Nothing ruins your day as a hard-hat tester quite like a super-secret something-or-another hitting your head after a paper airplane falls apart. What? You mean that doesn’t happen normally? Well, in Stick It to The Man, that’s exactly what happens in an adventure that you definitely don’t want to miss.
Recently released for the PlayStation 4 and the latest addition to a list of freebies for those who are Playstation Plus members – seriously, it’s free, do you need more of a reason to pick it up? You do? – Stick It to The Man is a quirky game with a rather unique art style. Maybe I’m a bit crazy, but more than once, I found myself reminded of Psychonauts on the original Xbox. The art style isn’t exactly the same, but the exaggerated designs, the dialogue, and the overall absurdity reminded me of one of my favorite games back as a teen. I actually had to look both games up to make sure they weren’t made by the same studio.
The story is fairly simple. You play as Ray Doewood, a guy so lovingly ordinary that even a shrink struggles to find something wrong with him. After clocking out for the day from your job of testing hard hats you – yep, you guessed it – get hit on the head by a top secret package. Whatever was in that package has caused a pink sticky arm to grow out of your head, but only you can see it. Whatever this arm is, it gives you the ability to read the minds and interact with the paper world around you.
As a side-scroller game, the world around you has been noted by various characters and Ray himself as being made out of paper. You use your sticky hand to grab onto push pins that are hanging out of various obstacles, and to grab stickers from various places, such as people’s thoughts. You also rip up parts of the paper world to reveal something behind it, such as inmates in an asylum cell or an opera singer in a bathrobe. Every level is a new experience, with exciting sound effects and music to go with it.
But every world has a problem, and the controls were definitely a huge part of the problem here. While for the most part, the controls were very easy and smooth, there were times when they were just a bit too responsive. One of the ways you combat the various thugs in the game is to read their minds, then steal a sticker from their bubble to use on them or another villain. More than once, I found myself trying to quickly grab a sticker, only to waste one of my other stickers. You grab onto everything with the right thumbstick/R2 button combination, which means that you’re going to run into moments where you meant to stick a Sleep sticker on a goon, only to grab the push pin right above his head and land on top of him for a treat of a tazer on the tushie, or wasting a sticker and forcing you to wait for it to respawn. It eventually got to the point where I gave up on strategy and just swung wildly and hoped I got to a push pin that would take me to safety from the goons after spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to coordinate the stickers.
Another problem was the puzzles. Many of them are challenging, but if you’re not paying close enough attention to dialogue, you’ll miss something crucial, and will wind up pressing square to look at your map and try to figure out what you missed, or – in my case – running around for about ten minutes trying to slap a sticker onto everything that moves in hopes of finding some clue as to what to do.
The voice acting, however, is stellar. The dialogue is witty and amusing, and more than once I found myself having a good laugh at the expense of the characters in the game. The entire world is so absurd that I found myself falling in love with it. The characters even make fun of the typical stereotypes – Arlene makes fun of the damsel in distress, Ray innocently makes jabs at heroes who seem to get traumatized over everything, and The Man keeps berating himself for making typical villain mistakes – and every character is both self-aware of the world around them (such as the pilot referencing his plane made out of paper) or breaks the fourth wall to drop a delicious easter egg. No character is without love, either, as every single one has a backstory that’s even more absurd and lovable than the last. And if you get tired of the dialogue – especially for the predictable thugs – there’s a fun option of fast-forwarding or rewinding their dialogue in a chipmunk voice with the left thumbstick. (Okay, you got me. I kept doing that for fun.)
The game wasn’t too long or too short. I’d estimate it was probably about 5-7 hours, depending on how much dialogue you skip, and how long you get stuck on some of the puzzles. The game has frequent save spots, so there’s no fear in pausing the game to pick it up another day, but chances are, you won’t. It’s deliciously addictive, and the achievements – such as the one involving the alien and rubber ducky – will pique your curiosity and tempt you for another playthrough. If you manage to get everything the first time around, then the only real reason to replay would be to hear the characters and their zaniness again. If you missed a few achievements, lucks on your side, you can just jump to the chapter instead of having to go through the entire game again.
Overall, the game is a must-have for PlayStation 4 players. The controls may be a bit sticky at times, and the puzzles might leave you leaping around like a psychotic Mario, but the world is surprisingly lush, the characters are dynamic, and the absurdity is a great change of pace from your run-of-the-mill RPG, where humor takes a backroad to stabbing everything in sight with your sword.
Recommended for fans of: Psychonauts, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, quirky niche games, puzzle games
Kayla Swenson is an aspiring author and former DJ from Seattle, WA that procrastinates far too much with video games to get a book out. When she’s not gaming until carpal tunnel sets in, she’s working on dreams of being a voice actor as well as a published writer. Follow her on Twitter @beltravi or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go, go, TEAM XBRO!