This past Wednesday came the May update to PS+, and with it, Stick It To The Man, developed by Zoink Games. Stick It To The Man is a sidescrolling hallucination of the aforementioned development teams machination. A quick view of the trailer makes it clear that it’s going to be a weird journey and omitting the veil, that’s exactly what you’re going to get. With that said, is it weird enough to justify the bandwidth?
For an independently developed game made available entirely free for all PS4 owners, it’s nothing short of incredible how much these guys care so apparently about how they choose to go about making their game; with a plentiful helping of outright weirdness it reminded me of Ren & Stimpy, or even Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man. It’s often that a game will come along with a slapdash look and whacky trailer only for it to be said that it’s ‘part of the design’ over simple laziness, and the humour would be largely phoned in and repetitive. I, sadly, assumed the same of this little title. I was wrong!
Stick It To The Man, in many ways, rivals the stuff we’re paying £60 for. It has hands down the best use of the Dual Shock 4’s speaker to date – making it a gameplay element rather dumping audiologs or reload sound effects at us – largely validating the existence of the thing for me and made all the more impressive considering the game, released on Steam last year, was likely well into development before the idea struck them. I may be staying on this subject a little too long, but with all sincerity, this is the bar for this PS4 feature. Developers of the world, either match it, or forget it’s there!
The story follows Ray, a man whose profession is that of a hard hat tester. He puts on the prototype hard hat, something heavy gets dropped on him and he rates how much it hurts on a five-star system. If nothing else it explains the various eccentricities you’ll be encountering along the way. Ray is, at first, found floating through the vast expanses of space, waxing philosophical and making Star Trek references before digressing into the events that lead to his being where he is. You’re then treated to a genius opening credits scene/level that really plays with the cutscenes-breaking-the-flow-of-gameplay debate of recent years. It’s difficult to discuss the story outside of stating the obvious as the many experiences generally make very little sense, and describing the goings on is likely to ruin a lot of the jokes and unexpected turns of events. For the sake of brevity, Ray finds himself in possession of a pink spaghetti hand protruding from his head that only he can see and which can malform the world around him – by turning certain items into stickers that can then be re-placed elsewhere – as well as giving him the ability to read people’s minds. On the other hand (get it?) The Man – that is The Man who It shall be stuck to, not Ray himself – has his sights set on possession of this strange phenomenon for his own nefarious deeds and the comparatively normal Ray was unfortunate enough to get in the way of that. While it’s admittedly short – clocking in at around three of four hours – it’s packed to the rafters with events and occurrences to the point where you’ll need to revisit it to remember the strange goings on.
Visually, the trailer says it all. It’s a cross between Parappa The Rapper, Rayman and Spongebob Squarepants. The world appears to be made out of various, and often times unfinished, drawings. From the buildings, to the characters, to the cars, each aiding in the creation of this unquestionably unbelievable world. Continuously ramping up the oddness from a start that is already fever-pitch-strange for most, it’s one of the most fun games to simply look at. I imagine that in my single playthrough I’ve failed to see so much as half of the little jokes thrown into the background. This will be rectified.
The gameplay is very well refined and most importantly, simple. You control Ray with the left analog stick while the ‘hand’ is controlled by the right. The hand can switch between physical (for ripping down walls, grabbing or placing stickers) or ethereal (reaching into someones head and clutching their brains for telepathic purposes). Ray can also jump… err… ahh, yes. It’s at this point that the “non-violent video game” bomb gets dropped. The truth is, Ray is a nice guy. Passive, considerate… not out to see the world crash and burn around him. As a result the various government goons out to take him down are dealt with in a way you or I would deal given the circumstances… by running. Many of these encounters, which are forgivingly infrequent due to their repetitive nature, are presented as puzzles rather than combat or evasions. Oftentimes you’ll have to read their minds, discover they’re tired, then grab their tiredness from their thoughts and put them to sleep. Keep in mind that I’m leaving the truly weird stuff for your own personal discovery! The objective, more often than not is to transform the world and satisfy the needs and wants of the people in the area so that the passage can be opened to proceed, much in a way you may aim to progress in a point and click adventure game such as Broken Sword or Monkey Island, only with more active control over the character. If a complaint can be made, it would be that the map – set to the square button – could do with some zooming and sliding functions to better assess the immediate surroundings rather than broadly viewing the chapters map in its entirety.
Sound, much like every other area of the game, is delightfully random. The theme tune, Kenny Rogers’ Just Dropped In (Which many of you will recall from The Big Lebowski) is difficult to be erased from your mind once it’s set it’s claws in, and you’re naturally going to spend a few days whistling it. It would be harder to find a more appropriate song to call the ‘theme’ of this game. The voice acting is impressively varied considering how few people the cast is comprised of, and it’s never half-assedly thrown in. The mind reading audio coming from the controller speaker is clear enough to spare those who don’t like using subtitles and an honorary mention has to go to the ambiguous hearing-everybody-nearby audio. I wouldn’t have noticed how simply they had cut various different voice clips together which would drop out in the middle of a sentence so’s not to drown out the next had I not intentionally listened up close for it. Even after hearing it and knowing what is happening, it gels back into not sounding poorly thrown together.
Overall, what you have here is DIFFERENT. It’s not perfect but it’s fun, it’s well made and it’s free! In the interest of honesty, I wouldn’t have bought this game had I been charged for it, and that sincerely would have been my loss. Having seen it, I’d be happy to but it’s too late. For all you PS4 owners out there, you have a month to claim this unique experience. Do it.