Published on July 23rd, 2014 | by Joseph Saulnier0
Stick It To The Man
Stick it to the Man (“Stick”) follows the adventures Ray Doewood, who isn’t the sharpest, or luckiest, guy in the world. In fact, he makes his living as a hardhat tester. But one day, everything changes when a freak accident lodges a mysterious alien named Ted deep in Ray’s brain. In addition to giving him an uninvited guest, Ray gains a mysterious power: a spaghetti-like arm that extends from the top of his head. But there’s a catch. He’s the only one who can see it. Ray must prove that he’s not looney while running from the government agents who are trying to reclaim their lost prize.
Stick is a joy to play and is instantly brings to mind Psychonauts in both visual style and writing. The game is weird and self-aware, and frequently breaks the fourth wall to call to attention that it is indeed a video game. The plot isn’t too deep or complex, but it’s quite funny and has an exceptionally memorable cast of characters. Part of the strength of the game is that it instills characters with personality in only a few short lines, whether it’s the twin Mafia hitmen with hidden animosity or the brief story of a father-and-son circus act seeking to come up with a new trick.
The “spaghetti arm” has two distinct abilities. First, it lets you read the mind of any living being — and several not-so-living beings. Some are fluff, but most are part of a larger puzzle, and their mental clues let you know what needs to be done to advance. The writing for these segments is often quite humorous, and I gladly read every mind I came across, just to see what they would say. But you’ll need to read all the minds anyway to find all the clues. This will also help you obtain some of the hidden trophies. The writing is good enough that you won’t mind, though.
The second ability is the power to pull and stick. The entire world of Stick is astonishingly reminiscent of Paper Mario, since it’s a paper-cutout-visual-style populated by 2-D paper images. And just like the most recent entry in the Paper Mario series, a large part of the game involves stickers, which represent something in the world, either physical or metaphysical. You can take some objects from the environment, and you can only obtain other objects by reading someone’s mind. The two are interchangeable, so it’s possible to create a nice pot of tea by combining three ingredients in the imagination of someone looking for tea. You can save stickers for later, but the game is fairly linear, which means that sticker locations are clearly marked, and if you try to use a sticker in the wrong spot, it’s usually returned to your inventory.
Being so much like Paper Mario, Stick runs into a similar problem, in that there’s very little variety. It is a point-and-click adventure game at heart, and while the puzzles are engaging and fun, none are heavy brain teasers. Once they’re done, they’re done. It’s also possible to just toss stickers at a marked spot until it works. Most may not see this as a bad thing, but it definitely hurts the overall replay value. The nature of the puzzles means that Stick is a one-shot deal. It’s funny enough to play it again at some point, but it’s more of a bite-sized experience than a full-sized adventure.
Slightly less engaging than the puzzles are the areas where you’re forced to avoid guards. You’re chased by evil government agents who are looking for the creature inside Ray’s head. If they catch you, you’re dead. Game over. Well, you do return to the latest checkpoint. However, you do have a couple of options. You can avoid them with simple platforming puzzles or using the grappling hook to get away. As the game progresses, these segments become minor puzzles of their own. Or, you can read one of the agent’s minds to get a sticker that allows you to defeat another agent. They rarely get in the way, but they’re definitely the weakest point of the game, aside from not being very funny or exciting. Fortunately, the developers seem to agree, so you’re never too overburdened with them. Even in large areas with a lot of backtracking you’ll usually find a shortcuts, preventing you from having to redo these segments. The only other problem is that the aiming mechanism for the spaghetti arm is fussy, and it can be hard to be precise when an agent is chasing you.
It’s difficult to not like Stick‘s art style. As I mentioned earlier, it immediately calls to mind Psychonauts and the like, but the simple 2-D presentation gives it a lot of charm. The game makes good use of the paper styling, and it has a lot of charisma and personality. Despite the parallels to Paper Mario, it never feels like it’s retreading the same ground. The voice acting is quite good and sells the humor well, which helps since there’s so much of it. There isn’t a strong reason to get Stick for the PS4 over the last-gen release. While the PS4 version makes good use of the DualShock 4’s built-in speaker when you’re using the mind-reading abilities, that is about the extent of its benefits.
Stick is an engaging and delightful little adventure game. It doesn’t have the most content, but it’s a fun experience. You could probably finish the entire game in an evening, but it’s an evening well spent. The short length may make the $9.99 price a bit hard to swallow, but if you’re a PS4 owner looking for a fun adventure game, Stick is a must-buy and worth every penny.