It’s hard to believe that, in a month full of big blockbuster games like Bulletstorm and Dragon Age II, a game about Russian nesting dolls interrupted my schedule and kept me enchanted enough to beat it to 100% completion.
In Stacking, a game designed by the legendary Tim Schafer and released by Double Fine Productions, you take on the role of Charlie Blackmore, who lives in a world full of matryoshka dolls. When his brothers and sisters are kidnapped by the evil Baron and forced into child labor, Charlie has to figure out how to rescue them. Unfortunately, he’s the smallest doll in the entire world. How can he take on the Baron and his goons?
Charlie is different, though. Because of his small size, he can nest into dolls that are one size larger than him. Using this special ability, Charlie can nest all the way up to the largest dolls, which you can then control. Thus the name: Stacking. This would be a mere diversion if not for the fact that each doll has his or her own special power, which come in handy in solving the various puzzles that progress the plot. In an early encounter, for instance, Charlie can stack up into a doll called “The Widow” and use her special “Seduce” power on a guard to distract him away from his post.
There’s a multitude of puzzles in Stacking and each of them can be solved a number of times. You can gain achievements for completing all possible solutions and there are a series of “Hi-Jinks” that you can perform for each level that involve using various dolls’ abilities in fun (and oftentimes funny) ways. My son loved the boxer doll, because Charlie could give other dolls a “proper uppercut”, which was hilarious. I loved the boxer doll, because if I decked five other dolls, I got a minor achievement.
There’s virtually no way to get stuck with any of the puzzles in Stacking, because there’s a built-in hint system. You get a non-specific hint right away, if you choose, and additional hints are on a short timer.
It’s possible for someone to complete the main plot of Stacking within a couple hours, especially if you use the hints excessively. Personally, my compulsion wouldn’t allow me to advance to new levels before finishing everything in the level prior. The stages are just so much fun, so vivid and hilarious, that I wanted to savor it all. Each is a series of rooms with dolls wandering through, minding their own business: a train station, a steam ship, a zeppelin, a humongous tank engine.
The plot of the game is simple, but it somehow tackles issues like the industrial revolution, child labor and the opulence of Edwardian era robber barons with both humor and reverance. Cutscenes are delivered in silent movie style with title card dialog. This can, at times, be a little slow, but is a neat effect overall.
Stacking is a great game for children of all ages. My own 4-year-old wasn’t interested in solving the puzzles, but he loved exploring the lush environments and stacking into other dolls and farting or punching or vomiting all over the place. Yes, the humor is juvenile, but it fits the theme and it made both me and my kid laugh like crazy. That doesn’t happen with many video games.
All in all, Stacking really (forgive me) stacks up against the typical fare on Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Network. It even holds its own against major releases for both consoles. My only wish, that it be longer, will be solved by downloadable content in the near future.
Wired: Gorgeous and evocative world, fun puzzles, lots of dolls and lots of fun hi-jinks
Tired: If you’re not a completionist, it’s super short
Disclosure: I received a free download of Stacking for review.