The Henry Stickmin Collection Review: A Hat Stick

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The Henry Stickmin Collection started life as a short Flash game. In it, you assist would-be bank robber Henry Stickmin, a stickman, with his daring scheme to break into a bank in the middle of the desert. You do so by choosing from one of six bizarre options – including dynamite and a wrecking ball, both of which lead to failure – only to be immediately captured and sent to prison. This five-minute game spawned a five-episode long arcana of stories following Stickmin’s various escapades, as he steals a diamond, gets captured by the government, and gets sequestered in an inescapable complex, among others, and now that extensive series has a Steam release. 

The Collection features the five games from the original Flash game run of the Henry Stickmin series, along with an exclusive sixth episode: Completing the Mission, which follows from every possible ending from the previous two instalments. The result is a mammoth of a story compared to its predecessors: sixteen possible endings off of fifteen possible routes, and 164 ways to fail throughout. 

The Henry Stickmin Collection is an excellent game that hits a lot of the right notes. Breaking the Bank is entirely reanimated (a good call, given the original hails from the halcyon era of 2008) and the art for the other four games has been remastered. The result is a game that is clearly very artistically impressive while maintaining the olden-days, Macromedia Flash-style aesthetic. 

Image credit: PuffballsUnited

It’s also just a fun game. The Collection is a completionist’s dream in a number of ways – I found that, despite usually not being too fussed about completing a game totally, I would go back over Completing the Mission again and again in an effort to see all of the options which lead to failure, not to mention the vast number of achievements, hidden collectable items, and character biographies a player can find during their run.

While the endings themselves are capable of strong storytelling, with one even evoking a slight degree of heartbreak for long-time fans of the series, the real draw of the game is in replaying it and finding all of the wrong answers, each of which gives you an amusing tableau of Henry trying to make your hapless suggestion work, only for the universe to spit it violently back in his face. 

Image credit: PuffballsUnited

The humour fits the tone of the game well, and the newest instalment remains faithful to the style of the original. Given Henry’s “silent protagonist” schtick, a lot of the comedy relies on physical, slapstick set-pieces that land well, though it’s also carried by a volume of pop culture references dense enough to fill a stadium (though a Dr Octagonapus reference in 2020 feels old hat, even for a game which trades on its connections to the Newgrounds-era of video game development).

One or two gripes keep coming back to me. One complaint, that’s perhaps a little specific, is that the Ghost Inmate route isn’t really explored. For clarity, the Ghost Inmate route requires that you escape from the Complex in the previous game with another prisoner, Ellie’s, help, but leave her behind. I thought it was a missed opportunity that the game didn’t really explore the dynamic of betrayal between Henry and Ellie in that universe more outside of the one, quite short, route it gets in Completing the Mission, especially given how much airtime their partnership gets in routes where the two escape together. In the route where it is tackled, it becomes more of a footnote in a separate genre of story entirely, which I think is a shame.

Image credit: PuffballsUnited

The other point isn’t really a complaint, but a logical consequence of the game being what it is: it’s not a game you can really play more than once. You could certainly go back to it and play it through again, but you can’t ever experience the story of Henry Stickmin like the first time more than once. In contrast to more serious games in the choose-your-own-adventure genre, like Kotaro Uchikoshi’s Zero Escape series, where it’s often quite enjoyable to go over the story again with prior knowledge of all of the twists, Stickmin’s life is – if you’ll pardon the pun – too two-dimensional to be able to revisit it until after enough time has passed for it to have slipped from memory and for the failures to be novel again. Moreover, because the paths in Completing the Mission are fairly short in comparison to its predecessors, it’s very easy to binge them all and beat the game in one sitting, after which point it will probably be some time before it gets opened again.

None of that is to knock the game – it’s that way by design. It’s a light-hearted, funny, pie-in-the-sky adventure about a stickman in a series of weird situations that’s absolutely worth the price of admission. It has plenty to offer both to existing fans of the series from the beginning, given its abundance of nods to that era of gaming, and people new to the Henry Stickmin games, with its straightforward format, fast pace, short, self-contained stories and quite base humour. I recommend it whole-heartedly.

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