Gather round friends, pull up a chair. Grab your beverage of choice and settle in because it is confession time. Growing up in the early 90’s I spent my summers playing a variety of game styles. During that time I came to discover something that I have kept locked away for many years. Every time it rears its head I keep quiet and tell myself “Just play something else for a while, what you are feeling isn’t really what you think.” As I type this article, I believe its time to simply say it aloud for all of the Internet to hear: I hate platformers. I find them to be tedious, time-consuming and just generally annoying. My last platformer experience was Super Meat Boy and I believe I have a total of less than one hour clocked.
I take these words describing my long seated loathing, so you have context for this review and the surprise I experienced. After playing StickType for 5 minutes I began to feel the same feeling of dread creep up upon me and sour my mood. But then a funny thing began to happen. As I began to unlock the StickBall and StickRunner character variants I found the unthinkable happening, I was enjoying myself!
StickType’s simplicity is the key to its success. Each fundamental component has been stripped down to its most minimal
form leaving only the essentials. Make no mistake while it is simple in design, core mechanic, and objective, it is FAR from an easy game. It is the second hardest indie game I can recall playing, second only to CupHead. Despite the difficulty factor I thoroughly enjoyed myself and felt very accomplished as I completed my initial run.
Soundtrack is fantastic
Successfully pulling off a minimal graphic aesthetic is not the easiest task to accomplish. Mike Palotas, the all in one developer and artistic designer of StickType, manages to reduce the games visual components in such a way as to not leave the player longing for complexity. I personally found that the limited color palette, as with many of the other self-imposed limitations, to elevate the emphasis on being a technically proficient gamer.
The soundtrack is an equally strong, yet restrained, ingredient of the success of the gameplay experience. One of my pet peeves in gaming is when a solid game is sullied by a sub-par soundtrack. StickType’s music tracks are different as the loops only restart upon a game-over death or by entering a completely different zone within the game. This distinction reduces the annoyance factor of hearing the same music track restart again and again as you struggle against an element of a difficult game. All of these factors play into the success factor of this game.
StickType does not hide the fact that it is a challenging platformer. The description contains a disclaimer; “WARNING: This game is going to be tough. DO NOT engage with this game if you only have one controller to smash, have neighbors who don’t like to hear cursing, or have a weak heart.” From the very outset of the game, players are warned as to the difficulty of the task they are undertaking. As the title card transitions to the splash-screen players are immediately greeted with their non-specific objective: something on top of a massive tower exclaiming: “!!!!”, “Help” and with that, you are off.
Players are given a small group of forms which are unlocked as you progress through the game. Ball, Stickball, StickRunner, StickMan, StickNinja, and StickAngel all possess individual advantages and disadvantages providing the player a wide variety of style options in their strategic playbook. Level designs are built upon the acquisition of the new forms but also require players to revert to previous forms to be completed.
Players are not only limited to defensive actions. Each form has its own manner of attack associated with it as well. These offensive options are Ball attack, StickPistol, StickSaber, and FeatherAttack. I regularly found myself swapping forms and attack styles multiple times a level to take advantage of their individual advantages. The difficulty progresses incrementally and in my opinion is very well balanced with the challenges scaling proportionally with the newly acquired forms and attacks.
A few concerns
As you can tell at this point, I found this game to be a well-made challenge. It is not however without a few faults which I would be remiss to mention at this venture.
1. I felt betrayed by the unspoken agreement.
In regards to the incremental level difficulty front, I found that the StickAngel difficulty jump feels much more sudden than the others. Until this point in the game, when you are gifted with a new playable form, you play through a few shorter levels and the reward is a save-room to save your progress. Alas, this also changes with the StickAngel form. After gliding down a maze of instant death hazards, taking a solid hour of cursing and deaths mind you, the player finally enters a save-room. ONLY TO HAVE YOUR SAVEPOINT FLY AWAY and subsequently launch you into one of the most difficult levels of the game. I then began to question why I was subjecting myself to this torture.
Now do not get me wrong, the variation was a clever move at this late junction in the game. But honestly, I feel that it breaks the trust that has been previously fostered. I fought against the next level for a solid 3 hours before having to quit without saving. I simply could not figure out the pattern to this puzzle and was quite irritated. I’ll take a portion of the blame for being a mediocre platform gamer. But, as this was the ONLY instance of this happening in the game I did feel jaded after beating it.
2. A Game breaking glitch
During the final boss battle the giant stick-soldier attacks, using his ability to summon a small army of smaller stick creatures. My initial strategy was to stay in the air as much as possible keeping myself in range to attack the giants head. But as my attempt began to lengthen, he summoned at least four armies which revealed the glitch. As he summoned the fifth army, my Xbox began to lag terribly down to the point of not functioning causing my death. As I reloaded the level the game locked up forcing me to crash the game to continue.
I came to realize that I must defeat armies as they were summoned. Not as a direct form of strategy, but to keep the game from causing itself to glitch. This is a major problem and inevitably one of the largest reasons for my lower score.
3. A slightly weak payoff.
This fault has a large asterisk next to it. Earlier in the review, you might have noticed my references to the objective as ‘non-specific.’ Completing this game is an accomplishment for the serious gamer but for some players, they might find the revealed reason for bashing your head against this game to be a touch lackluster. I personally found it adorable and made my heart happy, making it all worth it. However, I can see where some MIGHT find this a bit of a letdown.
4. Slightly confusing ending
After successfully completing’ the final boss battle players may find themselves back at the beginning without a clear indication of what has transpired. Mike at StickType clarified that I triggered the first of two endings by not finding any of the hidden ‘unlockable characters’ on the first climb. Without this clarification, I worry some folks might not know that is not where the story ends.
StickType has done a thing no other platformer has been able to do in 28 years for me: it made me like a platformer. I am filled with delight at how much joy I felt as I completed my first climb of the tower. I would highly recommend this game to those who love a good challenge and like a game that fights back.