Stacking from Double Fine Productions is a unique environmental puzzle game with a lot of charm and a well-realized silent movie era atmosphere. Players assume the roll of a small matryoshka doll named Charlie Blackmore who can stack into larger dolls and utilize their unique abilities.
The Blackmores are a family of chimney sweeps that through unfortunate economic circumstances fall into the clutches of an evil baron, who forces children into labour and imprisons adults. It’s up to Charlie to rescue his family, defeat the baron and free the children from a life of hard labour. Read More...
Stacking takes place in four large environments; A train station, cruise ship, zeppelin and a train. These detailed locations are built from real-world objects that would fit in most people’s hands. Levels are filled with things to do and populated by dolls, dozens of who are unique.
Charlie will encounter challenges as he explores, each with multiple solutions. You can advance the story by solving a challenge once, however in order to fill the game’s completion meter you will have to solve them all.
The challenges aren’t particularly hard to begin with, but an extremely generous hint system is available should you get stuck or need help. While it’s fun to explore the different abilities of dolls at first, the game becomes rather tedious about halfway through.
Instead of having three or five solutions to each challenge, simply having more unique challenges could have alleviated a lot of tedium and made better use of the sometimes sprawling levels.
Each level also has a series of hi-jinks that encourage you to stack into every doll in a level and use its ability; whether to seduce male dolls, slap someone silly with a glove or give them a wedgie. Completing hi-jinks will decorate the doll you used and add to your completion total.
Levels all have 12-30 unique dolls in them to “collect” by stacking into them. There are also special doll sets in each level such as families or themed dolls. Uniting these doll sets often reveals a small cut scene with some back story, which is a nice touch that helps draw you into the world of Stacking.
The atmosphere and compulsion to see my progress meter at 100% kept me playing long after I started to find the game boring and tedious. It took me about eight hours to complete everything, though you could conceivably see the end credits in two or three hours.
How much you get out of Stacking will almost entirely depend of the appeal of the aesthetic of the game to you and if you are compelled to collect everything.
The graphics and art in Stacking are very nice and use a colour palette that evokes the early 1900s. The game uses a depth of field effect well and I thought the lighting was perfect. There were several areas of the game that caused the frame rate to dip or screen tearing, and there are some camera and clipping issues, however they rarely effect the relaxing, slow-paced gameplay.
The music is excellent in my opinion. The soundtrack was performed live, much like it was at silent movies and it suits the game perfectly. The rest of the sound design is also well done. Ambient effects draw you in and most unique dolls carry their own sound effects that allow you to locate them easily.
Controlling Stacking is very straightforward, primarily utilizing the face buttons of your controller. The game also provides an onscreen control map for context-sensitive commands. The only issue I had here was that the default camera speed was too slow.
I did enjoy my time with Stacking, however it’s tough to recommend the game at $15 simply because it gets by primarily on it charm and atmosphere; both of which are highly subjective to personal taste. More variety and challenges would have gone a long way towards creating a broader appeal. What’s here is good, there just isn’t enough to it to hold many gamers’ attention.
+ Great Atmosphere and Graphics
+ Rich Sound Design with Audio Cues
+ Generous Hint System, Stress-Free Gameplay
+ Accessible Controls
- Relies on Trial and Error
- Solving Challenges Multiple Times Becomes Tedious
- Minor Performance Issues
Game Forward Score: 3/5
Brian J. Papineau > Game Forward
Stacking (PlayStation Network) Quick Facts:
Genre: Puzzle / Adventure
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: February 8, 2011
ESRB Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)