Tim Schafer’s Double Fine team have been making quite a name for themselves. I think it’s fair to say that they’re one of the few companies who could announce a game based on Russian stacking dolls, and have people not even bat an eye and simply ask “So when does it come out?”
Stacking takes place during the industrial age in a world where everybody is well, Russian babushka stacking/nesting dolls. You play as the youngest member of the Blackmore family, Charlie. The rest of your family gets kidnapped by the evil industrialist known as The Baron and it’s up to little Charlie Blackmore to set out and rescue his family.
Thankfully young Charlie isn’t alone, nor is he helpless. He’s got his trusty hobo friend Levi to help provide guidance, and as this is a world of stacking dolls he has the ability to stack into a doll that’s one size larger than himself to use their ability (and so on to larger sizes). Some of these are unique and key to victory, such as opening a locked gate; while some may not particularly help you achieve your goals but have their own uses (such as farting, or slapping another doll).
Each level has a number of challenges that must be accomplished to progress and save your family members, and each challenge has a couple different ways you can go about accomplishing this. While you only have to solve it once to proceed, a handy on screen counter informs you how many solutions you’ve found (which you can view in the pause menu as well). Some are very simple, logical solutions while some take a bit more thinking. Each solution you find is very rewarding, and I definitely plan on going back soon to find all of them.
There’s a certain number of unique dolls in each level which serve as the collectibles in the game. These are fairly easy to spot by a slight shimmering effect over their body, though some of them will take some critical thinking and manipulation of several other dolls abilities in order to stack with them. Some have a full family set which offer a bonus if you stack them all from smallest to largest.
There’s also a list of “hijinks” in each level to perform, which involve using the abilities of dolls to achieve certain affects, like using the boxing glove to punch 10 dolls, or farting in the vicinity of several dolls at once. The titles of these are all you can see before you’ve activated them, so you’ll have to figure out just what the hint wants you to do; though it usually isn’t too hard to guess.
The first level of the game takes place in a train station, which then proceeds to act as a central hub to access the others from. The levels are all unlocked in linear order, but you can return to a completed area at any time to find more solutions, unique dolls or to perform some hijinks. Each level is vastly different from the others and while many of the same dolls inhabit each area, there are many unique ones to make it feel completely different.
Almost every aspect of Stacking is very simple, from the graphics down to the sound. But there’s a charm and beauty to the simplicity that’s hard to understate. All the dolls vocalize in grunts and various other sounds, with the story being told through cinematic segments that simulate a mix of live action theater and silent films (complete with the text graphic cards) which is all accompanied by absolutely beautiful music. The controls follow the theme of “wonderfully simple” as well, with your only buttons being to stack, unstack, perform an action and talk.
The world that Double Fine has crafted here is nothing short of charming. From the beautiful appearance of every aspect to the charming character of each doll, every aspect of this game is just delightful. I found myself genuinely laughing at many of the jokes being told, and shocked at times with how dark some of the material can be. The central plot of the game is based around children being used for slave labor after all, not exactly the story I was expecting going in!
It’s hard to get lost in Stacking for very long, no matter how long it’s been since you last turned the game on. The pause menu features not only a list of your objectives, but a running script of the last things that happened. If you’re truly stuck on a puzzle, there are three hints available on each one that you can unlock with the push of a button. There’s no penalty to doing this other than your own sense of accomplishment. To get even simpler, you can press the right bumper which will light up a line on the floor that leads to your next goal.
Stacking is a fantastic game that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. Even though I’ve completed the story I’m definitely going to be going back to it a lot to try and get 100% completion, and I have a feeling a lot of people who play the game are going to do the same. The story can be beat in a matter of a few hours depending on how quickly you solve the puzzles, and you could easily spend at least that much more solving everything else. Stacking may be a fairly short game if you just do the story, but it’s a story that’s worth experiencing with plenty of other stuff to offer. It’s a great example of a downloadable game done right and shouldn’t be missed.
- Title: Stacking
- Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
- Developer: Double Fine Productions
- Publisher: THQ
- Release date: Available Now
- MSRP: $15
- Review copy info: A download code for this title was provided by the publisher to DualShockers Inc. for the purpose of this review.