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Review – Stick It To The Man

I’m not much of a platformer, I dabbled a little in Sonic in college, got on ok with Little Big Planet, but just occasionally I’ll spot one that appeals to my sensibilities. Stick It To The Man somehow wormed its way from Steam’s front page, onto my wishlist, onto my library…

Story

Ray suffers head trauma on a professional level, standing in the path of falling objects in order to get some practical data on hard-hat effectiveness. It’s a noble and pointless profession that calls into doubt everything you experience. His world is flat and cardboard, and filled with bizarre characters and broken physics: cars that drive vertically, triplets who are fused together beyond merely being conjoined, and actual ghosts who attempt to lobotomise the living. Things get weird when an alien crash-lands onto Ray’s head, and gives him strange psychic powers.

With his strange, pink, spaghetti arm stretching from his forehead, he reads the minds of nearby people, tears away walls of paper, hop from platform to platform, and gathers stickers that are oddly representative of physical or psychological objects and concepts that are the basis of your inventory. You have to run and jump through a cardboard world, a city infested with agents hunting for you and the alien in your brain, and the inside of your own head to confront the hijacking alien and your fairly boring past.

Characters are pretty one dimensional, but they’re literally two dimensional, and there’s nothing here to take seriously in the slightest. The comedy is a little on the nose in places, in fact it may be a little over the top on the self-reference and fourth wall breaking, but it’s more than enjoyable enough to keep dragging me along for another chapter because I feel like this game has surprises for me before it’s over.

Style

The off-colour and distorted characters running through a world of roughly cut cardboard, crayon drawings, and stickers that are falling off at the edges give a toy-like feel that brings to mind Little Big Planet. Psychonauts has its fingerprints solidly on Stick It, the art style is strongly reminiscent, as are the outlandish characters, and a comparison is inevitable when dealing with a puzzle-solving platformer with a telepathy theme. If you’re looking for further proof, just keep your eyes peeled for a taxidermied Double-Fine easter egg.

The animation is fairly clean, it gets a little ropy as objects bend and twist, but there’s no realism to uphold that would break immersion. Ray hangs a lampshade on the outlandishness of the world straight away by commenting on how he forgets how much jumping he has to do to get from home to work and back. It leaves you feeling immediately at home in a world that shouldn’t function, and you can forgive a lot of the bizarre logic, like passing objects to and from thought bubbles and charging a battery in the mind of a patient undergoing electroshock therapy.

Death is resolved by having a replacement of yourself printed at your most recent checkpoint.

Gameplay

I like a decent puzzle solver, one that rewards observation and deduction. Failing that I’ll take something relaxing that requires a moderate amount of thought, even if you’re working towards a punchline. For a game that spends so much time in brains it’s not very intellectually taxing, and most of the puzzles can be resolved with a “blunt object” approach of simply charging onward, thoroughly exploring, and trying everything you collect with everything you can interact with until something… well, sticks.

Between the mind reading, barrelling around the inside of your own head, and helping people with their lives, you spend intervening moments evading the goons of the vague-yet-menacing government agency who are out to arrest, detain, electrocute, and otherwise inconvenience you in an effort to retrieve the alien parasitically piggybacking in your cerebellum. They ramp up the tension, and give you a few moments of earnest platforming, making you jump and run through the cardboard city. You can use their own thoughts against them as a weapon to confuse or disable them temporarily, but for the most part you’ve just got to get out the way, and quickly.

There are a few moments where cut scenes occur too frequently. They’re short enough, but when you’ve walked no more than three steps from one to another you might as well wonder why they bothered, and more infuriatingly it’s for comical moments that serve no purpose whatsoever, and not even for the best jokes, which are rather well hidden and worth doing some extra exploring to find.

In short there’s nothing groundbreaking to be found here, but as a casual game that’s enjoyable without being overly demanding. It’s also worth the odd chuckle in between the more frustrating moments. I just broke out of a mental asylum, and things are starting to get very good! Worth picking up for sure, especially if you’re looking for something to tide you over while the tortuously long wait for Psychonauts 2 drags on.

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