Near the halfway point of Stick it to The Man, our hero Ray is trying to escape an insane asylum – just one of the many bizarre chapters of the game. Before making his exit atop a dead whale that had been “revived” through the use of needle and thread, a car battery and a paper bag, Ray uses a pink, tentacled hand jutting out of his head to read the mind of the zombie steed. “I hate Mondays!” shouted the whale from inside his brain. For me, it was at that moment that Stick it to The Man became one of the funniest and craziest games ever.
There is no question that Stick it to The Man (Stick It) is one of the strangest titles in recent memory – after all, the example above is proof enough. The thing is, it works. Ray’s story begins as he is walking home from his job as a hard hat tester and a strange object falls from the sky and hits him on his unprotected head (irony, obviously). It turns out that the container holds an alien creature named Ted who is more than happy to hide itself inside Ray’s head. Ted is actually being hunted by a shadowy figure called The Man, who sends agents out to hunt after Ray. But when Ray recovers from his bump on the head, he has a spaghetti-like pink arm growing out of his head.
No, this doesn’t sound like an average sci-fi yarn at all. A tale with some potentially goofy and absurd moments rapidly grows into one of the funnier games players will have encountered in quite some time. Stick It is an obviously strange game but that is only part of its charm. The game is just damn hilarious and for video games, that isn’t an easy thing to pull off. When stomping around levels as Ray, players have the ability to read the minds of practically everything. Skeletons, stuffed animals, old people, robots, you name it; they all have brains that can be gripped by Ray’s bonus appendage and boy, do they have a lot to say. Character’s brain conversations can range from completely insane mumbling to scary death threats to emotional confessions that Ray butts in on. Practically every single character in the game is worth listening to, even the ones that go on for quite awhile.
In fact, it’s with these mind readings that Stick It’s writing really begins to stand out. Considering the scope of having that many lines of dialogue, it could have been sloppily put together but it never feels that way. Not only is comedy itself hard to write, it’s hard to find and maintain a unique voice and style. The game definitely deserves applause because it never truly plays it safe. There are moments where the script will gradually lean on some mild toilet humor or poke fun at gaming tropes – after all, Ray’s home is “all the way to the left” and he has to jump a lot to get there – but it always feels unique to the game. Several times players are dropped into Ray’s head, each time it uses gags about the subconscious and therapy that have been played out before, yet it remains clever because of the strange way it is all put together.
Maybe it would be weird to label Stick It as a comedy game but no other moniker seems more appropriate. Humor is so deeply ingrained into its gameplay that it would completely lose that spark of brilliance without it. The few mechanics that are in place don’t get in the player’s way and allow the story some room to breathe in. By himself, Ray lacks any noteworthy power except for the ability to jump and land himself in bad situations. His new pink arm does more than just read minds. One of it’s first functions is a hookshot-like ability to grab onto red and green pins stuck into the environment and yank Ray up to them. The hand can also pull at layers of scenery, like the front of a building, which reveals people or objects to interact with.
But the funnest feature is the hand’s ability to grab stickers and stick them onto different people and things. You see, the world of Stick It looks like it was made of paper – even the characters make note of it from time to time. When Ray falls down a hole or gets hit, he’s just printed out again at a Mr. Copy checkpoint. Obviously, it makes sense to have stickers in a world of paper right? Placing a sticker on something isn’t for decoration, though.
Stickers’ primary use are for solving the many puzzles and obstacles impeding Ray’s progress. For example, police begin to hunt down Ray and begin to block the exits in town, no one is allowed to pass except for a famous female singer that the guards recognize. To pass, Ray must find stickers of a mouth and hair and more to “disguise” himself to pass off as the singer and complete the level. Examples like that often span the entire level, with the player having to interact with different people and stickers to find the final combination. Things like slapping a sticker of fire onto a pot of water to make boiling water are definitely simpler and one of the many ways stickers are combined to get another required one. Reading the minds of characters also becomes important because they will often produce a sticker or a place to put one.
To alleviate some of the tougher agent sections, players are able to read the minds of guards who will sometimes produce one of two stickers. One is a “ZZZ” sticker that can be put on an agent to temporarily knock them out and the other is a sticker of Ray’s face which will cause other agents to chase after fake Ray. It’s silly but by the end of the game, it lacks variety and doesn’t feel as funny or fun anymore. Players who control things using just the analog sticks might have some difficulty in these parts of the game because there are often a lot of pins for the hand to grab onto. The targeting mechanic for what the hand will interact with is a bit unruly and could cause a player to rocket straight into a guard because of its inaccuracy. Using the Vita‘s touchpad to select where the hand goes is a welcome feature but sometimes harder to do if the player requires moving, jumping and using the hand at the same time.
Graphics & Sound
As described, everything in Stick It has a two-dimensional quality due to the fact that the universe is implied to be made of paper. This is not a paper world like Tearaway, where everything is cute and crafty. People in this world are more exaggerated and stylized. Faces and bodies have weird shapes while heads and/or jaws are usually never attached to the neck. The style is certainly grittier but not necessarily adult, like it could have been a cartoon that aired with Ren & Stimpy or something similar in the 90s. It definitely aligns with the humor and overall tone of the game.
The flat, 2D look is an obvious choice of style but there are times when parts of the game can look muddled. Often, backgrounds or large parts of the scenery look to be hacked out of cardboard with the finer details drawn on them by pencil. It’s a cool look but it can look smudged and pixelated. The same can apply to characters but because the visuals hold up so well overall, it never feels that bad.
A game that hinges itself on comedy must have a cast that is capable of delivering every line with the necessary degree of humor. It’s a pleasure to say that Stick It never fails in that category. Whether it is deadpan humor, a poop joke or a silly, head-shaking one-liner, the voice cast does it right. Reading minds nets the most absurd and laugh-inducing stuff because it’s inside our heads that we are the most ridiculous. Characters will hold entire side-splitting conversations with themselves for the player to enjoy. As an added laugh, players can also fast-forward the voice-acting when reading minds with the left analog stick. The result is a high-pitched version of the dialog that maintains the same accents and timing but in an even sillier way.
Stick it to The Man packs a lot of fun into its downloadable size. So much of the game is crafted with a special kind of care that’s hard to knock. Anyone looking for a lengthy experience is bound to be disappointed by the handful of hours the game takes to complete. It is a shame that after all the minds have been read, all the jokes have been heard and the credits roll, there isn’t much inherent replay to be had. But when compared to the often serious nature a lot of games have, Stick it to The Man is a great palette cleanser. It raises the bar for how funny games can be when they are written well and acted immaculately. As nice as it would have been to have possibly one or two additional uses for Ray’s pink hand, gameplay is tailored to fit the experience appropriately, much like a good point-and-click or adventure title. But like any proper and good video game, Stick it to The Man delivers on one crucial requirement: to be fun.