More-so than probably any other game I’ve played this year, Stick It to the Man! has a persistent atmosphere of pure weirdness. Be it the visual art style, the writing, the premise, and even the gameplay mechanics, this is a pretty goofy title. Don’t get me wrong, I mean all of that in a positive manner, because the game’s off-the-wall nature is ultimately part of its charm. An interesting fusion of 2D platformers and classic point-and-click adventures, this is a well-crafted title in almost every respect and it’s the latest indie must have.
Despite having the risky job of a hard hat durability tester, things are going relatively fine for our protagonist Ray. That is, until a mysterious object from a government plane lands on his head. After waking up from the collision, Ray is surprised to find a large “spaghetti arm” growing out of his brain that only he can see. Even more shocking is his newly discovered ability to read minds, and interact with both environments and other folks’ thoughts using stickers he finds spread throughout each level.
Gameplay primarily revolves around traversing through the hand-drawn environments as Ray, reading people’s minds, and interacting with them and specific parts of the levels using his extra arm. The left analog stick allows you to move Ray, while the right one independently aims the brain-arm at certain objects and stickers that you can temporarily add to your inventory.
The overall system the game settles on is greatly simplified compared to more conventional adventure games, with the most obvious example being the complete lack of a dialog choice system. As it turns out, this ultimately isn’t a true detraction, because the mechanics function perfectly fine.
The relatively straightforward story plays out through numerous conversations and cutscenes between Ray and a colorful cast of main characters (from his girlfriend Arlene, to the titular villain known simply as The Man) as well as a varied cast of comical bit players. All of them are brought to life with lively voice acting and a goofy, slightly grotesque visual style that evokes cartoons like Ren & Stimpy and South Park — the latter mainly due to how everyone flaps their mouths, a la the show’s Canadian characters.
When I realized that Stick It to the Man! was going to be a bit out of the ordinary was during its first full level, where I read the mind of a guy trapped in a car trunk by the mafia. While he was certainly unhappy about his situation, his main regret — and subsequent recurring thought — was not finishing the infamous Silver Surfer NES game. The rest of the game isn’t as reliant on referential humor, but it does a good job of setting the overall tone of zaniness you can expect from the rest of the journey.
That journey isn’t particularly long, as I probably clocked four or five hours total before reaching the end. While there’s a slight incentive to go back and revisit some of the ten chapters for PSN trophies, a good part of the fun comes from that initial playthrough and figuring out individual puzzle solutions. The lack of replayability might sound like a major downside, but considering how almost perfectly paced the whole game is and the fun I had during the first run, this is ultimately not an issue.
I say Stick It to the Man! is almost perfectly paced because there is an asylum level about two thirds of the way through that ended up feeling a bit too long and stretched-out for its own good. Thankfully, the developers incorporated unlockable shortcuts throughout the game that can help cut down on backtracking. However, even with those in place this was the one level I found myself getting stuck on repeatedly. There are still fun moments to experience within the asylum, but if I had to pick a low point for the game, that would be it.
I should also go into some detail about the light platforming and stealth aspects in Stick It to the Man!, which mainly exist in the form of a few jumps and having to stay out of the line of sight of several government agents spread throughout the levels. These can be either a fun challenge or a frustrating mix of repetition and luck, depending on the particular instance you find yourself in. By the later stages, I found myself wishing they would stop recurring, especially since they’re so different from the puzzle and conversation-based nature of the rest of the game.
Despite these few issues, I had a great time playing Stick It to the Man!. Its overall puzzle difficulty feels well balanced, and even though I have often had trouble following the classic LucasArts or Telltale adventure formula, I rarely felt stuck. It controls well, has a nice art style, and is genuinely funny at many points. While not the longest or deepest indie title on the market, it’s not the kind of game that requires either of those criteria. In the end, it does just about everything it sets out to do right.
Definitely check this one out.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which was provided to us for review purposes.
Stick It to the Man! is a unique experience that fans of quirky humour and adventure gaming will truly enjoy.