Sunday, February 13, 2011


Tim Schafer is known for his funny, yet relatively underappreciated games. With his new Double Fine studio, he created Brütal Legend, a game which I personally enjoyed despite its flaws. Double Fine would then pump out a game called Costume Quest, a great Halloween-themed title that works for its small scale. Continuing this new direction of smaller games from the studio is Stacking, a title where you control Russian matryoshka dolls in the 1930's. An interesting concept indeed, and one that stands well as a downloadable title.

The story is very simple. You play as the smallest doll in the game, Charlie Blackmore, who has to rescue his family from an evil man simply known as The Baron. Staying true to the 1930's setting, the story is told through cutscenes resembling a silent film, something you don't really see in videogames. These cutscenes were very well done, placing the dolls on a stage and enacting the basic plot point revealed to the player. I was reminded of LittleBigPlanet in presentation, which kept me watching and wondering what would happen visually in the next one.

Charlie Blackmore has the ability to go behind other dolls onscreen and stack into another, as long as they are exactly one size larger. Once a doll is possessed by Charlie, the player can move around with them and use their special abilities, or continue to stack and unstack to possess different or bigger dolls. These abilities are used to solve various story-related or side challenges. Each challenge has multiple solutions, some of which are obvious, while others require more technical thinking to figure out, which may require combining the abilities of two dolls. For example, one side challenge is to sort out ticket lines. You can do this by possessing each doll individually and moving them to the appropriate line, or you can possess one doll for its Make Way! ability to scare the crowd and then possess another doll and use its Organize! ability to get the lines in proper order. Figuring out the more complicated solutions is rewarding in itself, and I had a fun time trying to figure some of them out. It was also fun to try and possess every single doll to figure out their abilities, as well as finding different combinations.

The visuals are really something. The 1930's setting is preserved perfectly in the designs of the dolls, which are detailed enough that you can tell every body part from one another. It is especially helpful in the doll design that their abilities are usually placed physically on some part of the doll, allowing you to pick them out in a crowd and set up various combinations with ease. The sound and physics also perfectly matched how they would work for such dolls in real life, making it especially intersting to look at and listen to. Speaking of sound, the music for the game was scored perfectly to reflect the setting as well the onscreen drama.

While gameplay is simple and easy to pick up, I do have some minor problems with it. First, the stacking ability targets whatever doll you are behind, but can sometimes cause you to possess a completely different doll much further away from your intended target. While it is easy to get used to, it doesn't really say something good about the targeting system, even though the problem didn't occur that often for me. The only other real gameplay problem I have is the save system. Just like Costume Quest, you are at the complete mercy of the game's Autosave function. While it is much easier than the other game to get it to Autosave, I was still disappointed at the lack of a manual Save function. Hopefully, this gets added in a patch or Double Fine actually puts one into their next game.

Stacking is a short game, clocking in at about 5 or 6 hours and has some minor issues, but it was an enjoyable title. I can safely recommend it to anyone, since I can't really imagine someone who wouldn't enjoy this game in one way or another.

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