Platform: PC / Mac / WiiU / PS3 & PSVita (Cross-Buy) / PS4
Price: US: $14.99; EU: €13.99; UK: £11.99
This review is based in the PS4 version which was offered as part of the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection for May 2014.
Stick It To The Man is a side-scrolling, adventure puzzle game from award-winning Swedish developers Zoink!, who have a worked on a variety of games across platforms such as Wii, smartphones and browsers.
You play as Ray, an uneasy, somewhat paranoid person who works as a safety helmet tester. He lives a reasonably normal life (as normal as he can in the bizarre world he inhabits) until one evening on his way home to his girlfriend he suffers a head injury from a falling mysterious canister.
After a strange dream he awakes in hospital and shortly after discovers he has a large, pink “spaghetti-like” arm and hand protruding from his head, that only he can see.
His new limb gives he the ability to read minds, manipulate thoughts and traverse environments by swinging from point-to-point, kind of like a psychic grappling hook.
He soon attracts the attention of a shady government agency led by “The Man” who wants to capture Ray to complete his evil scheme.
Along the way you encounter a whole variety of strange people and creatures, all with minds that can be read for either clues or items (stickers) to be used to progress the game. The story is relatively simple and guides the game along at a steady pace. At first Ray seems like a pretty two-dimensional character (no pun intended) but later levels provide a little back story, which I enjoyed. The villain however, “The Man” I found quite bland and was just evil for the sake of being evil, not much is said about him, which is a shame as he seemed like an interesting character towards the end of the game.
The game is a “2.5D” side-scroller, typically left-to-right and overcoming obstacles to reach the end goal. You’ll use Ray’s pink arm to swing around and even change planes from foreground to background. It’s very reminiscent of the Little Big Planet games on PlayStation and some of the platforming and avoiding enemies reminded me of the old 2D Oddworld games. The controls are simple, as they should be with platforming, your typical “left, right and X to jump” layout. Ray’s movement is controlled with the left analogue and using the rear triggers and right analogue you can control his pink arm, either grabbing notice board-style pins to swing to platforms or read minds.
Mind reading is the core gameplay. Using the pink arm you touch people’s minds and can hear their thoughts through the speaker on the DualShock 4. Their thoughts will either offer clues to your objective or more importantly stickers. The stickers are essentially the manifestation of a character’s thoughts, which you can pull out of their mind and use in the real world to help you progress. For example, in one situation there’s a drawbridge with a cog missing from its mechanism, so you read a characters mind for said cog, pull it out with the pink arm and apply it to the bridge to continue onwards. You can also manipulate characters and enemies with stickers by putting different ones into their thoughts or applying them to their bodies. You can put enemies to sleep with ‘Zzz” stickers so you can sneak past or use decoy stickers that look like Ray to distract them.
I find this gameplay very original and refreshing, it feels new but yet familiar and found it easy to pick up. There’s a pretty flat learning curve, the game is simple and littered with many checkpoints and fast-travel points that make the game more enjoyable and not too frustrating.
I found the controls to be a bit annoying at times. When controlling Ray’s pink arm you hold down the either of the rear triggers and then essentially “point” the right analogue in the direction the sticker/mind you want to interact with, it highlights and locks on, allow you to grab it. Sometimes the problem with this is you can stand too close to an item or there are too many items bunched in one area that you can’t lock on grab them, making you move Ray further back.
The PS4 version utilises the DualShock 4 touch panel allowing you to bring up essentially a mouse cursor on-screen which can be used to select items, I found this to be useful in these situations when Ray was in a position where the analogues couldn’t quite reach but still slightly frustrating nonetheless.
Sometimes however you can feel very lost when you can’t find the right place to put a sticker or you don’t know where to go next, especially in the later, larger levels. There’s a somewhat helpful map screen that logs your progress in a level but often I found that didn’t help me much and I’d sit there, scratching my head to what to do next. Thankfully I wasn’t stuck too long thanks to trial and error and exploring every inch of the levels, which it recommend doing anyway because it’s just a treat to look at, which brings me nearly to my next section…
Stick It To The Man looks fantastic, especially in 1080p on a big screen. It’s one of the prettiest, most vivid games I’ve played. The art style is second to none and I just enjoyed looking at it, let alone playing it.
Everyone in the game appears to be made of paper, they are essentially 2D creatures living in a 3D world and it’s presented in such a way that it doesn’t look like a digital medium but actual paper, the “feel” of textures when you explore a level, like peering into a diorama. Environments appear to be made from corrugated cardboard, decorated with arts and crafts and pen and ink. This style is part of the game itself, it’s aware the world is 2.5D and made of paper, often you use Ray’s pink arm to peel open a building by essentially tearing off the card that covers the interior or indeed the stickers you pull out of thoughts are exactly what they are – stickers. The game seems to be mostly set at night and has a somewhat neon glow to it, accompanied with noir-style jazz which gives the game a moody feel.
The designs of the characters are great, they are warped, almost caricatures or people, or at least types of people, or perhaps more like manifestations of types of personalities.
Some are pretty creepy, which lend to the game’s surprisingly dark undertones. Despite it’s comical style there are subtle, yet noticeable references to more mature themes like suicide, mental illness and even a kind of warped lesson in safe sex later in the game. But fear not, these are just subtle references, there’s nothing graphic here and doesn’t bring down the tone of the game.
The voice acting is superb. Every mind you read is spoken aloud through your TV or predominantly the PS4’s controller, which is a nice touch as I personally believe the little speaker creates more immersion than it’s credited for. You’ll hear a myriad of insane thoughts on your travels and all delivered exceptionally by the cast. Some of the lines they deliver make me wonder to how the actors initially reacted upon reading the script. I enjoyed every mind I read. You can also actively adjust the speed of the voices you’re listening to by moving the analogue stick whilst inside a mind, it’s not a big feature but can add a bit more humour hearing voices in high-pitch squeaks.
The game provides pop culture references as well as moments when the characters are almost aware they live in a side-scrolling video game. I always welcome references to the “fourth wall” in games such as these. References to social media, video games and movies are all in there, you just have to be clued up to get them. I may be over analysing but I’m sure there’s a Donny Darko references at once point.
My first play of Stick It To The Man took me roughly 3-4 hours to complete. All the exploration, finding all the stickers and reading all the minds keeps you busy but once you know how to complete objectives and solve the series of puzzles, you could likely speed play the whole game in half the time. In my initial play-through I explored every inch of each level and read every mind I could find and I found no reason, other than collecting trophies to go back and replay.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed what I played but I felt I had my fill the first time round. The fun of it was working out the puzzles and seeing the results for the first time but once you know the answers it’s not as enjoyable the second time. Once I had all the trophies I felt no need to play it again but it’s short length doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment, I felt it told its story and one play-through was enough for me.
The fun comes from the sheer wackiness of the game, listening to people’s innermost thoughts and manipulating them to achieve your goals. The gameplay is very original, I’ve not played anything like this before. It’s takes the elements of a point and click puzzle game and combines it with simple platforming and bizarre humour thrown in for good measure. I’m a fan of this type of warped humour and I really enjoyed the references, the story, the style and the overall all the different types of characters you meet, however it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The only time my enjoyment fell flat was when I got stuck on how to proceed. I don’t like my hand-held when playing games, not a fan of lengthy tutorials or hints but perhaps it would have been helpful, especially during later levels when there’s so much to do and you can feel a little overwhelmed and lost. But overall I had a great time exploring the beautiful world the game is set in and I can’t credit the developers enough for the sheer quality of visuals. A game doesn’t have to be photorealistic to evoke feelings of awe.
In Conclusion I found Stick It To The Man to be a unique experience, a good balance of simple platforming and puzzle all presented in an outstanding art style with a great script and brilliant voice acting. The game is a good length and doesn’t spike in difficulty, rather just gradually adds in more hurdles for you to overcome as the game progresses. Although I don’t feel this game would pander to all types of gamers, I’d recommend it to those who like to try something different that indie games often bring.