Reviewed: February 15, 2011
Released: February 9, 2011
Hearkening back to the age of LucasArts adventures, Stacking manages to call back to older times, both in its narrative and in its gameplay. In Stacking, players take the role of Charlie Blackmore, the tiniest Russian stacking doll in a world wholly populated by them. Trying to rescue his family from the clutches of an evil industrialist known only as the Baron, Charlie encounters all the trappings of the gilded age, from child labor to zeppelins, on his quest. Players, meanwhile, are plunged back into the golden age of adventure games, transported to modern sensibilities.|
Stacking isnít a particularly long game, but itís a clear case of quality over quantity. Between the gameís four levels, you can find alternate solutions for each of the puzzles, which require Charlie to climb inside of various dolls and use their abilities to cause mischief or solve problems. With each problem having three solutions, and some having many as five, completionists will have plenty to do, doubly so if they try to find the solutions without using the gameís helpful hint system, which lets players reveal increasingly explicit clues to the next solution one at a time. While thereís a clear solution to almost all of the puzzles, especially if you ask around and talk to dolls in the area, trying to dig up the answers will extend the length of the game significantly, and the more complex solutions are often satisfying to execute.
Besides the puzzles, Charlie can also use the abilities of the dolls he climbs inside of to cause trouble, or for more creative ends, which are tracked in the gameís Hi-Jinks menu. As a series of secondary puzzles off the critical path, the Hi-Jinks are a charming addition to the game, and while the golden accessories you get as rewards you get for them are entirely visual, they still add some amusing visual flair to the dolls. Additionally, Charlie can stack inside of unique dolls on a level to collect them, and bring together sets of dolls for a short cutscene as a reward. While the rewards themselves are nothing to write home about, the collections and Hi-Jinks do extend the length of the game for completionists, and provide an amusing sideline for people making their way through the game on their own terms.
While the puzzles and hi-jinks and collections are certainly fun, the real star of Stacking is the gameís world. Populated by lushly designed dolls, each possessed of their own personality, from the timid child laborers to the seductive widow who swivels from place to place dramatically. Each level is full of elaborate touches that evoke the late 19th and early 20th century, along with aspects of dioramas and miniature modeling. While these touches are never spelled out and entirely easy to miss, the full charm of the game really strikes when you notice that the railroad cart Charlie is pumping is made out of Popsicle sticks, or the smokestacks on an ocean liner are rows of cigars. To drive it home, each cutscene is done in the style of early silent films, and characters will only speak in tongueless, throaty grunting supplemented by word balloons which is much more charming than that description would imply.
The only real downside of Stacking is that the controls donít feel as tight as they ought to. While the gameís an adventure that can be taken at any pace, the controls and camera hearken to modern third person action games, and the inability to make quick turns or easily choose between what doll to jump inside of does drag the game down slightly. Slightly puzzling is how easy it is to turn by moving the camera, while using the left analogue stick will require a doll to come to a full stop, rotate themselves, then move off in another direction.
Despite these small problems, however, Stacking manages to be an excellent experience. Excellent visual and world design will bring players in, and old school puzzles will keep them there. From the first time I saw the game, I knew Iíd love Stacking, and odds are good that itís earned a permanent place on my Xboxís hard drive.