Stick it to the Man!
Developer: Zoink Games
Publisher: Zoink Games
Genre: Platformer/Puzzle Hybrid
Release Date: 05/06/2014
Stick it to the Man! is a 2D sidescrolling puzzle game, which was clearly made with a lot of love and care by a group of folks who grew up loving everything about video games. It is a very tight experience that never feels like its padding itself for time. This is a breath of fresh air in a world were every game feels like it has to stretch itself out to fit some arbitrary played time.
The game creators had a specific goal in mind, and executed it damn near flawlessly. The game picks up in the middle of space, where Ray, our protagonist, is having his final thoughts. He is reliving what has become the longest day of his life, and wondering how he came to be floating alone in the cold unforgiving void. This is where our story begins. Most of the game is told as a flashback, leading up to this point. Its a device we’ve seen in other games, but it works well here.
We then flashback to Ray at his job, testing hardhats, by having heavy items dropped
on his head while wearing them. On the walk home from work, an airplane carrying mysterious cargo is torn apart in a storm, and a strange capsule falls from the sky and strikes Ray on the head. As he loses consciousness, he sees a strange black shape crawl towards him. When he finally awakens from being hit in the head, he has a “spaghetti arm” growing out of his head that only he can see, and he care hear the thoughts of everyone around him with perfect clarity. From here, we delve into the longest day in the life of a man who was otherwise pretty happy with his station, and the shadowy “The Man” which tries to hunt him down and recover their missing cargo for his own, nefarious purposes.
The story is the main reason to play this game. Throughout the game, you’ll meet many memorable and interesting characters, like the imaginary friend who hates the person that imagined him and just wants a nice cup of tea, or the burly grunt in a black suit who truly does not regret staying up all night eating burritos, to the female scientist who may be in love with a zombie, but cannot bring him home to the family, as her father has a bad case of “zombie racism”. If you pay close attention, there are a number of references to games of yesteryear which will make you smile, chuckle, and occasionally full on belly laugh. I couldn’t wait to keep playing and see what sort of shenanigans I was going to get up to in each chapter.
Gameplay overall is a fairly standard experience. You run and jump on platforms. Some of the jumps require an odd timing, so you’ll occasionally fall to your death, but checkpoints are frequent, and getting reprinted from the copy machine only takes a few seconds, so the penalty for failure is minimal.
The unique mechanic for this game is the “spaghetti arm” growing out of Ray’s forehead. This allows you to grab onto objects in the real world and pull yourself towards them, read the minds of all the people (and some objects) in the game, and take physical or even thought up objects from the world, and “stick” them to other places, creating new situations, or helping folks achieve their goals. This is where things start to feel a little awkward on a PS4 controller, but you get used to them fairly quickly, so it doesn’t take way too much.
The right stick controls the arm, but it does not move about freely like you would expect. Instead, a circle will appear of the various objects you are trying to interact with, and you will need to point the right stick at these, then click either the R1 or R2 button to interact. It feels a little clunky at first, but you do get used to it. You can also use the touchpad to move a cursor around the screen and interact that way. This works well when you are trying to read the minds of specific characters, but is pretty close to impossible to use during the action segments. Because there can be several objects near each other to grab on to, it can lead to a number of interactions you weren’t hoping for, and pull you to your death in the arms of a blacksuited minion of “The Man”. I had a number of frustrating deaths during these parts caused by grabbing onto an object closer or further away from me than the one I wanted to
grab, so just be aware and careful to get through these sequences. I was never stuck for more than a couple of minutes on these, so it wasn’t a major slowdown.
Speaking of slowdown, I did have a couple sequences where my FPS dropped a bit, but never enough to inhibit play. It is something I would like to see looked at in a future patch, since the game is not very demanding, so it seemed odd that slowdown was happening at all. I also suffering one game ending crash, but I have no idea what caused it, and was unable to recreate the situation, so it may have been a fluke.
This game is absolutely beautiful to look at. Every character is unique and memorable, aside from the goons who are all supposed to look and sound the same. The backgrounds are full of little
details and Easter eggs. I probably increased my playtime by an hour over the course of the entire game simply because I was looking at everything I could. The art style can best be described as Psychonauts meets Paper Mario. All the characters are flat as paper, which is why when you die, you are reprinted out of various copy machines throughout the chapter. Right now, this is my favorite looking game on the PS4.
There are some people who are going to feel like this game is overpriced at fifteen dollars, since it is only about 3-5 hours long. It also does not have a lot of replay value, short of running through the story again, as there is no new game options that radically change gameplay, and you will likely get most of the trophies on your first playthrough. I think I got something like 82% of the trophies, and I’m not a trophy hunter by any stretch of the imagination. After playing through it, I was reminded of Portal, in that while it was a short experience, I did not feel cheated in any way.
The game lasts exactly as long as it needs to in order to accomplish the goals it set for itself, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. They don’t try to pad things by throwing in unnecessarily long fetch quests. There are frequent checkpoints, and after each “action sequence” where you avoid goons with tasers, you’ll find a “warp pipe” that takes you back to the section you missed, so you aren’t having to run through the same section of unkillable baddies over and over. Taking these things out would have probably jumped the game up to a 6-7 hour playtime, but it would have been much less enjoyable, as it would have felt like padding. I feel that the fifteen dollar asking price is more than fair for the experience you’ll get from this game, but if you really can’t see yourself paying that much of a three hour game with relatively low replay value, wait for it to go on sale for ten bucks, and you’ll feel better about your purchase.
Short Attention Span Summary:
This is a game I went into with no expectations. It was free on PlayStation Plus for PS4 owners, so I figured I would give it a shot. Going in blind, this game gave me a great afternoon with a great story and some wonderful characters. I am reminded of Portal, in that while the game is quite short, it is packed to the gills with charm. I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you read this before the end of May, it’s still free, so do yourself a favor and download it now!