It’s not every day that you come across, say, a diamond laying on the ground. It’s even less likely that someone will hand you a flawless gem and tell you to take it for no cost whatsoever. I’ve been a gamer all of my life and I have played a lot of games. So many stories, mechanics, consoles, all swimming around in my head. It takes a lot to truly stand out amongst the masses and be remembered for years to come. Just like the hypothetical diamond though, when you find one, it stands out.
Say hello to your diamond folks. If you're a PlayStation Plus user, it’s free for the time being to boot. Either way, you won’t want to pass up this opportunity. Oh and to clarify on the metaphor, the diamond here is Stick It to the Man.
How Did They Come up with This? I'll Have What They're Having!
Apparently, someone over at Zoink, the developers of Stick It to the Man, have been brewing some genius juice because this game is instantly entertaining from the moment you see the main menu. The feel of the story, the sharpness of the dialogue, and the pitch perfect humor all seem to have been inspired by other contemporaries such as Tim Schafer and his team at Double Fine. Tim Schafer's greatest work was Psychonauts and that game still remains one of my favorite games of all time to this day.
Here’s the kicker, this game almost feels like a spiritual successor to that masterpiece and while nothing can truly beat Psychonauts for me, Stick It to the Man is the closest the industry has gotten to matching that quality, a fear I never thought would be achieved by anyone else but Tim Schafer and Double Fine. I tip my hat to the folks at Zoink! You have truly inspired me.
So, you’re probably thinking, this game can’t be that good, can it? Read on. The story begins with Ray, a normal guy with a interesting line of work. You see, he tests out hard hats. Kind of like a safety inspector/crash test dummy, only he’s a living person. The game opens with things being dropped on his head. Upon impact, he rates the hard hat he’s wearing, and that’s basically his job.
Okay, that’s pretty funny, but it gets better. As you walk home through the incredibly colorful and visually appealing city (we’ll get to graphics later) the game keeps cutting to a seemingly random military flight. Without going any further, hilarity ensues as Ray is suddenly gifted with a giant neon colored hand that comes out of his head. This hand can manipulate the world around you and read people’s thoughts.
The game’s story keeps it light, while also injecting some heavy handed profoundness at moments you least expect. One minute you’ll be stealing a fish cake out of someone’s thought bubble, only to read the mind of a goldfish minutes later and hear a shakespearean esque voice and soliloquy come out of the controller’s speaker. The dynamic nature of the writing, everything from witty, to odd, to profound, is what makes the game’s story so engaging. Sure it may not reinvent the wheel, but instead it slaps a bunch of colorful stickers on it and brings together seemingly random elements for a fantastic story and one of the best endings I have ever seen.
Stick It to the Man has a story that at a moment’s glance may seem like a hodge podge puzzle of random pieces that couldn’t ever fit. And yet, they do, very well actually. Once you’re done, you’ll never think of a goldfish the same way again. I’m being purposefully vague here because the story is something you should experience with as little expectations going in as possible. It’s all the sweeter if the twists and turns surprise you. Just be sure to read everyone and everything’s minds because some of the best writing is found in the inner thoughts of the game’s whacky characters.
A Game That Does so Many Things Right, but Everything Isn't Perfect in Ray's World.
This game is almost flawless. The way you traverse the two dimensional environments is through a basic mixture of platforming and using the neon hand growing out of your head to objects and manipulate them. The world around you is two dimensional but it exists on a 3D plane. This means that if you’re stuck behind a barrier, you can sometimes use your pink neon hand to grab a pin and pull yourself up and around the blockage.
The controls for your giant neon hand are simple, you can use either the right analogue stick to target objects, or the DualShock 4 also supports the touch pad which brings up a reticle you can guide to your target. I found the reticle option to be great in some situations, but the right stick aiming also worked better in others. The two options provide the perfect balance of time constraints and precision where it is needed. I never found myself failing as a result of the controls.
The puzzles in the game are ingenious and fun to solve without being too complicated. This is a very thin line when it comes to gaming as you want the puzzles to be challenging, but not frustrating. The only times I found myself frustrated were the times I was in a large area and I had to travel vast distances to find a location for the sticker I was holding. Most of the puzzles are solved in a way where you use the hand to remove and place stickers that represent various things.
For example, one puzzle with different variations involves taking the mouth off of someone and placing it on someone else. Again the motivations are different each time this particular type of sticker shows up, but the mechanics are similar as you encounter other objects and thoughts in the game. The hand can pluck this right out of the environment and store them in inventory of sorts. Sometimes it will be obvious where the sticker goes, while other times it will have an odd implication to it. The game does rely on some old and newer pop culture references that you may have to dig deep to remember. One particular puzzle involving a horse’s head was a clear nod to The Godfather movies for example.
Some people may find these puzzles a little esoteric, but I personally loved the range and dynamic nature of them. It all boils down to moving around thoughts and stickers while also reading people’s minds but the game manages to keep it fresh and fun throughout.
All is not perfect in the world of Ray though. I do have a small complaint about the game’s form of stealth. You see, Ray is being hunted for reasons I won’t spoil here and these segments have you avoiding the gaze of hilarious looking goons. It starts out fine, then the game introduces the ability to pluck thoughts out of the goons’ minds once you read them. These thoughts can be slapped on that goon or another to distract or disorient them. I love the concept, but in practice it was a little difficult. You see, these guys are moving around and reading their thoughts completely immobilizes your character.
Even if you skip the dialogue, you still have to wait a second before the thought bubble appears and once you’ve got the thought you then have to attach it. The whole process is probably about six or seven seconds if you skip the dialog from their minds. In a stealth scenario where about two seconds is all it takes for them to find you, this kind of defense just doesn’t work well.
Towards the end of the game, this became an issue as I would be caught and sent back to the last checkpoint countless times before a stroke of luck would let me through. Thankfully these moments are far outweighed by the brilliance of the puzzles and traversal. Even though they’re frustrating, I still liked the concept, I just think the game really didn’t need any form of stealth or combat, it worked fine as a puzzle game.
Even with these little nitpicks, the overall package in Stick It to the Man is nearly flawless. The controls work great, the gameplay is smooth, and the puzzles are just the right balance of weird and challenging.
It's like Paper Mario and Psychonauts Had a Baby!
The art style of Stick It to the Man is incredible. It’s a simple paper design where everything in the game is drawn upon pieces of cardboard or paper. The art isn’t terribly complex but it does a fine job of portraying all the pieces of the environment. What’s more, the character designs are lanky and feature exaggerated features throughout. Even the way they talk, with a detached upper and bottom jaw that bounces up and down, is utterly captivating.
The music is also a standout portion of the package. A mixture of muted jazz and catchy beats. Even the rock song that serves as the games sort of theme song “What Condition my Condition was In?” by Kenny Rogers is a fun and hilarious way to round out the game’s presentation. This is by far one of the most visually appealing games on the PS4 and an incredibly unique aesthetic to boot.
The PS4 Advantage: Finally, Someone Used the Touchpad!
Stick It to the Man is the first game to really take advantage of the Dualshock 4. When reading people’s minds, the inner dialogue plays out of the controller’s speaker as the game’s volume fades to muted tone. I love that feature, and the touchpad is finally used for something! You can use your finger to bring up a reticle that provides an added level of precision when you have a moment to spare. Graphically, the PS4 has no problems handling this game, but it does look crisp and runs very smooth.
The game is a decent length, ten chapters that each last roughly a half hour or so depending on how fast you finish the puzzles. It’s a five hour game though at the end of the day and without any collectibles or difficulties, the only reason you’ll come back is to experience it all again. Something I certainly intend to do. Even outside of its currently being free for PlayStation Plus members, this game is worth every dollar of its usual $14.99 price tag. I’ve played a hundred games that cost four times that much and have a quarter of this game’s charm. I only wish it were longer so it wouldn’t have to end.
Final Score: 9/10
A copy of this game was provided to PS4 Experts by Ripstone for review purposes.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date: 5/9/2014