A lot of times, when playing a new game, you can pinpoint what inspired it almost immediately. Shovel Knight brings back Mega Man, Retro City Rampage brings Grand Theft Auto to mind and Crash Nitro Kart is a poor rip off of Mario Kart (I know this will annoy someone).
Stick it to the Man, however, conjures up images of multiple games, put into a blender and poured back onto the screen with love. Initially looking like a cross between Psychonauts — with its stylistic choice, almost hand-painted visuals, bizarre body styles and animation — and Paper Mario, with everything in the game being made from paper and cardboard. This is also referenced in the intro, with a character questioning the logic behind a cardboard plane. They speak similar to how Canadians are portrayed in South Park, with the entire top part of their head moving up and down, nothing connecting it to the rest of the body. But the game plays nothing like any of those.
Stick it to the Man is a puzzle platformer from Zoink Games. It has shades of the point-and-click adventure games of old, with you collecting items and using them to help people out or solve puzzles. You play as Ray, an everyday chap with an everyday job. After an incident on the way home from work, he ends up with a pink noodly appendage growing from his head, which has the ability to grab ‘stickers’ and read minds — this is what the game is all about.
In each chapter, there are a number of people, in a variety of situations. Most are unwilling to talk to you outside of the cutscenes that play as you encounter some of them, so you must take matters into your own hands and read their minds. This will usually give you a clue as to what’s going on, or what they require. Items are represented by the previously mentioned stickers, of which you can hold several at a time.These also may only appear after talking or reading a person’s mind. You can then place them in specific places on the map, but only obviously in the correct place, For example, in the tutorial, you place a skeleton’s arm in a dog bowl to tempt the ‘dog’ home, You will also find that sometimes, stickers can be used on people. Early in the game you find a sticker that is a series of Zs. At certain points in the levels, agents try to capture you. Most of the time, you can avoid these agents can by jumping around them, but you can also use the Z sticker to make them fall asleep.
There is, however, nothing to tell you where and what to do. It is totally down to you to work this out by exploring. But sometimes, finding things to do can be hidden, and will sometimes lead to you walking in circles, reading minds again in case you missed something. Some places have flaps you can pull down to reveal more of the level, or the inside of a building for example, and are easily overlooked. On the other hand, there are never so many options open to you that you could not simply brute force the solution if you got truly stuck, trying every sticker you have, in every available slot until it works. I found myself doing this a bit, as my mind is somewhat less sharp than it was back in the LucasArts heyday.
The controls are relatively simple, controlling like your standard platformer fare for the most part. Pressing up and down, though, shows the game actually does have depth — you move back and forth between the background and foreground. The difference comes of course from the appendage protruding from your head. This is controlled by the second analog stick, with the left and right triggers used for mindread and grab respectively, almost emulating a twin-stick shooter. It’s incredibly intuitive.
Lastly, the music in Stick it to the Man is wonderful. It’s full of quirky jazz that perfectly fits the mood of what you see on screen at any one time. Sometimes sombre, sometimes upbeat and jazzy, you even get a bit of cheeky scat singing here and there. To quote a friend, ‘it’s truly rhythmical! Voice acting is top notch also, with every person and even the animals fully voiced. It appears that even animals think in standard English, which was new to me — and a nice fact to know, should I ever gain the ability to read minds.
Oh, there is one last thing this game reminded me of: