisely as you would expect; and the dialogue is even aware of the world being made of paper. This is all a funny little fantasy within a game, for the sake of a game. It's just fun and not trying to be anything else. That's why I like Mario and this cleverness and silliness is why I adore thePaper Mario series. As a game, it may not be the best we've seen, but it does lack any touches of polish. I'm very happy for that.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star was developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo. For this post, I played for about ten hours, or most of the way through World 3, on the Nintendo 3DS. I purchased the game for myself.