The Princess And The Pendulum

When you’re a big, bloated amphibian and you meet a princess who doesn’t expect you to become Prince Charming, you know she’s a keeper. Unfortunately for Big Sticky (Out Now, On Sale for $0.99), “happily ever after” still isn’t in the cards even though such a damsel has plucked him from his pond. Now that some whacked-out, trans-dimensional castle has whisked every princess from every reality into its scheming confines, Sticky will have to venture inside and hope he can swing his way to her rescue with no tools other than his giant tongue. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, eat your heart out!

The brick-and-mortar antagonist of Big Bad Brush’s latest iOS game may be the smartest videogame villain ever: with very few exceptions, it’s left nary a safe platform within its chambers. Therefore Sticky has to rely on the castle’s ceilings: holding at the touchscreen commands him to glue his tongue to the indicated point, and he’ll swing from that surface like a pendulum until the player releases and assigns his tongue another sticking point.

The player’s great challenge, then, is figuring out how to move Sticky safely forward given his current disposition. If Sticky’s hanging far from the ceiling and swinging in a wide arc, he has enough momentum to move a great distance but is at risk of getting skewered on spike studded floors or falling offscreen entirely. Clinging too close to the ceiling protects him from dangers lurking on the floor, but he might not be swinging with enough speed to clear equally threatening obstacles suspended on high right next to him. What results is a sort of physics-heavy, inverse platforming experience that’s simple and yet filled with satisfying nuance.

One might suspect that comparisons to Mario Bros. would end with the story (if you stuffed Mario and Yoshi into a blender, you might come out with something like Sticky, after all). However, Big Bad Brush heap on such a challenge that I could only be reminded of jittery days spent in front of my NES — this sucker embraces one-strike-and-you’re-out difficulty in a way only the old-school platformers did. And by that, I mean to say that this game’s hard. This is mostly for good reasons: each of its themed worlds contain signature threats that become ever more perilous, and introduce new gameplay elements like moving blocks Sticky will have to dangle from when even ceilings don’t cut it anymore.

However, some portion of Big Sticky‘s difficulty owes to factors that hinder the player’s enjoyment. The major drawback of its formula is that it asks the player to constantly reach for the top of the touchscreen — and if my experience is any indication, that means the average player’s finger is constantly obscuring some part of the onscreen action. It’s difficult to imagine any way of reformulating Big Sticky‘s one-touch interface, but I often found myself wishing there were some way of achieving the same level of tongue-shooting accuracy while maintaining a perfectly clear view of moving death rays and the like.

Just when Big Sticky earns the classification of a thoroughly side-scrolling game, it sees fit to shake things up with a vertical level or two. These levels would be breaths of fresh air were it not for the fact that the player’s field of view is vertically challenged; the touchscreen is wider than it is high while playing Big Sticky. Each level begins with a slow-panning preview from its exit door to the entrance platform where Sticky starts out, but some way to review via the pause button, or more warning arrows to remind the player that spikes await unseen, would go a long way toward making these levels less unduly frustrating.  

Big Sticky‘s hand-drawn presentation is absolutely charming, and filled with plenty of humorous Easter eggs for those who have played Big Bad Brush’s previous works. I found the game’s soundtrack noticeably limited, but I never tired of it for the sense of eerie wonder it invokes. With 51 levels spread out over five environments, Big Sticky can be counted on for a good five hours of gameplay — pending the many, many retries the average player will need to get a good feel for each level.  

iFanzine Verdict: Big Sticky‘s unique gameplay style and level design have a few inherent drawbacks that make it unduly frustrating at times. That said, its sheer novelty will still shine through for fans of platformers who like a physics-heavy experience and don’t mind that their next stiff challenge comes with an adorable presentation on the side.

[xrr rating=3.5/5]