Every once in a while, between vicious bouts of stamping out alien insurrections in dark, gritty worlds, it’s nice to play something, for lack of a better word, cute. Whether it’s picking up an old platformer from your childhood days (Spyro most definitely comes to mind) or even browsing through the “Casual” section on Steam. These games offer a nice release from the in your face action that seems to be the norm. So, after browsing through my library, I came upon a fun looking little game by the name of Stacking.
Stacking is a puzzle/adventure game that was developed by Double Fine Productions whose other standout titles include Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, and Iron Brigade. Originally released in February of 2011 on Xbox 360 and PS3, it was later re-released on the PC March of the next year.
A look at the Blackmore family
The world of Stacking is one quite familiar to our own, accept all the people are these little Matryoshka dolls (Russian stacking dolls). Architecturally and thematically it’s very similar to life from the 1930s (i.e. Evil industrialists, child labor, chimney sweeps). You play as Charlie Blackmore the smallest doll in your family who must go and rescue them after they’ve been abducted and forced into labor by the cruel Baron. Luckily for you, you have the ability to take over the bodies of larger dolls to help you defeat the Baron.
If you’ve played any other Double Fine games you’ll know that one of their trademarks is witty and overall entertaining writing. Both the dialogue and story in Stacked are deeply entertaining and manage to play light of otherwise deeply serious topics such as child labor and orphans. Though perhaps not with the most highbrow of humor, it does manage to walk that very thin tightrope of being amusing to both adults and children.
Apparently strikers don’t like being told what to do
The core mechanic of Stacking is (surprise) the ability to stack. By coming up behind another, larger doll you can slip inside their bodies and take control of them in a completely not creepy way. Each doll has their own set of unique abilities that you can use to help you solve puzzles (a rancid belch that clears the room, a vicious slap that sends dolls on their way, or a trusty wrench for…wrenching). Later in the game it’s even revealed that you can complete challenges by combining the powers of multiple characters. But the mechanic is revealed so late in the game that it’s really used only a handful of times.
Most of the puzzles themselves are not inherently difficult to solve. There are copious clues and even timed hints that will outright tell you how to complete the task at hand. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The game was created for more of a casual playing experience and having the puzzles be a bit on the easy side insures that the player won’t be beating his head against one task for an hour. Each challenge also comes with multiple solutions, thus not forcing the player to get into the mind of the developer and follow their line of thought.
The central storyline for the game is quite short and can easily be completed in 4-6 hours. But, thankfully, the game also employs several little extra challenges to help belay your completion. Each of the challenges in the game has multiple solutions and you are rewarded by finding and completing each of these solutions with in-game collectibles. Likewise there are also a large amount of unique dolls to find and “hijinks” to perform on your fellow, unsuspecting citizens. Though perhaps not enough to keep some people entertained for a long period of time, the diehard completionists will have more than enough to keep them busy for another few hours.
Fresh off the boat…well…”fresh”
As is to be expected of a Double Fine game, Stacking has a truly unique artistic approach. The cut scenes which progress the actual story of the game are all shown in a type of silent movie/stage production theme. There are no speaking roles throughout the game, but the score more than picks up the slack and really works to complete the industrialist setting.
Once you’ve completed the game there isn’t much to really bring you back for a second play through. After the conclusion you are free to roam through the world and complete any remaining challenges and scoop up all the collectibles you can, but after that there’s not much left that inspires multiple plays.
Since it’s release Stacking has received overall good reviews, and after sitting down and playing through it I can see why. Though perhaps not enough to satisfy a truly “hardcore” gamer, the stacking mechanic is quite unique and very easy to pick up and master. Though I would personally have liked to see more done with the ability to combine powers. And although it won’t take the average player long to beat, Stacking manages to be incredibly succinct and doesn’t unduly draw out the experience. Stacking is a brief, but very rewarding experience.
Stacking for the PC: 5/6