The frequency with which I play my consoles has become more and more dependent on my reviews schedule. Recently, the XBOX has taken a backseat to all of the PS3 titles I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. As I’ve been on the PS3 a lot more recently, it’ll come as no surprise that I have taken to putzing around the PlayStation Store. Every week I check out the “What’s New” section, and to make a short story even shorter, I ended up watching the trailer for Stick it to the Man about a week ago. I was smitten. Everything from the art style, to the Kenny Rodgers theme communicated the feel of this setting and the oddball, characters mired in their oddball lives so effectively, I had to know more.
What I discovered was a charming game of match and memory, stitched together via platforming and jump puzzles.
Stick it to the Man! (PS3 [reviewed], PS Vita)
Words: James Bacon
Ray doesn’t lead what you’d call a “privileged” life. He works a dead-end job testing hardhats (which involves a great deal of falling detritus making contact with his often under-protected noggin), it typically rains while on his way home from work, and in order to climb to his apartment he’s got to undertake a ton of needless jumping, which he references multiple times (oh, the perils of living in a 2D universe).
Day in and day out, this is his struggle. Thankfully, his devoted love Arlene makes the drudgery of his existence bearable. Drudgery that would have continued were it not for the fateful (and foreshadowed) knock on the bean that changed his life… FOREVER! For as he traipsed home from work (a man as hapless as Ray could only ever find locomotion in such a verb as “traipse”), the military transport plane overhead was struck in the midst of the storm (you know, the one that waits for Ray to get off work), losing its cargo, sending it careening toward and eventually colliding with our recently imperiled protagonist.
BONK! One comatose dream and grey matter inhabiting parasite later, and Ray soon finds himself at the mercies of a shadowy figure and his cadre of dundridges built like slabs of meat, running from the punishment for a crime he’s pretty positive he didn’t commit. But in a world so crazy-go-nuts as his, who can really say for sure?
Once I got my hands on this title, a single word came to mind: Oddworld. The game’s dark, gritty overtones, coupled with the whimsical, highly detailed character designs, and the more-puzzler-than-platformer gameplay make this a shoe-in comparison, and there are no better comparisons whilst discussing puzzle/platformers. You are tasked with simply making your way in the face of rampant effrontery, be it a day trip over to your girlfriend’s psychiatrist (a much needed profession in this universe, for certain), lazily exploring your subconscious in a dream world, or running for your life from the previously mentioned dundridges. To do so, however, will mean the employment of certain abilities you’ve gained from Ted. The guy living in your brain.
Ted lends you powers in the form of telekinesis and telepathy, and traversal mostly requires the reading of people’s minds in order to find out what they want, and then bringing them that very item in order to solve their problems, eliciting favorable results for yourself. One of the very first issues involves a cabbie about to hang himself. You see, his girl left him for a Maffia Don with impeccably maintained choppers (she has an unreasonable strong attraction to teeth… uh, OK, sure). He won’t consider ending his attempts at suicide until he’s got his girl back, which means you’ve got to improve his dental hygene in a hurry. Most of this information you receive through mindreading, and then, after tinkering with a cavalcade of hilarious and seemingly unrelated events, you save the cab driver, and he agrees to take you home.
Yes, there is jumping involved, but the real meat of the game is found in the character interactions. It makes the story a part of the gameplay, and intelligently so.
The aesthetic is a lot like Little Big Planet meets Oddworld. The world is constructed from paper, cardboard, and stickers, and it’s used to create wonderful effects. Instead of entering buildings, you simply peel away the facade and observe those who dwell within from the street. The checkpoint system even takes advantage of the aesthetic by redrawing Ray, and cutting him out of construction paper stock. It’s quirky and charming, but not exactly new. The actual detail appllied to the set pieces and characters is wonderful. It contains, completely, both the whimsy and the gritty bleakness of the setting. You can tell these people have oddly difficult lives, and you can tell that crime is a bit rampant, but that it’s also business as usual, just by looking at the character designs.
And the levels are just as twisted as the atmosphere. Roads that turn back around on themselves, and then abruptly stop. Backgrounds, mid-grounds, and foregrounds all layered chaotically, but in a way that makes sense. It’s Cool World all over again, baby (minus all the teeth… well, there’re teeth, but it’s… ah, never mind), and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the team at Zoink! drew inspiration from it. I would often gaze off into the busyness of it, just to see what details I could glimpse.
The soundtrack is remarkable. There’s the opening theme – Kenny Rodgers & The First Edition’s ‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) – which was used in the trailer, and is one of the greatest classic rock songs of all time; and the diversity of all of the arranged pieces for each level run the gamut from zydeco to elevator music. All of the tunes are appropriate for their particular stage, as reflected in the details of each level, and this only serves to heighten your awareness the palpable, oddball noir elements of the universe the team at Zoink has built.
Unfortunately, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. The controls are floaty, especially with regard to movement. I’ve said this before in other reviews, but platformers sink or swim based solely on control. Walking is a touch less responsive than it should be, and jumps are preceded by a small delay after pressing the button. It isn’t enough to completely deep six the experience, but it does require some getting used to, and frequent readjustment throughout the experience. Try stickers until one works, And, finally, the game doesn’t have trophy support. This isn’t something I would ever dock points for, but I tend to find it a bit disappointing when trophy/achievement support goes overlooked.
Verdict: 7.5/10 (+Good) – From the same team that brought us the Kore Gang; you’ll come for the gorgeous artwork, and stay for the crazy character interactions. When all is said and done, it’s a story we’ve all heard before in a wide variety of media (inFAMOUS, Prototype, Super 8, etc.), but the dark charm of the characters and their hilarious relationships are what catapult this PSN exclusive to high heights, held back only by the flighty controls, and sometimes obtuse puzzles.