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Video Game Review: Stacking

February 13, 2011 | By Herija Green | comment on this post
Stacking
The NFL has nothing on the contentious labour negotiations seen in Stacking.

Leave it to unconventional developer Double Fine to build a video game entirely around the concept of depression era Russian nesting dolls come to life. Recently released on both Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network, Stacking is one of the more truly original titles to make its way onto consoles in quite some time. However, does that originality translate into a solid game or is it just a quirky title that’s more style than substance?

CONTROLS (4.75/5)

As this isn’t an action title and doesn’t require precise commands at any point, the controls are pretty much a non-factor. You stack/unstack, talk and use your special ability with the face buttons while the shoulder buttons are used to keep track of your objectives. The only time the controls become even mildly annoying is when dolls are clustered together and you end up entering the wrong one.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4.25/5)

Rarely do you see such simplistic visual fare in modern games. And yet, this world of limbless dolls is created with such artistic style that you can’t help but admire the hand-crafted beauty. There’s loads of charm and personality packed into these nesting dolls, and the silent film cut scenes that are created with the look of an off-Broadway diorama fit the game’s tenor.

Upbeat and whimsical, Stacking’s soundtrack hits the mark throughout. Close your eyes while the music plays and you can envision a scene out of a Charlie Chaplin movie or a dastardly villain tying a damsel in distress to some train tracks. The sound effects are goofy and cartoonish.

GAMEPLAY (4/5)

You are Charlie Blackmore, the youngest (and smallest) member of the chimney sweeping Blackmore family. One day your father announces he has found work and that the family’s money troubles have come to an end. Weeks pass, however, and your father does not return. Enter the wicked Baron, who seizes the rest of the Blackmore children to labour for his various enterprises. Now it’s up to you to bring them back and put a stop to the Baron’s sinister ways once and for all.

The basic setup here is that the game will present you with an objective, and then it’s up to you to talk to other dolls to determine what course of action is necessary to complete it. Most will have multiple solutions, and while you’re only obligated to come up with one to advance the story, it’s still enjoyable to find all the different ways you can accomplish the same thing.

Some are blatantly obvious and straightforward while others require the use of multiple dolls and abilities to pull off. If you get stuck, Stacking has a built-in hint system that all but ensures you’ll never struggle longer than you care to at any point during the game. Those that choose to abuse it can basically have every solution laid out for them so I’d advise restraint — for one, it’s always more satisfying to figure it out on your own, and second, if you go that route you can blow right through the game in no time flat.

How you go about solving these puzzles is to “stack” into other dolls and employ their unique skills to solve them. Just like real nesting dolls, the ones in Stacking grow incrementally, and you cannot jump into a doll more than one size larger. Charlie is the smallest doll in the game, so to reach the largest he’ll need to stack about five dolls in between. Usually it can be any doll you’d like, though there are times when you’ll need to combine skills and have to track down a specific set.

Beyond unraveling the game’s dilemmas, each location also has a set of unique dolls to find as well a list of hi-jinks. Within each level’s unique dolls there is a small sub-set. For instance, in one you’re asked to locate a family of magicians from smallest to largest. Find and get them all nested together and you’ll be treated to an extra cut scene. In addition, all unique dolls possess a singular ability that is exclusive to them. Not surprisingly, it’s those one-of-a-kind skills that are often needed to advance in the game.

Hi-jinks are unspecified activities for you to complete. You’re given a list of names that provide clues as to what you need to do. At first it’ll seem meaningless, saying something like “All Wrapped Up,” but then you’ll find a doll with the ability to mummify and things will fall into place. It’s a fun little distraction that encourages you to try different things.

OVERALL (4/5)

If you enjoy solving puzzles and are searching for something different, Stacking fits the bill with an experience that’s unique and engaging. However, if you’re impatient, aren’t interested in trying multiple solutions or exploring the levels you may find there’s not enough to warrant the asking price.

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175 Responses to “Video Game Review: Stacking”

  1. Geoff says:

    I haven’t played any 2011 XBLA games, so I’ll have to pick my fave of 2010. Which for me would be a tie between Costume Quest and Limbo.
    @geofftuttle

  2. Andrew says:

    My favorite XBLA game of 2011 that I’ve played is Beyond Good and Evil.

    @alee67

  3. AdamUPNow says:

    My favorite XBLA game from 2011 is Hydro Thunder. @AdamUPNow

  4. Caleb T says:

    Monday night combat

    @cyclonestoney

  5. Nick says:

    Beyond Good and Evil HD!
    @ElScorcho1212

  6. simon says:

    Beyond Good & Evil HD

    @corban321

  7. iNfeRnO says:

    Beyond Good & Evil HD
    @ibigfire

  8. Abhishek says:

    Beyond Good & Evil HD (yes, it’s a remake but it’s one of the greatest adventure games ever)
    @a_srivastava

  9. BomberMerc says:

    Beyond Good & Evil HD
    @BomberMerc

  10. weiwitch says:

    Torchlight

    @weiwitch

  11. C says:

    Outland

  12. Chris Dow says:

    Limbo absolutely blew me away. My game of the year, no questions asked.

    @triumphofhearts

  13. Carlsson says:

    has to be :

    Swarm

    @Der_Carlsson

  14. Neil says:

    Torchlight

    @neildawson

  15. zigs00 says:

    Ilomilo is my favourite XBLA game of 2011 – it had an unparalleled level of charm, and filled to the brim with brilliant puzzles and mind-bending challenges. By the sound of this review though, Stacking might surpass ilomilo in both areas! ;)

    @zigs00

  16. bornfree_ornot says:

    Limbo was the best, definitely!

    @bornfree_ornot

  17. justin says:

    so far i rather enjoyed torchlight was a nice throwback to fate

    @largondw

  18. Matt says:

    Section 8: Prejudice
    @sarcacid

  19. Leon says:

    I haven’t played many XBLA this year but my favorite is Beyond Good and Evil HD.

  20. Bryan says:

    Beyond Good and Evil HD was a fun throw back
    @agentbp77

  21. Travis Boyer says:

    Outland is incredible. I suspect it will be in contention for game of the year.

    @ChronoGear

  22. Brandon says:

    Torchlight was such a great port. Fun game!

    @DoubleJ169

  23. John says:

    Dishwasher: Vampire Smile is wicked cool for 2011 @Tethilus

  24. arthurfaarter says:

    Mine actually is Days of Thunder Arcade.

  25. KC says:

    Didn’t play it, but Limbo seemed awesome!
    @KCeriales

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