It’s fair to say that the mobile gaming space is somewhat saturated. For every gem that soaks up hundreds of hours of your hard-earned time, there are a hundred also-rans, clones of successful games or just plain bad efforts from well-meaning but inexperienced developers. Numerous factors are at play here, including poor quality control, the popularity of the platform and the fact that many mobile games are free. Put simply, it’s hard to find a real diamond among the vast rough of the mobile platform.
Every so often, though, a game comes along that exemplifies everything that’s great about the mobile space. For a mobile game to succeed, it needs a simple yet well-executed design, a solid core gameplay mechanic, clarity in its visuals and an unobtrusive business model that prioritizes player engagement over a quick buck. Since the mobile space is so oversaturated, it’s arguably an even bigger challenge for a game to tick all of these boxes than it would be on consoles or PC platforms.
It’s our great pleasure to say, then, that Stickman Hook, a game that comes to us from French studio Madbox, does indeed tick all those boxes. Don’t take our word for it – with over 20 million downloads and consistent placement in the Top 3 overall apps on both Google Play and the Apple App Store, millions of players around the world clearly agree. Madbox has previous form in the field, having brought such gems as Dash Valley and Tribs.io to our precious smartphones, so it’s no surprise that Stickman Hook continues their run of good luck. We recommend you to play Stickman Hook on Poki before you read this review, as it’s a game that’s best experienced rather than absorbed second-hand.
What you’re getting here is an exclusive web build, constructed from the ground up to suit browsers and web platforms. There are a few versions of Stickman Hook available online already, but they’re mostly ports of the (very fine) mobile version. If you’re looking to experience the game for the first time, or you want a completely rehauled experience with a fresh coat of paint, we’d strongly recommend you opt for the web build. Obviously, you won’t be able to take it out and about with you like you would the app version, but that’s a small price to pay for the increase in quality.
Good mobile games take a single core concept and build around it, and that’s exactly what Stickman Hook does. Players take control of – you guessed it – a stick figure, who is armed only with a Batman-style grappling hook. In order to reach the end of each level, players must traverse a series of grappling points dotted around the level and figure out the optimum route to success. The platforming in Stickman Hook consists entirely of this grappling hook-based movement; it’s actually not possible to move your character independently, and so you must rely on the hook to get you where you need to go.
That’s not to say movement and traversal in Stickman Hook are awkward. There’s a free-flowing quality to the grappling here that reminded us of free-swinging sandbox fun-fests like Prototype and the earlier Spider-Man games. Watching the titular stick figure swing from hook to hook is a joy, partly due to the revamped animations which render movements buttery-smooth and partly just because the gameplay is highly enjoyable. True to its mobile origins, Stickman Hook can be played entirely using one hand; only the left mouse button is used to fire the hook, and the game’s physics takes care of the rest.
That physics engine is worth mentioning, too. There’s a great balance here between realism and fantasy that imbues each hook launch with a simultaneous sense of impact and catharsis. Letting loose that hook just feels “like it should”, and building up momentum with well-timed swings feels rewarding and skillful. It’s worth saying here that if you’re easily frustrated, Stickman Hook might not be something you want to try, because a botched or mistimed swing can easily put hopes of finishing a level to bed, forcing you to try again. Stickman Hook doesn’t feel like it needs to mollycoddle you, either, so it won’t aggressively prompt you to try again if it feels you’ve failed.
Of course, we love that aspect of the game, since we’re big fans of show-don’t-tell and adaptive difficulty in games. We like being masters of our own destiny, so when Stickman Hook throws a particularly tough challenge at us – as it often does – we’re very fond of the way it allows us to organically surmount the challenge rather than talking us through every step. There are a number of clever iterations on the central mechanic of grappling which will come as a great surprise to anyone who loves the game; it’s safe to say that Stickman Hook wrings every possible challenge it can out of its core gameplay loop.
All in all, Stickman Hook is a very easy recommendation. Here’s a game that treats its audience with respect, that doesn’t patronize or tutorialize and that knows the best remedy for failure is simply to try again. A smattering of unlockable extras keeps play fresh, but with close to 150 levels it’s not hard to see most players’ interest is maintained until the very end. Medals all round!