Russian nesting dolls.
In a game.
About child labour.
Now I wouldn't blame you if you thought I was joking here. Seriously, the setup sounds ridiculous, right? Surely it can't work! Well, I'm not joking, because this is Stacking, the latest downloadable game from Tim Schafer's "Double Fine" studios, the creators of such titles as Brutal Legend, Psychonauts and The Secret of Monkey Island. An adventure-puzzler game at it's core, Stacking is a cute and approachable game that leaks charm out of all and every orifice with increasing style and fun.
The premise: You play as Charlie Blackmore, youngest of a large family and the smallest doll in the industrial age of the world. But when the Blackmore father goes missing, the family comes in to debt and the evil Baron forces the children to work to pay it off, with the exception of tiny Charlie. So, embarking on an epic adventure which will take him on the likes of shiny zeppelins and grand cruise-liners, Charlie sets out to free his poor siblings from the dastardly clutches of the Baron, with the help of his rather odd ability to control other dolls by hopping inside them.
From the off, the story sounds rather depressing with it's themes of child labour and debt, but luckily it's counteracted by the tongue-in-cheek humour used to portray the sadness, along with the silent-movie type cut-scenes that add charm and style to the presentation and narrative. Seeing the various dolls perform goofy animations a top some witty dialogue can often be a joy to watch and helps to distance itself from the heavy topics previously mentioned.
|Childish but irresistible laughs|
In between these sometimes lengthy and frequent cut-scenes (which may frustrate some impatient players), is of course the gameplay. As you roam around the dainty little diorama settings, you're given various objectives, involving some sort of challenge you must overcome. But it's how to go about these challenges that brings the main gameplay mechanic forwards; stacking. As the smallest doll in the world, naturally you're not going to solve these trials alone. So, to get by, Charlie must hop into other dolls, all with their own unique abilities, and use their certain talents to complete the objectives. For example, to get a guard away from his gate, you can hop into the alluring female doll and use her powers of seduction to lure him away, allowing you to unstack and sneak through. But it's not that easy, as you need to stack into a doll exactly one size larger than your current one, so you can't go straight from little kid to heavyweight boxer in one fell stack.
|A classic problem|
These challenges can then be revisited in a number of different ways, allowing re-playability and forcing your brain to think of several different solutions at once. You can move on after you've found an immediate answer, but I often found myself trying to find all solutions before continuing. However, if you do get stuck there is a helpful hint system, which, while handy, can ruin the puzzle aspect of game at times, as it's easy to abuse and the cool-down time is a joke.
The scenery you find yourself stacking around is full of vibrancy and life, even though the things inhabiting it are essentially inanimate, wooden objects. The sweet cartoon style works well in this lavish world of wackiness and slap-stick, and the sluggish camera doesn't hinder the views too much, giving the player an incentive to explore the landscape to see all. Plus the sound is a quiet delight with some sweet little fanciful music and well matched sound effects to compliment the overall fun.
|The visuals are definitely a treat|
+ Cute and Charming
+ Unique Gameplay
+ Nice Sounds and Visuals
- Short and Easy
- Lengthy Cut-Scenes (Impatient)
- Sluggish Camera
Well that was my first (kind of) game review. I hope you enjoyed it and yeah, I know I ripped all the pictures off of Gamespot. So what? Sue me. Wait, no, don't to that... I certainly enjoyed my time with the game and I hope this review might prompt you to want to try it as well. Remember, there's always a free demo for downloadable titles, so give it a go if you've got the time.
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