As usual, I'm behind on most series, so even though the next entry in the Paper Mario series just came out in Europe (the crossover with the Mario & Luigi series, entitled Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam), I just finished the previous entry, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, which was released three years ago (in 2012).

I'd played the previous three entries and had liked the first two okay but quite disliked the third one (on Wii). The main problem I have with the series in general is that the pace is really slow and there's a ton of text to wade through. Sticker Star drastically cuts down on the amount of dialogue, which is a big plus in my book. Things also seem to progress more quickly in general, as the game is structured as a series of bite-sized stages, rather like the Wii game, but here the stages feel more compact and it feels like there's much less tedious filler.

My playthrough went pretty smoothly at first, but as many other reviewer have noted, there are several parts where you'll get completely stuck about where to go next. The game requires you to revisit some completed stages without much indication about what you're supposed to be doing, and there was one mechanic in particular that I found misleading, where you're required to use a "Thing" sticker (everyday objects, such as a sponge and a vacuum cleaner, that in sticker form become formidable weapons) at particular places, but the space where you're supposed to put your sticker looks much larger than the sticker you're actually supposed to be using. Boss battles also have a similar problem, where you're required to use a special sticker at the exact right point in the boss fight, and so require some trial and error. "Stickerizing" and using "Thing" stickers to progress the story make up a nice game mechanic in general and recalls the "flip to 3D" mechanic from the Wii title (but is much better), although they also slow things down somewhat as in some areas you'll be spending a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to proceed. This mechanic also brings to mind classic point-and-click adventures such as Maniac Mansion, but, as with those games, at times the game's logic is a bit at odds with your own logic.

I enjoyed the sticker mechanic, although as with most RPGs, battles get pretty dull. There are several sequences, moments, and elaborate stages that are particularly memorable (including a pyramid and a haunted mansion), and using the "Thing" stickers in battle often leads to a hearty chuckle (the High Heel sticker is one of the definite highlights). The game is also stuffed with optional useless achievements, and completists will have a somewhat more worthwhile to task to find every level's Secret Door and all the stickers and "Things" (although, again, a hint system would have gone a long way to motivating me to complete those particular useless achievements).

The game runs out of ideas before the end, and the last world feels like a let-down, but despite that and some frustration, overall I enjoyed this entry in the Paper Mario series about as much as the first game in the series. This is the first game in the series to appear on a handheld, and it survives the transition just fine. The game looks and sounds good, and it seems like visuals resembling cardboard are used much more extensively than I remember seeing in the series before, such that stages often look like elaborate, eye-catching dioramas. The game features some pretty good stereoscopic effects as well. Hopefully I'll be able to get caught up on the Mario & Luigi series before another Paper Mario game comes out!

Maniac Paper Mario: Sticker Star links:
- Entry at papermario.wikia.com. Includes complete list of stickers and their locations.
- Entry at www.mariowiki.com
- Entry at metacritic.com
- List of unlockables at GameFAQs
- Review at NintendoLife
- Official website
- Entry at Wikipedia

My latest "get off the couch" game has been Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix. I'd played Dance Dance Revolution Konamix earlier this year, and as I expected this game was just DDR with Mario trappings, including a story mode that's completely forgettable (with the exception of Waluigi in a more prominent role than usual). The story mode adds elements beyond the traditional DDR set of four directional arrows in the form of enemies and hazards from the Mario world, such as Goombas and Koopa Troopas. These range from minor to rather annoying distractions, but not all songs include them and in the Free Mode you have the option to turn them off.

The songs are a combination of public domain classical and folk songs and remixes of classic Nintendo tracks, but the arrangements are actually pretty decent and done in a variety of musical styles, so I didn't mind the music selection too much. The game features various difficulty modes, but they skew towards the easy side. The normal mode was fairly mindless, and "hard" and "very hard" modes weren't that challenging. "Super hard" mode definitely gets your heart rate up, though, and is fun, although as is par for the course a certain amount of memorization is needed.

When it was released the game got decent reviews, and for me this was a nice alternative to a regular DDR sequel. I don't feel compelled to A-rank every song, though, but it's nice to have the external motivation (i.e. burning calories) for chasing high scores. It would've been nice if the game kept track of the number of calories you burned in the past few days rather than just recording your total and calories burned in the last few songs, but this is a minor quibble. All in all this is a game that "does what it says on the tin", and it should be easy for players to know in advance if they'd enjoy it or not.

Become a Dance Master with these Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix links:
- Detailed entry at mariowiki.com
- Info on the unlockables, at GameFAQs

In looking over my list of most-played 3DS games, I have to wonder how many other people have the StreetPass Mii Plaza games at or near the top of their list (160 hours and counting!). Even though I only end up playing it in 20-minute spurts a couple times a week, I'm a pretty big fan of the enjoyable, bite-size, and fairly mindless diversion that they provide.

I wrote about the games (in particular, mostly about the second set) almost two years ago, and I recently finally completed getting all the achievements of the last two of the second set, namely Mii Force and Warrior's Way. I'd spent less time with Mii Force before, because playing through it often required more attention and time than I wanted to spend on it while clearing out my StreetPasses. Then, once I did play more of it, the game took ages to complete because you have to 100% everything, including finding all the gems in every level (some of which ended up being really tedious to get because they require you to beat a pair of enemies simultaneously) and beating levels 140 times to unlock all the "reputations". There was a further annoyance at the end where you're required to beat the "arcade mode", which is a marathon where you have to beat every stage yet again but without a break and with only a limited number of weapons equipped. I'm not a fan of marathon modes, and although the arcade mode was a nice alternative to the regular mode, I slogged through it just in order to get that last achievement.

Warrior's Way also turned out to be a big slogfest, but after spending Play Coins regularly I eventually got up to the max number (9,999,999). It turns out that the opponents scale their armies according to how big your army is, which if I'd known that would've saved me a lot of time and Play Coins. In any case, after beating the final character I zipped through the required second playthrough without much time or effort at all, so I guess all's well that ends well. The game is definitely my least favorite of that batch, though.

I finally got the last special flower I was missing in Flower Town, even though that's not required for getting all the achievements. I don't know how the seed-generating algorithm works, but it seems that getting the special flowers requires StreetPassing other people who own the game and who have that special flower, which you don't have any control over. I'm still finishing up getting gold medals for all the jobs, but after that I doubt I'm going to spend all the time getting every color of every flower.

Now that I've finally been able to retire Mii Force and Warrior's Way, I allowed myself to buy the last two StreetPass games that were released. I also bought the VIP and Birthday checklist upgrade for the heck of it. Those modes seem kind of pointless, but by now I'm a StreetPass Mii Plaza devotee and completist. Expect to hear more about those... eventually!

Pass these StreetPass Mii Plaza Games: Set 2 links:
- Most of the links in my previous post are still relevant
- This thread at GameFAQs has a list of all the speech bubbles you can unlock
- Nice article at Kotaku in praise of StreetPasses
- Original announcement trailer of the set 2 games
-
List of main Mii Plaza "accomplishments" (aka achievements)

Yet another completely random game. I'd been mildly interested in the DSiWare title Art Academy: First Semester when it came out so I picked it up for the heck of it even though I don't have much interest in drawing and painting in real life. The game has spawned several follow-ups, so I thought I would take a minute to collect my thoughts on this first title.

Like the DSi's "killer app" Flipnote Studio, the Art Academy titles provide tools that people more skilled than I can use to create pretty impressive works. This version includes pencils and paints, although you can only draw with pencils before switching over to paints, with the assumption being that you only need them for creating the underdrawing for your painting. I didn't know anything about painting, but the painting features seem pretty robust: the game provides a range of options for selecting and mixing colors, brushes (round or flat, each with three different sizes), and the amount of water and paint you want on your brush. You also get to select a frame for your finished creations, and you can export your images to your DSi's SD card.

The main interest I had in the game was the lessons. The game technically has six lessons, but the first two of them are very basic and more just an introduction to the tools. The lessons were interesting and helped me get over my fear of touching a (virtual) paintbrush, and I particularly appreciated that the game doesn't just give you step by step instructions, but takes the time to explain the motivation behind the instructions. The game also includes "mini-lessons" for the last three lessons. These basically recap the steps of the lessons but with a different subject (e.g. peaches instead of a pear) which I found to be worthwhile since the adjustments required to account for the different subjects help you understand the lessons a bit better, although the NintendoLife reviewer found them to be fairly useless. The game also lets you import any image from your SD card to use as a reference for your painting.

All in all the "game" was pretty entertaining even for a completely inexperienced painting n00b like myself, although four lessons really just feel like a taster. The game's companion Art Academy: Second Semester, was released just two weeks after the first game, and apparently includes an additional four lessons. The reviewer at NintendoLife thought this was a rip-off since it's only four lessons compared to the first release's six, although, as I mentioned, the first two of the first release are introductory and quite short. In any case, all the lessons were included in the retail release on DS, entitled Art Academy, which seems to have been fairly well received. Apparently the main issue with the DS release is that although you can save your creations to the game cartridge, there's no way to export it to anything outside of the cartridge.

Completist though I may be, I'm probably not going to bother with the DS release as the lessons on the 3DS release, Art Academy: Lessons for Everyone!, seem to be fairly similar and more than likely cover the same concepts. There's also the Wii U release as well to check out... eventually. Anyway, this is a title that I imagine most people will find has been superseded by its successors, which offer more features and more lessons. Despite this release feeling somewhat truncated, I enjoyed it overall. (And, of course, you'll enjoy it far more if you have a DSi XL or 3DS XL as that extra screen space makes everything much less cramped.)

Get drawn into these Art Academy: First Semester links:
- Video of random person's lesson results
- Miiverse community of the Wii U titles
- Some info on the developer, Headstrong Games, on Wikipedia, who apparently also made House of the Dead: Overkill, haha.

Another DSiware title, although this time not one by Nintendo. NintendoLife had given a glowing review to the DSiware game Pop Island: Paperfield, and as usual I couldn't start with the sequel and so tried out its predecessor first. That game, called Pop Island, is very similar. The modes and features are the same in both, but the original is $5 and has eight levels and 12 characters, while the sequel is more like an expansion pack and is $2 and includes three levels and eight characters, with an additional three more levels and four characters unlocking if you have the first game.

The game is a "capture the flags" type of game, and the main thing that attracted me to it was the fact it has single-cart multiplayer, meaning you can buy one copy of the game and play it with up to seven other people via the DS family's Download Play feature (which is compatible with DSi and DSi XL, as well as their predecessors (DS, DS Lite) and all their currently existing 3DS successors (3DS, 3DS XL, 2DS, New 3DS, and New 3DS XL). The single-cart multiplayer mode worked pretty well for me, although there was occasional lag and lost connections.

As with Splatoon the game is more fun with friends, although the single player mode (which is the same as multiplayer but with CPU-controlled characters) generally works pretty well. The main mode (called "Joyful") has flags spawning at various points around the map and each side has a base to try to bring the flags back to. The unlockable second mode (called "Playful") has one flag per side. The single player mode seemed pretty well balanced so that the computer-controlled players are generally pretty well matched and your own efforts determine if your team loses or wins. The four difficulty modes are also well balanced: the first two difficulty modes feature equal numbers of characters on both sides, but the higher two difficulties give more characters to the opposing side. Although there are items scattered around the field to supplement your basic "firecracker" attack, they all seem similarly useful, and so the game doesn't feel too luck based. The highest difficulty level ("Crazy") gets to be pretty chaotic with all the characters running around the map and attacks flying everywhere, but it's still manageable and not frustrating (cf Mario Kart Wii which just made you want to throw your controller at the screen).

You accumulate points after each game you play based on how well you did and what the difficulty level you selected was, and new characters and stages unlock at a regular rate. The characters and maps have a good amount of variety, and, again, seem fairly balanced. The swimming characters are, as you'd expect, faster in the water, and can also dive and hide their position on the map. The land characters are faster on roads, and the flying characters have the most mobility but are slower than the other characters.

Screenshots really don't do the game justice. The presentation is cute and colorful, and although the art is intentionally boxy, it still has a lot of personality (the penguin on the surfboard was a particular favorite of mine, although the canary with sunglasses riding a motorcycle was a close second). The sound and audio are also good and the in-game text is quirky and funny, and the game's essential map interface, shown in the bottom screen, is also clear and well done.

All in all this was an enjoyable game in both the solo and multiplayer modes, and the single-card download play option in particular makes the game fill a unique niche. The gameplay is easy to pick up and play, but also not super deep, so I wouldn't say this is one of my favorite DSiware titles. Still, the game is a technical achievement and makes the most of the hardware, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for people looking for a party-type multiplayer game for the DS family of consoles.

Joyful and Playful Pop Island links:
- The developer's site is fairly barebones, but they also have a YouTube channel
- Review at NintendoLife
- Review at IGN
- Review at wiiloveit.com
- Entry at Wikipedia