You're on the run from the law, hunted for a crime you didn't commit and unable to return to your own home for fear of being caught. A road block looms ahead, halting everyone except for an acclaimed opera singer who is performing later that evening. As the sirens echo through darkened streets, you slowly realise that the only way out will involve fashionable taxidermy, a fabulous purple wig, and a pair of lips ''borrowed'' straight from the starlet herself. Stick It To The Man is made out of moments like this, and it's a maniacal joy.
In a market saturated by military shooters and first-person adventures, developer Zoink comes off as defiant in its unhinged commitment to creating something truly unique. What starts off as a competent 2.5D platformer very quickly amalgamates the puzzling style of point and click classics with some light stealth and open environments to give the genre a thoroughly modern shot in the arm. Its success can be measured by how well these elements sync up into a cohesive experience; while it's not without its shortcomings, there's no denying that the formula holds up all the way to the end credits.
Players will be taking on the role of Ray, whose minimum wage job testing hard hats at a construction site is rudely interrupted when a mysterious container falls from the sky. The blow to the head leaves him with a killer headache, the attention of a mysterious group led by 'The Man', and what he ends up calling the ‘’giant spaghetti arm’ suddenly floating out of his brain. This new addition sits at the centre of the gameplay, allowing Ray to not only read the minds of those around him, but physically pluck out their thoughts and use them for a bit of brainy puzzling. It’s a neat mechanic that never ceases to amuse, as the giant purple hand takes on the role of the cursor and subconscious interrogations replace the usual item-hunting that forms the backbone of pure point-and-click titles. Neighbours, animals, even robots can be probed for information, and Stick It To The Man succeeds in always making this feel like a worthwhile pursuit.
This is mainly due to the game’s fantastic script, one which doesn't lower itself to meme usage or relying too heavily on pop culture references. While there are definitely a few pokes at gaming, Facebook and a couple of famous plumbers, this title should be praised for ‘sticking’ - Ba-dum-chish - to its own individual brand of twisted humour. With much of it penned by Adventure Time veteran Ryan North, it lives up to the standard of its peers with frequent moments of laugh out loud dialogue and enough ridiculous characters to make Tim Schafer himself jealous. The voice acting is sufficiently zany as well, though a few odd deliveries and typos in the script can take players out of it for a moment or two.
Mental adventuring aside, there's some solid platforming and exploration on offer as well. The game is split up into 10 chapters, each one representing a different area that can be navigated - not too unlike a stripped-down version of Metroid or Castlevania. A map is displayed on the GamePad, helping to mark out people of interest and how to get from place to place. Ray himself isn't exactly nimble, but using his psychic grip to zip around with flicks of the control stick ensures that moving around is never a chore. Variation helps keep things fresh as well, with visits to an insane asylum, freakish carnival, and the inner workings of Ray's own mind to name a few . A particular highlight is a theme park-styled trip through his past, and the visuals really help these environments shine.
Undoubtedly the most immediately striking aspect of Stick It To The Man, glowing purple hands aside, is its cardboard diorama aesthetic. Part Tim Burton, part Psychonauts; the entire world is stylised to look as though its been folded, painted and carefully carved into shape. Cities resemble complex models with depth and layers, loaded with sheets to pull back a lá Paper Mario. It's quite telling that the majority of the game takes place at night, as there's a vaguely macabre atmosphere to proceedings throughout. Character designs are comical of course, but after dealing with a cannibalistic chef who wants to spice his human stew with ''condensed, liquefied sorrow'' you may forget you're playing this on a Nintendo console. Combined with the script, a biting atmosphere really hits the right side of dark.
The Wii U Pro Controller is a compatible option here, but stick with the GamePad and you can take advantage of a quirky feature that sets mind-reading to a simple lift of the controller. Aim for your desired target and their voice will float eerily through the controller's speakers, which actually makes picking an individual out from a crowd a lot easier than attempting to find them with the control stick. Off-screen play is also fully supported, opening up the further option to tap on brains for selection instead.
The big problem is that the entire game clocks in at around five hours if enough time is spent brain-diving, which will understandably cause some immediate alarm for many potential buyers. It's a simple, straightforward experience that won't challenge players too much, but it must be understood that its goal is not to frustrate and test skill levels. Rather, Stick It To The Man should be enjoyed as a one-off journey into a wholly entertaining world filled with scenarios that just need to be witnessed. Players seeking a substantial addition to either the platformer or puzzle genre may want to look elsewhere, as the combination of these two elements does serve to slightly dilute both in the process. If the game had been any longer then fatigue may have begun to set in within the next few chapters, but as it stands this is not the case.
Stick It To The Man invites you into a world of cardboard streets, conjoined luchadores triplets and shady psychiatrists for just a few hours, but within that time are some of the funniest, most outrageous and original concepts seen on the Wii U to date. Its unique blend of psychic gameplay and surreal visuals won't appeal to everyone, but if you want to spend a free afternoon with something completely different then it's well worth a look.