For my money, there are few genres that thrive so well in adventure games as comedy. Their nature as combat-light, puzzle-heavy games open up all sorts of opportunities you don't get in even the funniest of FPSes or action games. With dialogue by "Adventure Time" writer Ryan North and a great sense of style and humor, Stick it to the Man is a great addition to that lineup.
Stick it to the Man follows the adventures Ray Doewood, who isn't the brightest or luckiest guy in the world and makes his living as a hardhat tester. That all changes one day when a freak accident lodges a mysterious alien named Ted deep in the center of Ray's brain. In addition to giving him an unwelcome visitor, this guest gifts Ray with a mysterious power: a spaghetti arm that extends from the top of his head. He's the only one who can see it. Ray must prove that he's not bonkers while running from the government agents who are trying to reclaim their lost prize.
Stick it to the Man is a delight to play and is instantly reminiscent of Psychonauts in visual style and in writing. It's weird and self-aware, and it frequently breaks the fourth wall and calls attention to its status as a video game. The plot isn't too deep or complex, but it's quite funny and has a remarkably memorable cast of characters. Indeed, part of the strength of the game is that it imbues characters with personality in only a few lines, whether it's the twin Mafia hitmen with hidden resentment or the brief story of a father-and-son circus act struggling to come up with a new trick.
The "spaghetti arm" has two distinct abilities. For one thing, it lets you read minds of any living being — and several not-so-living beings. Some are fluff, but most are part of a larger puzzle, and their mental clues let you know what needs to be done to advance. The writing for these segments is often quite funny, and I gladly read every mind I came across just to see what they would say. You'll need to read all the minds to find all the clues and obtain some of the hidden trophies. The writing is good enough that you won't mind, though.
The second ability is the power to pull and stick. The entire world of Stick it to the Man is incredibly reminiscent of Paper Mario since it's a paper cutout populated by 2-D paper images. Like the most recent Paper Mario title, a big part of the game involves stickers, which represent something in the world, either physical or metaphysical. You can take some objects from the environment, and you can only obtain other objects by reading someone's mind. The two are interchangeable, so it's possible to create a nice pot of tea by combining three ingredients in the imagination of someone looking for tea. You can save stickers for later, but the game is fairly linear, so sticker locations are clearly marked, and if you try to use a sticker in the wrong spot, it's usually returned to your inventory.
Stick it to the Man runs into a similar problem as Paper Mario: Sticker Star in that there's little variety. It is a point-and-click adventure game at heart, and while the puzzles are engaging and fun, none are heavy brain teasers, and once they're done, they're done. It's possible to just toss stickers at a marked spot until it works. This isn't a bad thing, but it hurts the overall replay value. The nature of the puzzles means that Stick it to the Man is a one-shot deal. It's funny enough to play it again at some point, it's more of a bite-sized experience than a full-sized adventure.
Slightly less engaging than the puzzles are the areas where you're forced to avoid guards. You're chased by evil government agents who are looking for the creature inside Ray's head. If they catch you, it's instant death, and you return to the latest checkpoint. You have a few options. At first, you can avoid them with simple platforming puzzles or using the grappling hook to get away. As the game progresses, these segments become minor puzzles of their own. You can read one of the agent's minds to get a sticker that allows you to defeat another agent. They rarely get in the way, but they're the weakest point of the game, and they're not very funny or exciting. Fortunately, the developers seem to agree, so you're never too overburdened with them. Even in large areas with a lot of backtracking, you'll usually find a shortcut that prevents you from having to redo these segments. The only other problem is that the aiming mechanism for the spaghetti arm is finicky, and it can be hard to be precise when an agent is chasing you.
It's difficult to not like Stick it to the Man's art style. It instantly calls to mind Psychonauts and its ilk, but the simple 2-D presentation gives it a lot of charm. The game makes good use of the paper styling, and it has a lot of presence and personality. Despite the similarities to Paper Mario, it never feels like it's retreading the same ground. The voice acting is quite good and sells the humor well, which helps since there's so much of it. There isn't a strong reason to get Stick it to the Man for the PS4 over the last-gen release. The PS4 version makes good use of the DualShock 4's built-in speaker when you're using the mind-reading abilities, but that is about the extent of its benefits.
Stick It to the Man is a charming and delightful little adventure game. It doesn't have the most content, but it's a fun experience. You'll probably finish the entire game in an evening, but it's an evening well spent. At the time of this writing, Stick it to the Man is available free to PlayStation Plus subscribers and is easily one of the highlights of the service to date. The short length may make the $9.99 price a bit harder to swallow, but if you're a PS4 owner looking for a fun adventure game, Stick it to the Man is a must-buy and worth every penny.
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