Despite once being one of the most popular genres in video games, adventure games were disregarded over time and became niche products, all but swallowed by an ever-growing industry. However, with examples such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead, the renaissance is definitely happening and developers are looking for ways to breathe fresh life into the concept.
Stick It To The Man mixes adventure game logic with platforming, and developers Zoink pull it off quite well. The surreal nature of the world and characters is an instant draw, even touting Adventure Time writer Ryan North as its scribe. But, therein lies the least appealing aspect of Stick It The Man: the dialogue.
Ray is the protagonist and a pretty affable guy. One day, while working on the construction site, Ray is struck on the head by a mysterious canister that has fallen from a plane. Once the unlucky chap comes out of his coma, he discovers that he has (as he describes it) a “pink spaghetti arm” protruding from his head. With this added ghostly limb that only Ray can see, he has the power to read minds and, subsequently, lend a helping hand to the ridiculous roster of personalities he’s surrounded by. Definitely in the comedy camp, Stick It To The Man its punchlines more often than it hits them. Ray’s nervous demeanour is the catalyst for much of the humour, as he’s thrown into peculiar situations with the kooky people of his locale. I certainly wasn’t stone-faced for the entirety of my time as the unlikely hero, but I also can’t say my sides were splitting from chortling uncontrollably.
Far more impressive than the exchanges on-screen is how Stick It To The Man looks. Employing a paper craft aesthetic, Ray interacts with some of the most hideous characters you’ll come across in some time, but there’s an obvious beauty within the gaudy mental asylum and the psychedelic dream sequence. The people inhabiting Ray’s neighbourhood look vulgar and disgusting, but they’re meant to cause that kind of reaction in players; they’re supposed to make you wince, while also making you appreciate the care that has gone into creating the striking levels.
As the head-hurt Ray, your newly-acquired ability to read the minds of others is both a blessing and a curse. Finding himself in unsavoury positions at almost every turn, your main objective in each stage is to delve into the psyches of those around you and disregard in order to solve the plethora of puzzles. The phantom limb isn’t just restricted to mind-reading though, as it can also help you traverse the world using thumb tacks scattered across the background which can vault you from one platform to another. As you travel across some surprisingly large maps, back-tracking is a must because each chapter is Metroidvania-like in its layout. For instance, you can tear the front-facing wall off some buildings to expose the occupants inside. After listening to their musings, you can then go about your quest to retrieve whatever it is that they desire such as cup of tea or an inflatable swimming aid. All items you grab are in the form of stickers which go straight into your inventory.
Your third arm proves troublesome at points, though. The spaghetti limb can be controlled using the right analogue stick and items that can be interacted with are highlighted. When two points of interest are close to one another, it can tend to be difficult to differentiate which one Ray will grab, possibly leading to an enemy getting their hands on you. If one of the patrolling foes do get you, there’s no escape. Ray can’t fight back against his adversaries, so he must outrun them once they’ve spotted him. There are ways around that, of course, as holding one of the left shoulder buttons and pointing your appendage toward their glowing brains and hitting R1 will allow you to hear their thoughts. Upon doing that, some guards will think about having a snooze and a thought bubble will appear with a sticker of Zs. You can grab that and then slap it onto an unknowing enemy, thus making it easier for Ray to get passed.
Stick It To The Man does suffer from a common adventure game ailment, though: some items in your inventory are simply too cryptic. For the most part, characters will be pretty straightforward in saying what they’re looking for, but there are definitely moments where you’ll be baffled in relation to your next move.
VERDICT: It’s always good to see something out of the ordinary. Whenever a game can surprise you, it’s obviously a good thing. Stick It To The Man definitely does that at points – but, when it’s touted as a comedy and the laughs don’t come in thick and fast, disappointment follows. The wonderful, horrid designs go some way towards making up for that, as do the interesting puzzles — which it really needs more of. Still if you’re pining for some adventure and originality in your life, Ray and his spaghetti arm might be just what you’re after.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.