Publisher/Developer: THQ/Double Fine Productions
Consoles: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PS3
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points/$15.00
Try the demo or buy the game here!
Double Fine Productions has a reputation for creating exciting and unique game design ideas. And on top of that, they make these ideas work too. However, Stacking may be the most zany creation that these developers have ever dreamed up. Combining matryoshka dolls, lovable characters and intense puzzle solving, the game is awesome. That is undeniable. But, is it worth the price of admission? What the hell is a matryoshka anyway?
Matryoshka, or Russian nesting dolls, are those little wooden toys that stack inside of another. When a family of these dolls become embroiled in economic poverty, the father and children are kidnapped and forced into slavish labor. One child is left though. Little Charlie Blackmore is so small that he escapes these horrid circumstances and goes on a mission of love & rescue.
I have to admit that, at first, I was expecting a more light hearted story. Although the team behind the game has delved into heavier fare like kidnapping before, the presentation of the game and the way the story was thrown at me was a bit of a shocker. After all, the game starts out with a loving family gathered around their papa. A joke is told. BAM! Dad leaves; children kidnapped; Charlie leaves on suicide mission. Other than this abrupt change in the circumstance,the story is actually quite good.
The story is presented like an old fashioned silent film. The film is grainy, neutrally colored and makes for an atmosphere that really makes the darkened mood set in. It is also interesting how attached I got to these characters, even though their mouths did not move. The animations that accompany each character’s words accentuate the feelings that they are expressing. It was not hard at all to identify with their sentiments.
As you can imagine, the best part about Stacking is the gameplay. In order to reach your family and get them home safely, you must complete various challenges and puzzles. All the characters have different specialized moves. For example, one man can unlock doors. Another will fart loudly. Some women sip tea; while others seduce guards.
Since you are playing as the smallest doll of all, you can stack inside any of these dolls. No, really. You can literally hop inside a doll. The only restriction is that the new doll must be one bigger than you are at the present moment. Once inside the new person, you control this man or woman’s actions and use their powers to finish the levels. You can stack many people on top of each other and larger sizes are unlocked as you play along. Unstacking can be just as crucial to your success too.
If you are just playing to get the through the game, it will probably only take 6 or 7 hours. But, the challenges in the game can solved in a variety of ways and will make the game at least twice as long. Finding each doll and then figuring out ways to use their gifts to solve a specific challenge is very rewarding. The only complaint I have with this gameplay element is that it often leads to a lot of backtracking. Therefore, I recommend that you don’t try to complete all the puzzles in the each level on your first playthrough.
Of course, you can also try to find all the collectible dolls in each level and you can even find new families of dolls, and bring them together. There are also a plethora of of side objectives to complete.
The rollicking ragtime soundtrack in the game fits the tone of the silent film/vaudeville style game perfectly. Piano music is a genre of music that does not often get picked to play in a video game; Stacking’s implementation of this type of music is a bold move that brings even more originality to the game.
A lack of voice acting does kill some of the charm though. Adorable gibberish does not count as a language! I want to find out what a tiny wooden doll sounds like! This deficiency of audio also makes watching each cut scene at least twice as long as it should be.
Stacking’s graphical style is very interesting. On hand, I hate it. On the other hand, it is also an artistic masterpiece. Each cylindrical body & face is exquisitely detailed. They each have their own unique trademarks and look like realistic matryoshka dolls. However, stale backgrounds are no fun to walk around in. Most of the time, all the walls are blank. At the same time though, the bland environments also bring out the skillful use of colors that the artists used in the game. Sections of the game that do play pivotal roles in the game have areas that can be explored, but it would be nice for a lot more of the game to have some artwork or something.
Stacking is one of kind. It is intrinsically awesome and an experience that you will not regret playing through. Paying $15.00 for Stacking is a little bit pricey, but I would not be disappointed to give my money for this great video game. After all, there are only a few minor problems with this game.
All in all, the slow cut scenes, annoying backgrounds and backtracking nature of the extra challenges can be solved by simply enjoying the fine workmanship of how each puzzle is so well constructed.
I give Stacking: