Bring a Gun to a Stick Fight
SM: Fun fact: stick figures existed long before the internet popularized them. Indeed, the first stick figures appear in prehistoric petroglyphs that our ancestors carved into stone using whatever they happened to have on hand. A toddler’s first drawings frequently include stick figures. Of course, none of that matters, and no one cared about the lowly stick figure until the advent of the internet and Flash. Even I remember poorly drawing stick figures in Flash and making them do things.
Like our other co-op reviews, my comments begin with “SM” and my husband’s with “DT”.
Try to Stick Around
SM: Stick Fight: The Game takes the ubiquitous stick figures and places them in dangerous single-screen arenas in which they fight other stick figures that are frequently armed with guns. If history has shown us anything, a person doesn’t truly reach the zenith of their existence until they’re able to murder with impunity. Say what you will, but it’s far more prestigious than being stuck on a bathroom door.
It’s been a while since I’ve encountered a game that is so thoroughly lacking in subtlety. That’s not an insult, though. Stick Fight’s chaotic gameplay is as straightforward as it gets. You can block, punch/fire, and jump. Your goal: use the environment, weapons, or your fists to kill the other stick figures. It’s a simple concept with an equally simple execution. Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of video games can play, and it supports two to four players local and online.
DT: There really isn’t anything subtle about this game, which is kind of refreshing. There aren’t any gimmicks, there aren’t any complicated controls to learn. It’s really about as straightforward as a game can be. It’s definitely meant for as many players as possible, though. Two player is great, but the more players, the wilder it gets.
SM: Stick Fight is a bit of an enigma—it shouldn’t be as much fun as it is, and yet I laughed, snickered, and swore my way through level after level. I’m not even particularly good at it. I played local with my husband and online with strangers, and I died constantly—and frequently by my own hand. I apparently can’t be trusted with any kind of weapon, so I guess that spoils any plans I had of becoming a chef or an assassin or an assassinating chef.
DT: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of yelling and more than a reasonable amount of swearing for a game about stick figures duking it out. I’m sure there’s a way to get good at this game, but my strategy largely involves button mashing and yelling in the hopes it will accomplish something. Considering I win only half the time, there’s no conclusive evidence this approach is effective. Guess I’ll have to keep trying it.
A Murder of Sticks
SM: Part of what makes Stick Fight successful is its level design. Each level is as varied as the last, and sometimes the environment is just as bloodthirsty as your opponents. There are boxes, exploding barrels, rotating lasers, lava pits, disappearing platforms, spikes—the list goes on. Some levels rotate or are composed of boxes that immediately tip over, which destroys the entire arena. It’s impossible to plan ahead. You never know exactly how the environment or other players will act because of…physics and free will.
Stick Fight wisely infuses physics into its gameplay. If everyone stands on one side of a seesaw, then it will tip that direction because that’s how levers work. Platforms that hang from chains will sway and bounce as you move across them. A swift punch to some poor stick figure’s head will send it reeling in the opposite direction. The game’s physics even vary by weapon. A small knife will make you lunge, but a shotgun will catapult you backward to your demise if you’re foolish enough to use it near the arena’s edge.
DT: The level design and physics are really quite wonderful. There are some lava-themed levels, Halloween-themed, laser-death-beam themed… you get the idea. More than once I actually jumped into flowing lava or got too close to a spike and bam, instant death. Combined with accidentally shotgunning yourself off the stage or blasting apart the chains that are holding the stage up, accidental self-destruction is delightfully common.
SM: Weapons are, of course, the highlight of the game. Sure, you can punch someone to death, but wouldn’t you rather fire snakes at them with a snake-filled rocket launcher? There’s a variety of pistols, shotguns, and automatic weapons; knives, blades, and spears; and grenades and rockets. There are a few surprises, too, that I didn’t expect to see. Suffice it to say that some bullets ricochet. Some arenas start with weapons, but they also periodically rain from the sky. There’s no shortage of ways in which you can murder everyone (yourself included.)
DT: The snake bazooka (snazooka? snakooka?) was easily my favorite weapon. It fires one big snake that indiscriminately swarms over any player (yourself included) that gets in its way. The gun that fires off three snakes also forcefully blasts you backwards, which I always forgot. The knife is sort of warpy, the spear is wildly unwieldy. It’s utter madness and it’s great.
SM: The stick figures also feature rag-doll physics, so when an opponent blasts you in the face with a rocket, your poor little stick guy will go flying off into the distance, his corpse unceremoniously bouncing around until it collapses into a lifeless heap. This ridiculousness helps lessen the pain of failure, and vindication is always right around the corner.
Stick Fight’s soundtrack and sound effects helps elevate the game above its simplistic nature. The game’s catchy electronic soundtrack pairs perfectly with the frantic fighting. It’ll keep you pumped up while you’re spectating after an unfortunate blunder. Meaty punches, swishy knives, and blistering explosions make the game even more ridiculous. Every gun shot is like an aural punch; you can practically feel it.
The Endless Brawl
SM: There are some obvious limitations to Stick Fight’s design. For starters, it clearly needs a level editor and user-generated content. The Steam version has those features, so I’m a bit disappointed to see they aren’t here. The game’s one hundred levels are varied, but it doesn’t take long to revisit them. Matches can end in about five seconds, depending on how things play out, so more levels and greater variety would definitely help extend the game’s replay value. It’s also not something you’d want to play for hours on end; it’s best in short bursts, and it’s a perfect party game in that regard.
DT: While I never use level editors myself, in this case, I could see it being a boon for the game. While there are quite a few different level layouts, because the matches are so short, you’ll cycle through them fairly quickly. So having the ability for players to create and share their own levels would definitely add some needed variety.
SM: Also, this isn’t a limitation of the game itself, but Stick Fight truly shines in local play. It’s just like with Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart; there’s just no way to reproduce online that feeling of sitting next to your friends, murdering their faces off, swearing up a storm, and doing it all again. Online play works fine, and I had no trouble finding players, but it just doesn’t compare to local.
DT: Definitely agree that local play is best. Online is great, and it’s a great option to have, but this game really should be played with friends on the couch. The yelling, screaming, and laughing are part of the experience, and getting to enjoy it together makes it just that much better.
One Stick to Rule Them All
SM: Stick Fight: The Game is a case study in simplistic but smart game design. It’s an over the top, bombastic, and raucous fight that will leave you laughing and swearing in equal amounts. Who knew a game with stick figures could be so ridiculously fun?
Note: If the developers do add support for UGC in the future, tack on another half a point.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.