There was a delay just before I loaded up a new game of Stick It To The Man. Not because of any technical issues but because Kenny Roger’s Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) was playing over the menu screen. This and the hypnotic animation of paper cars driving over paper motorways in the background held me spellbound for a good few minutes. It’s fair to say the same about Stick It To The Man as a whole; a quirky, humorous, charming game that gives you something different to chew on between gun blasting and heart wrenching triple A titles.
You play as Ray Doewood, a likeable chump in the vein of Fry from Futurama, who is walking home one day after a particularly trying day of hard hat testing when something falls out of the sky and clonks him on the head. His coma-induced dream is where we get the chance to interact with this strange, almost Burton-esque world.
Stick It To The Man starts out looking like a 2D side scrolling platformer with plenty of jumping and moving from one end of the screen to the next. But when you begin to peel away the surface (literally at times), you find that it is actually more faithful to adventure puzzle games.
Ray’s actions are simple and easy to master, meaning more time is spent figuring out puzzles, outsmarting enemies and reading people’s minds. In fact all you can really do with Ray himself is move from left to right and jump. It’s the strange pink spaghetti arm sticking out of the top of his head that gives you the power to grab onto pins to haul yourself up to out of reach platforms, and reach into other’s minds to find out what they’re thinking.
There is a lot of character interaction (with more than 100 characters apparently) and this could become tedious if it weren’t for the darkly witty script and excellent voice acting. I can still recall the sound of the crocodile from one of the first levels and the man with the imaginary killer bunny friend in the asylum as easily as if I just played that level.
A cartoon style reminiscent of something between Rocko (remember him?) and Ren and Stimpy adds to the delightful playfulness of the game. Everything, including the characters, is made out of paper and their thoughts often appear in bubbles after you’ve read their minds in the form of picture stickers which you can steal and slap onto someone else. For example, a chef wants an unusual ingredient for his latest gourmet dish, something that encapsulates the grief of human suffering (I swear, it’s like watching Jamie Oliver) and lo and behold there is a man who has just been dumped and whose heart is breaking. After reading the devastated man’s thoughts, a puddle of tears appears in his mind and you can reach in with your nifty spaghetti arm to remove it and slap it onto the chef’s dish.
If that sounds a bit bizarre then don’t worry, it gets even odder. All the puzzles tend to fall along these lines. Each chapter places Ray in a unique level, ranging from an asylum to Ray’s fuzzy mind itself. They become larger and more complex as you go along but the puzzles never feel too obscure; as odd as they are there is still some logic to be found even if it is loosely connected. (Not a rubber chicken in sight.) Ray’s main goal is to get out of each level and avoid being caught by agents who work for The Man, a shadowy figure who wants his weapon back (the thing that fell on Ray’s head and caused his neural pasta problem).
Escaping levels is done by listening in on other people’s thoughts and helping them with their problems. This is actually the best part of the game due to the sheer diversity and creativity of the characters. You will encounter suicidal taxi drivers and psychiatric ghosts obsessing over lobotomies as well as helping fix complex father-son clown relationships. Often solving one puzzle will cause someone to reveal a solution to another, as in the chef puzzle mentioned previously when, after receiving his vital ingredient of human tears, he produces a severed leg (another prized delicacy) which you then feed to a hungry but fussy crocodile which then gives you access to a set of teeth and so on and so on.
Getting past the agents is a little more difficult and could be cause for frustration at times if it wasn’t for the numerous checkpoints dotted about each level. Every time Ray is caught or doesn’t make a jump, he regenerates at one of these checkpoints with a neat animation of him being printed out of a copy machine. It’s almost worth dying just for that. You don’t have health bars or lives or any of that silly nonsense to worry about either and it reminded me more than a little of The Cave at times. In fact the whole game has a decidedly Ron Gilbert feel about it which is definitely not a bad thing. Developers Zoink have made their influences clear but have successfully carved out their own identity.
To accompany Ray’s surreal journey through his two dimensional world is a jazz noir-style score that blends as wonderfully with the muted hues of a city as it does with the glaring gaudiness of a circus. Even though there are only ten chapters and the game isn’t much more than five hours playing time, each section has been carefully crafted with a distinctive look.
The game isn’t by any means perfect, though the only real issue was controlling the wayward head-arm. Locking onto a brain or a pin if it is very close to something else can often result in grabbing the wrong thing, annoying when you’re trying to steal a picture from an agents thought and you accidentally swing into their waiting arms instead. But it is a minor gripe when everything else is so beautifully constructed and the aforementioned checkpoints are so plentiful.
Zoink have concentrated on honing their amusing, often tongue in cheek, puzzle/platformer adventure game rather than adding unnecessary extra levels and multiplayer. As a result they have produced something different that may not be breaking boundaries but which provides a welcome respite to just about everything else out there. This is a game worth buying and playing. And then playing again.
MLG Rating: 9/10 Format: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation Vita Release Date: 20/11/13
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided with a copy of Stick it to the Man for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 3 days on a PlayStation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.