Stick It to the Man is a game that takes a bit of a unique approach – a paper-thin world with push-pins and stickers all over the place is just the beginning. As the main character, there’s a 100% chance you’ll have a magic pink spaghetti arm spring from your head; so hold on to your hats, ’cause if they’re anything like stickers Ray’s going to rip them off your head and use them for something interesting.
You start the game as Ray, a guy who seems to be afflicted with the same issue Canadians have on South Park – though that’s obviously not his only issue. In life, Ray’s a hard hat tester; he goes to work every day to let people drop hammers on him, a job that’s more than likely left him with more hat-head than brains. To spite this, he seems to be one of the more on-the-ball characters in the game and is often heard commenting sarcastically how “sane” others are while walking that line himself.
His adventure begins when on his way home from work one day, he’s struck by a strange canister that falls from a plane flying overhead – his head taking the brunt of the damage. The next thing he knows, Ray wakes up in the hospital; a nurse telling him he has to get out…immediately (no insurance for a guy who gets hit in the head for a living). He pulls off the bandages around his head and BAM! – a fifteen foot pink spaghetti arm bounces into view, growing out of Ray’s head yet invisible to everyone else. We’re only five minutes into the game, but we can’t really say he’s sane anymore… can we?
Game-play revolves around three main things; platforming, mind reading and interacting using your pink spaghetti hand. Mind reading is also done with the spaghetti hand, though it’s not so much an interactive part of the environment as your method of getting “clues” to what you must do in order to progress. Progression usually involves using stickers you’ve found throughout the level (or in people’s thoughts) to change the environment through either placement or combination. The stickers are like triggers, unlocking the next part of the story so that you may continue; they’re generally found out in the open or at the outer reaches of each level and can only be picked up using the magic pink hand. With the location of some of these stickers, the platforming makes way for a sort of puzzle element as well. The people after you (and the canister) litter the field between you and any hard to find stickers, making you dodge around enemies to retrieve them. You have to use all your platforming skills (as well as your magic hand) to get around and away from anyone between you and your goal. This is because in Stick It, there’s zero combat to speak of and just coming into contact with a bad guy means your ass gets printed from a save point… literally.
It’s really a merging of the ingredient elements that makes the game unique, though personally I’d have preferred more interaction as opposed to the emphasis being on mind reading and simply avoiding your pursuers. The blend of mechanics still leave it as more of a platformer/puzzler than an adventure game in my books.
That said, the mind reading is where the humour is for the most part… which makes it hard to dismiss. The problem is that a lot of it is useless (or just for laughs), and running around listening to a bunch of random characters talk for extended periods of time becomes tiring quickly – especially when you get stuck (which you probably will). It’s an element that adds more content to the game but rarely any substance, the slow delivery often causing me to pause and take a break or switch to another game for a bit. It’s a conundrum of sorts when the best part of a game is also the worst, but without it I don’t think the game would work either. The humour is a key part of the equation, the underlying issue being that it seems to be overcompensating for the lack of interactivity (which would be preferred).
Controls for the title have been adapted to use either the touch screen (for certain tasks) or the analog sticks and buttons. The touch controls work quite well, though it seems that the angle to which you can peel certain pieces of paper away is fixed – a small oversight (which I hope isn’t by design). Analog controls are a bit touchy, but I assume they’re workable if you take the time to get used to them (I prefer the touch options when available).
Graphically, Stick It to the Man is a unique experience; built on the premise that everyone’s as flat as paper (literally, as you’re printed out of it when you re-spawn) it reminds me a bit of Tearaway without the cute factor. Other than an accentuating bright colour here and there, it tends to keep to a much more bland choice of pallet – a good choice considering the tone of the game (insanity, goons and creepy things around every corner). I quite liked the look and atmosphere laid out by the game and found it to be one of the best qualities put forth by the developers… aside from the audio.
The audio was done very well; the voice work and sound effects fitting the game perfectly in almost every area. The intro song – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) – fits the tone of the game perfectly; the LSD-themed song ushering you into the trippy experience that is Stick It with the subtlety of a brick to the face. From the moment you start, you know this is going to be one unique ride – and in that respect it doesn’t disappoint.
Traversing ten chapters with over a hundred unique characters, this game isn’t horribly short but it didn’t feel long either – offering your money’s worth (at least) out of this fairly cheap cross-buy title. The animation and actual game-play mechanics were fairly solid, with no frame rate drops or stutters that I could find and no obvious bugs. The story was a bit weak, but it seems this title was based more on the experience than the plot and it sort of worked that way. My only big gripe is that it didn’t have a ton of interactivity – despite being a game populated with a 15 foot pink spaghetti arm, stickers and other interesting possibilities.
Stick It to the Man is a game where a lot of good elements of game-play come together in a way that leaves you wanting either more or less of what you’re getting at any one time, but never getting it just right. The balance isn’t there, but fun can still be had if you know what you’re getting yourself into and play this one in short bursts.