Think about the last time you really, really loved a video game. What was it about the experience that made it so compelling for you? Was it a combination of mechanics, aesthetics and narrative? Was it a certain character you just loved playing as, or an NPC you wanted to know more about? Were you just enamored with a certain aspect of that game’s world which made you want to spend as much time there as possible?
Here’s the real question: has there been a game in recent memory that just had a certain mechanic or gameplay element that did the work of making you love the game entirely on its own? Have you played a game recently in which, regardless of what else is going on around it, there was a single thing that made you keep coming back, that made you turn to that game despite having a whole library of games to get through?
We ask because Stickman Hook, a physics platformer, might just be that game for us. Stickman Hook comes to us courtesy of French studio Madbox, a company that has brought us excellent titles like Dash Valley and Tribs.io in the past. If you’ve played either of these games before (or, indeed, Stickman Hook), you’ll know the pedigree of Madbox, and the quality they consistently bring to titles they develop. You can play it here if we’ve already sold you on it, but read on if you’d like to know a bit more about Stickman Hook first.
Stickman Hook might just be in a class of its own, even among Madbox’s celebrated catalog. This game has been featured in the top 3 apps across both Apple and Android devices (that’s across all categories) and has been downloaded over 20 million times, and although that number doesn’t necessarily mean 20 million people have played it, it’s certainly a pretty popular proposition among mobile gamers (where it had its home prior to this newest iteration).
This web release is an exclusive build, so you’re not simply getting the mobile version inexpertly dragged across to browsers. Madbox has much more respect for its properties than that, so the web build is a bespoke, exclusive version of the game, a renovated edition that feels completely different to the mobile edition even as it carries across mechanics and level design. We feel confident in saying that Stickman Hook feels significantly better in its home on the web than it does on mobile devices, and we’re great fans of the mobile version.
At its core, Stickman Hook is a platformer, albeit one raised on the likes of Spider-Man, Bionic Commando and Prototype rather than the classic platforming examples one might think of. In deference to its mobile roots, Stickman Hook makes the web transition with only one method of input: players must click the mouse in order to attach their grappling hook to one of the points dotted throughout each level. The game thus becomes centralized around grappling from point to point, preserving momentum where necessary in order to reach the end of the stage.
We say “where necessary” because Stickman Hook is masterful in changing up its core mechanics when the level design calls for it. Far from simply being a series of increasingly difficult grappling challenges, Stickman Hook manages to wring every possible challenge from its mechanics across its impressive range of over 100 stages. Things start off innocently enough, with players simply swinging across gaps in order to reach the end – the gaps are even buffeted by barriers at the bottom which make death impossible to begin with.
Before long, though, things start getting serious, and you’ll be swinging for dear life, desperately hoping you don’t plummet to your death before you can just latch on to that last hook and end the stage. Sometimes, you’ll be forced to use your brain instead of your twitch reflexes, with one particularly clever early stage making use of the physics in a roundabout way that we don’t want to spoil. Stickman Hook’s mechanics are a real surprise; if you’ve been waiting for a 2D Spider-Man title, this one will more than suffice.
Part of Stickman Hook’s brilliance is in its visuals and audio. The music here isn’t particularly remarkable, but it does a great job of pulling you into the semi-serious world of the game. We particularly liked the little dance our stick figure friend did at the end of each stage; it’s well-animated, a lot of fun, and it did a lot to make us feel like we’d accomplished something.
We’ve already talked a lot about the visuals, but Stickman Hook does something we really wish more games would do: it de-clutters its environments and allows players to focus purely on the obstacles and level geometry at hand. There’s no unnecessary visual flair in this game, which is for the better; the less distraction the player suffers while playing, the more precise and well-judged their swings become. In short,we really love the presentation here, and we wish more games would follow in the footsteps of Stickman Hook in this regard.
If you’re reading this hoping for a number of different modes and options, Stickman Hook might be a bit of a disappointment for you. The single-player campaign is not all that’s here (there’s a little hidden extra after one reaches level 25), but one feels that an opportunity may have been missed to include a level editor in order for members of this game’s community to show their stuff. Extras are a little bare-bones, too; there’s only extra unlockable skins for the main character, which won’t do much for those who only care for gameplay.
Still, all of this is needless nitpicking. Suffice it to say that Stickman Hook more than delivers when it comes to the important stuff, which is compelling core gameplay and complementary presentation. If you love skill-based games, physics-y platformers and, well, just plain fun, then you owe it to yourself to check out Stickman Hook yesterday.