Stick It to the Man is the story of a young adult with a hand sticking out of his head. This tale also includes aliens, a few clowns, a crocodile with a taste for human flesh, and a skeleton pirate. With the kind of dark humour that you may remember from the likes of Ren and Stimpy – and an art style to match – this is an adventure with a charm rarely found in today’s gaming world.
Developers all over are trying their hardest to come up with a fresh take on the point-and-click genre. Even games made by old legends – like Double Fine’s decent The Cave – have attempted to ditch the formula that made us fall in love with the format in the first place, making room for something more modern and streamlined. Zoink’s outlandish affair may not be overly innovative in this department, but it does combine the elements of adventure games of old with some fairly strong platforming mechanics, and succeeds in a way that countless others have failed.
This is more than just the sum of its parts, though. The game’s appeal lies firmly in its cardboard cut-out visual style and sharp humour – and if these elements hadn’t worked, everything would have folded over. Main characters are made from paper, while the backdrops and crowds are painted onto cardboard. It looks great – especially now that it’s available in 1080p – highlighting things like bends and scribbled crayon work. These obvious flaws make the effect extremely convincing, and while it doesn’t rival blockbusters like Killzone: Shadow Fall in pure fidelity stakes, it works very well.
The story begins when hardhat tester Ray is hit on the head by a top secret container that falls from a military plane. He wakes up to find that he has a giant purple hand protruding from his skull, and that he can use it to explore the two-dimensional world that he inhabits. More than that, it allows him to see the innermost thoughts of the people around him – a really ‘handy’ trick if you’re game for a bit of problem solving.
While you’ll spend the bulk of the adventure jumping between platforms, the meat of the excursion comes in the form of wish fulfilment: you’ll read people’s minds, find out what they need, and then go out and get it. This is a far cry from the pixel hunting popularised by the likes of The Secret of Monkey Island, however, as you’ll instead be looking for stickers which you can glue to certain areas. Put the right sticker in the correct location, and you’ll be able to progress.
It’s not quite as simple as that, though. There are people out to get you, and you’ll have to use all of the tricks made possible by your new purple appendage to get past them. This may involve putting a sticker of the protagonist’s face on a guard so that the enemies will chase him instead of you, or perhaps gluing some ‘Zs’ onto a tired opponent. It’s pretty clever.
The writing is similarly intelligent, thanks in part to the surreal nature of the characters that you’ll encounter. The brutally honest internal thoughts poke fun at the way in which we all view ourselves, and the processes behind our decisions. It’s all voice acted, and the audio work is above average, with only a few jokes falling flat as a result of poor delivery. This is most apparent when you have grunts chasing you, as although they’re a common fixture throughout the campaign, they only have three or four different lines, and most of which aren’t especially funny the first time that you hear them.
Throughout the course of the adventure, you’ll encounter a near perfect balance of simple jump puzzles, hilarious monologues, and exploration. The platforming is basic because the physics aren’t perfect, meaning that aiming your jumps and grabbing onto ledges – even with an extra hand – isn’t as tight as it could be. Fortunately, dying doesn’t really have any consequence due to the inclusion of constant printer checkpoints, so you’re largely free to experiment with your abilities without being punished for doing something wrong.
Of course, that means that this isn’t an especially challenging game, providing you with a fairly bother-free window with which to observe its wacky characters and story. Even the point-and-click puzzles are infrequent enough that you can pass them with trial and error, but while this sounds like a negative, we quite enjoyed its emphasis on dialogue ahead of difficultly. This, of course, won’t appeal to everyone, though.
Those looking for something meaty may want to look elsewhere, too, as this adventure can be finished in less than five hours – and that’s if you listen to all of the dialogue. There’s not a whole lot of reason to return to the adventure either, so if you’ve already played it on the PlayStation 3 and Vita, you may want to give this version a pass.
That’s not to say that it isn’t the best version for newcomers, though, because it definitely is. The addition of the touchpad for mouse-like navigation makes the occasionally irritating interface issue a non-starter, while the DualShock 4’s speaker provides a great way to snoop on the thoughts of the people that you encounter. The abovementioned visual enhancements also help, too, but the thought that’s been put into the package elsewhere make it more than just a quick-and-dirty port.
Stick It to the Man will make you laugh, and then it’ll be gone. The game’s short story and lack of additional content mean that this is a trip that you can take in a single evening – but its originality makes it more than worth the ride. Indeed, while this zany affair may be fleeting, its characters and dialogue will stick with you long after the credits roll, and that’s reason enough to engross yourself in its wacky world.