Inside Pulse 12

Review: Stick ‘Em Up 2: Paper Adventures (Xbox Live Indie)

Stick ‘Em Up 2
Publisher: JJCgames
Developer: JJCgames
Genre: Action/Platformer
Release Date: 06/30/2011

If there was ever one segment of Xbox Live that had a big intimidation factor for me, it would be the section containing the Indie titles. Not that I have any beef against anybody trying to follow their passion and get a game out there for people to play. In fact, there are quite a few gems that have emerged from the service. The problem is that there are so many of them. And several can hardly be passed off as games either, as they have more in common with the random apps you can download on a smart phone. So it’s nice when a game like Stick ‘Em Up 2 comes along with promises of gameplay that’s more akin to classic genres that I enjoy and are more familiar with. But is it any good?

There really isn’t a plot to Stick ‘Em Up 2, aside from killing the bad stick guys before they kill you, but there are three modes of play to choose from. The main campaign can be played with up to four players cooperatively offline, or you can frag your buddies in both a team based and free for all death matches. Couch co-op is a bit of a lost art these days, especially that of the four player variety, so it was refreshing to see that this was included as an option.

The presentation is rather simplistic as you might gather from the game’s title. The characters are all comprised purely of stick figures of different colors. The backgrounds give the appearance of being made out of paper craft, though the quality ranges from fairly detailed (such as the tutorial stage) to incredibly bland (the moon stages). It’s very reminiscent of the early South Park episodes, if the kids were all drawn as stick people. There were no voice overs to be found, though there was a rocking soundtrack that blasted in the background of each stage as well as on the menu screen. The game does support custom soundtracks as well if that is more your flavor.

Stick ‘Em Up 2 is comprised of six stages, each with their own unique theme and gameplay style. When you begin the tutorial stage that takes place on some city rooftops, you are tasked with getting accustomed to the controls and the first of the Contra-style gameplay. The left stick is to move, the right stick is your aim, left trigger jumps, and right trigger shoots. You can also swap weapons with Y or enter vehicles (such as the helicopter introduced in the first stage) with the A button. As you progress, you’ll find that you will ditch your gun in favor of shuriken, spears, or even a sword for melee combat. There are a couple stages that don’t focus on heavy gunplay at all, instead requiring you drive a moon buggy to the finish line as quickly as possible to reach a spaceship so you can escape off the moon. These driving segments have physics that are vaguely reminiscent of those in LittleBigPlanet, except you actually have total control over which way your vehicle lands.

It’s a welcome variety, even though the game wasn’t nearly long enough for the gameplay to grow stale. Each stage can be cleared in a manner of minutes, so the full game from start to finish is less than an hour long. Your high scores are saved whenever you clear a level, so you can compete with your buddies to see who can earn the most points. There’s also three different difficulty levels to test your mettle on, though some parts can get tricky even on the easiest setting. The enemies will generally just stand around and wait for your approach, but what can make it difficult is the lack of any sort of invincibility period that occurs when you take damage. Instead, if you find yourself in a cluster of enemies you will constantly be sapped of health until you die (trust me when I say that your life bar runs out quick too). You have a limited number of lives at your disposal at each stage, but if you use them all you are forced to start the level over from the beginning.

The 240 Microsoft Point asking price is a bit steep given how short of a title it is. That said, the main menu claims that there will be additional stages to go live later on this summer which should extend the life a bit longer depending on how many are added. Blowing your buddies up in versus mode may have some lasting appeal as well, though as of this writing I didn’t have enough people together to thoroughly test the multiplayer. As far as I can tell though, there is only one stage available for that.

Even though the indie games available for download on Xbox Live are not eligible for traditional achievement points, that didn’t stop the devs from including their own. There is a set of what are called “goals” that you can unlock throughout the game, and progress is tracked on a separate menu similar to the standard achievements. So if clearing the stages on the hardest difficulty wasn’t challenging enough, it should give you something else to do.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Mediocre
Sounds: Great
Controls/Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Good
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Good

Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
While the campaign may be fleeting, it offers plenty of variety and the ability to tackle it with three of your buddies in offline couch co-op is icing on the cake. There are also multiple difficulties, a versus mode, and in game achievements to keep you busy for awhile. While it may not be the next Gunstar Heroes, Stick ‘Em Up 2: Paper Adventures provides some incredibly solid run n’ gun action that exceeded my expectations of what to expect from a downloadable indie game. It’s a bit spendy compared to other titles on the service, but it’s still comparable in price to a fast food meal and won’t send you running to the bathroom afterwards. Don’t let the simplistic stick people fool you, there is some thrilling gameplay to be had. Hopefully, the stages to come will maintain the same kind of consistent quality.

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