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Well, you can always hook ME with stick figures!, August 5, 2022
Gent Stickman stood out immediately for me, not just for its title, but for its stick-figure drawings. My relationship with drawing is a thorny one. I'd like to be more realistic, but I do enjoy the humor a well-done stick-figure drawing can do. It just has to be thoughtful, and yet, stick figures can help take an edge off serious subjects so you can cope with them. This is the case with Gent Stickman, a small game with relatively few rooms and a simple parser. All the responses are in graphics, including the error messages, which is nice because sometimes the default messages are annoying even when they don't try to be.
This is a successful design choice as I see it. If I'm correct, The author's first language is not English, and the game does have a universal feel. I wasn't surprised to see they'd won the Spanish version of EctoComp, based on this effort. They could certainly write in English. I mean, GS is definitely one of the most fun and creative titles I've seen in my gaming exploits. So they could definitely hammer something respectable out in English. But what they did was slick. They know what they're doing, and they never need to drill it in your head how clever they are. There are hints and death scenes, and the hints are particularly nice because, well, you still have a bit to figure from some of them--but nothing unfair!
And they do form a nice story of where you've been and where you're going. I've certainly had instances where I saw one hint too many and felt like I was just taking transcription, and that didn't happen here. The graphics cut through the "push X for next hint" instructions, only revealing one additional hint per room per hint request. This left GS feeling quite welcoming. They also pushed back on one of my pet-peeve straw-men in web-based games: timed text. After a certain amount of that, I always picture someone pausing pompously for dramatic effect, but here it's like a small funny YouTube clip you could watch several times.
As for the story? Well, you, Gent Stickman, are--well, the guy people see on a bathroom sign. Your beloved is your female counterpart. She has been kidnapped and locked up in a high castle guided by a pit. There aren't many rooms, and the game establishes early that compass directions are Not a Thing. One error graphic shows an X'd out compass with left and right replacing it. The main verb to figure is -- well, you have to guess it, but it's not a blind guess, and (Spoiler - click to show)this game gets away with it where others wouldn't.
And solving the puzzles gives some nice cut scenes that remind me of the sort of flip-books I used to make in second grade, though this is clearly more clever than that. It left me wondering why someone didn't think of this-all before, and I hope to see more of it. Jumping over the pit has a lot more drama than "PUSH SPACE TO CONTINUE." There's doubt if you'll make it over. And yes, there are a few surprise instadeaths that make you want to restart, but once you know what to do, it doesn't take too long to get back. They're all worth seeing.
GS has some interesting innovations in streamlining the player experience, which makes for a lot of fun that's over a bit too soon. I'm certainly glad to see it's marked as one of a series. It's one of those games you can just enjoy, and on reflection, you realize the author did a bit more than throw out silly yet satisfying jokes. While obviously "ha ha ha this game is meant to be a simple satire/joke" can be overdone, it definitely isn't here, and I really enjoy these quick booster games that remind you you don't need anything super complex to have reasonably clever fun.