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Adam Ghiggino
24 Feb, 2011

Stacking Review

360 Review | Ahead of the stack.
Stacking was born as a result of 'Amnesia Fortnight', the two week period that followed after Double Fine's Brutal Legend was dropped by Activision. Small teams were formed to come up with smaller ideas for downloadable games, with Lee Petty coming up with the idea that would become Stacking - a new spin on the adventure game genre, where Matryoshka dolls became the new user interface for all interaction. It's a wonderfully inventive concept, and now that Stacking has finally digitally landed in our hands, it shows how far a little imagination can go in game design.

The game is set in a world inhabited entirely by Matryoshka dolls, the scenery a blend of seemingly real expansive locations and smaller, scale-appropriate objects. It's not uncommon to walk from a meticulously detailed train station, and find pins and playing cards bigger than you lying around, almost as if the whole game is in some kind of transition from a kid's playroom to their imagination.

The story itself is set during the Great Depression, as you control Charlie, the runt of the Blackmore family. His father's debts lead to the evil Baron forcing Charlie's siblings into child labour to pay them off, leaving little Charlie behind to mount a rescue. This is all conveyed in cutscenes mirroring silent films, as dolls bobble about in pantomime-like fashion on little stages and dialogue is shown as text in intertitles. These are charming, although perhaps a little wearing for the less patient among us, as they can drag on with their emulation of the form. However, they are frequently amusing, including a pretty hilarious and unexpected Michael Bay-like firey escape towards the end.

We're starting to get a hankering for a doll-version of The Last Express.

We're starting to get a hankering for a doll-version of The Last Express.
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As mentioned, the game certainly has roots in the adventure game genre of old, as the game revolves around talking to other dolls, interacting with them and the environment to solve puzzles. Charlie has the (seemingly) unique ability to stack into other dolls, which each have unique abilities that are activated with the action button. For instance, one sexy female doll can seduce male dolls and force them to follow her, while another can just walk up and punch dolls in the face. There's also a recurring doll that can release volatile clouds of fart gas that would make Abe jealous.

The fact that there are so many dolls with such a range of abilities means that there are several ways to solve each of the puzzles in the game, and in fact the game actively encourages you to explore all the possibilities. For every method you use, you gain a puzzle piece, which is used to form a painting back in your secret hideout (guarded by Levi the Hobo). Similarly, there are also unique dolls to be stacked into, and sets of dolls to collect, all of which are also recorded in your hideout. You can tell the game is working incredibly well when even after solving a puzzle, you find yourself going back and trying to solve it again without prompting, simply because it's so fun finding the different solutions. However, it is not required to solve any of the puzzles more than once, and if you like you can barrel through the game in a matter of hours. This playtime is lengthened considerably, of course, if you take your time and enjoy the game world.

The stacking itself is an addictive little mechanic, and there is strategy involved. You can only stack into a doll one size up from you, so if the doll you need is much larger than your current size, then you'll have to find a way to work up to it using different dolls. This gets a little more complicated late in the game, as you gain the ability to combine the abilities of stacked dolls - for instance pouring water with one doll, then unstacking down one level and using the smaller doll to freeze the water. It would have been nice to have this ability earlier in the game, as it only shows up on the second last level and opens up a whole lot more gameplay possibilities. Most of the game is quite easy up until that point, with all of the harder puzzles (which require you to find very specific dolls) crammed into the last quarter or so of the game.

He's always felt like a woman trapped in a man's body.

He's always felt like a woman trapped in a man's body.
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With an inviting game world, and fantastic graphics, Stacking has a very strong presentation. Each of the dolls is meticulously painted, even though some of them can appear very similar (especially among the upper-class dolls), and the environments are wonderful fusions of 1930s design. There are occasional gripes, like some weird slowdown in places, and the camera tending to lose sight of your doll in tight corners, but overall it's an outstanding package for a downloadable game. The music is mostly maudlin violins appropriate to the era, and fit the tone of the game nicely even if they're not very upbeat.

Stacking really is a game that deserves to be played by anyone with an interest in adventure games, puzzle games, or just original games. It's not very often you get something this inventive and fun stacked inside a polished presentation, and while the game may be short for those looking to just finish the story, it nonetheless remains a triumph of imagination.
The Score
Stacking is a delightful little game with a fantastically original premise that truly deserves to be played by everyone.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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12 Comments
3 years ago
Wow, I'm surprised to see such a good review.

The demo really didn't sell itself well to me. It's full of charm and lovely graphics, but it didn't really seem to be much of a game to me. It was pretty much "find this random, unidentifiable doll through trial and error" to progress.
3 years ago
I didn't play the demo, so I'm not sure if it had multiple puzzle solutions like the full game, because that really is the best part.

Some dolls may seem to have utterly useless abilities, but do end up becoming useful through alternative solutions, which in itself becomes addicting.
3 years ago
Yeah, I find myself having to find every solution, not to mention every special doll etc, with a level of OCD I don't usually apply to gaming. And considering I got the game for free with a 3 month PSN Plus sub (game is $18 normally, the 3 month sub was on $20...) its the bargain of the century.
3 years ago
Grown men playing with dollies...

I keed I keed! icon_razz.gif
3 years ago
will be grabbing this but will probably wait for price drop. I would have gotten it on release, but with hard corps, beyond good and evil and torchlight there are too many great xbla games that I will want before this one
3 years ago
It's a really clever puzzle game with lots to see and do. The presentation is really unique too. I totally agree with the score. icon_smile.gif
3 years ago
I totally agree with this score. The game has beautiful visuals and a quirky storyline and characters. The puzzles are pretty easy, and it's not the longest game ever. But the multiple solutions to puzzles are the best bit. Usually there'll be one obvious solution that's easy to achieve, but the fun really comes out of trying to find less obvious solutions. And the puzzles are a nice touch for striving to achieve every outcome.

I'd thoroughly recommend this game to anyone! Though I also got this game for free through PSN Plus, so bargain!
3 years ago
Love the last caption.

I've downloaded the demo, but I have yet to try it.
3 years ago
Definitely recommend this to anyone who wants something new and refreshing.

8.5 is the general consensus which is a very good score!
3 years ago
After all the praise I'm thinking I missed something. Might grab the demo again for another try.
3 years ago
Jahanzeb wrote
Grown men playing with dollies...

I keed I keed! icon_razz.gif
I'm actually a six year old girl, I just happen to be very advanced for my age.
3 years ago
Actually I played a little this morning and what I played was really good.
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