If, as the old (Man Murray) saying goes, "adventure games committed suicide," then hearing examples of Stick it to the Man's puzzles may have you wondering if this game is at risk of self-harm.
But by the time I ripped the son-appreciating mouth off of an accidentally inflated clown and immediately knew where to place this hastily removed facial feature, I began to get some inklings that the aforementioned and infamous Internet essay might be growing a little dated. When adventure games revel in and communicate through a pervasive sense of weirdness, the seemingly illogical becomes completely natural—of course, it helps that we've evolved far beyond inventories full of useless doo-dads and a countless number of things to rub them against.
Like Double Fine's The Cave, Stick it to the Man is a rethinking of the classic adventure game, using the familiar language of the 2D platformer to replace the point-and-clicking of yore. Stick it to the Man doesn't concern itself with Mario-style gauntlets of moving platforms and bottomless pits, though; its running and jumping action only acts as a more engaging way to get from point A to point B. And it's 2D in the strictest sense of the word, as Stick's characters take the form of paper-thin cutouts, dressed up in an art style that feels like a throwback to the alternative animation of MTV's ancient Liquid Television.
The puzzle-solving in Stick is rooted in a ghostly, pink appendage that lovably hapless protagonist Ray finds embedded in his head after a mysterious tube drops from the sky and splits open on his skull. This springy arm acts as a way to simplify the expected adventure game mechanics, as it can rip items (presented here in the form of stickers) from the surroundings, place them in areas with that telltale dotted outline, and even peel layers from the background so Ray can peek inside buildings and other objects. Ray can also use his head-bound alien symbiote to read the minds of the characters around him, which clues you in on what you need to do next, and presents opportunities for Ray to pull items from their thoughts. While Stick's puzzles evoke the story's twisted, dark humor, the game does a fine job of presenting its limited number of possibilities up front, so all that's left is to figure out how to meet the demands of Stick's many weirdos.
For whatever reason, Stick also feels the need to sprinkle in some action, which serves as padding at its best and a frustrating roadblock at its worst. Each self-enclosed chapter features a few sections in which Ray must elude government agents looking for the valuable bounty hidden inside of his skull, though he's not completely helpless in these situations. By reading these agents' minds, Ray can either put them to sleep, or stick an image of his face on one of theirs, hopefully luring these government spooks in the opposite direction. These areas start off with brain-dead solutions like "put the one sleepy guard to sleep," but by the end of the game, the number of agents ramps up, but Ray's abilities don't—and the Stick's floaty controls don't serve the action well. Thankfully, checkpoints are frequent, and Stick makes it so you never have to repeat these sections, but that doesn't make them any less unwelcome.
The main draw of Stick it to the Man can be founds in its dark and often surprising sense of humor, which admittedly stoops to some pretty corny jokes at times—I think it's safe to say that disco jokes might be the only thing deader than disco. While Ray is too caught up in the madness surrounding him to amount to more than a lovable goof, the citizens of Stick it to the Man's world possess the same sort of super-specific weirdness that made LucasArts adventure games like Sam & Max Hit the Road and Day of the Tentacle so memorable. Stick isn't as confident about it sense of humor as it should be, though, and jokes often receive one tag too many, just in case the audience isn't on fully on board as to why something is supposed to be funny. Still, if a game is able to get a few laughs out of an insufferable comedy snob (yes, we do exist) like me, I consider that a great achievement.
Despite the amount of creativity in Stick's writing, the paper metaphor feels woefully underused; outside of placing stickers and ripping things from the background, it amounts to little more than an admittedly attractive visual gimmick. But even with Stick's shortcomings, it amounts to a surprisingly substantial adventure for people like me who still love Telltale Games' productions, but lament the fact that they've washed their hands of classic adventure gaming for the sake of highly profitable interactive fiction. If you have a similar itch that's been long overdue for some scratching, Stick it to the Man will definitely take you back to the days when the Lucas name was used for more than just the proliferation of Jedi propaganda.
- Graphics: Though their animation barely amounts to more than the flapping heads of South Park's Canadian characters, Stick it to the Man is a visual treat, overflowing with strangely beautiful 2D artwork.
- Audio: Featuring a rowdy, boozy jazz soundtrack (think Cab Calloway), Stick's manic soundtrack definitely matches its tone. And while you may hear a few voice actors just a little too much, the voice acting is superb, especially when it comes to Ray's ability to wearily roll with the punches.
- Interface: Ray's ghostly appendage often doesn't behave when it comes to highlighting items in close proximity to each other, but these cases are limited. Overall, Stick does an excellent job of letting you know what you can and can't interact with—which should be mandatory for any adventure game.
- Lasting Appeal: There's not much reason to cruise through Stick it to the Man a second time, but that's really the case with most adventure games of its ilk.
Stick it to the Man could definitely benefit from a little more ambition in terms of game design, but with this little adventure, Zoink! has shown that they're capable of great things. If you miss the strangely illogical logic and lovable freaks from the golden era of adventure games, Stick will definitely bring you back to those days when we pointed and clicked our ways through the most oddly captivating stories of video game history.