Fight the Industrial revolution in our review of Stacking

Life is hard for little Charlie Blackmore, not only is he the shortest Matryoshka doll around, but his family are on hard times as a family grown up on chimney sweeping. As your father goes off for a big job chimney sweep with the Baron that promises a lot of money for the future, leaving your family to fend for themselves. It isn?t long before your mother is in so much debt that your siblings; Albert, Abigail, Agatha and Archibald are taken away to the city for child labour.

Get lost in a world full of industrious satire with Charlie and his hobo friend Levi who will record your heroics in his hideout behind the Royal Train Station, as a Blackmore, Charlie?s tough determination stems from his family?s motto of; ?Ain't no mess we can't address?, and he's got more than enough passion and gusto to jolly-well save the day.

Stacking is the second downloadable title from the partnership of THQ and Double Fine Productions and teams the unique concept of Matryoshka dolls with engaging but simple gameplay, creating an innocent and delightful game that will suck most gamers into its unwitting charm.

As a pint sized doll Charlie is unable to accomplish very much on his own, so in order to access certain areas and perform vital tasks you need to stack Charlie into other dolls. This is achieved by standing behind them and simply disappearing inside them, throughout the game you will be able to stack into up to five dolls together, as well as stacking into dolls several puzzles will require your ability to quickly stack out of dolls and even combine the unique powers of dolls together in order to solve puzzles.

In Stacking there are over 100 unique dolls, not taking into account the simple everyday dolls like the Paper boys, Stewards and little girls that play Tag that you will necessarily never use -unless you persevere with complete Hi-jinks. The unique dolls are essential to solving puzzles, and whether you need the flatulent qualities of Meriwether Malodor to clear a room full of uptight socialites, or the reoccurring Allendorf family?s Hans to vomit cookies at a certain doll's disgust you'll find that indeed half of the fun of Stacking is had in discovering the different abilities that each doll possesses.

The best part about playing Stacking is that although it plays just like a puzzle game, inherently at heart it is an adventure game; your dolls are your inventory and you merely have to figure out what doll you use with a certain puzzle in order to find the solution. Just like an adventure game, the whole satisfaction of the game is derived through solving the puzzles, and with the variety of solutions that each puzzle has, your enjoyment is spiralled tenfold. Each puzzle solved leads to the opening to a new location to explore, or the rescue of a family member, the only issue that does come about from the puzzle solving element, is that you'll find most of the dolls required of a puzzle will generally be in the nearby vicinity.

Alongside the charming and heart-warming story of a family coming together again, Stacking is incredibly dark and satirical; the corridors and work rooms are littered with children forced into labour, the upper and lower class are separated brutally and the locations are full of out-of-bounds areas that rely on your sex or the clothes that your current doll is wearing. The humour of the game is derived both through the base enjoyment of characters such as Meriwether Malodor whose riddled bowels will clear any room from his fowl wind, or the subtlety of the carbon footprint that you can leave with some upper class lady dolls.

Everything about Stacking is consistent with a great silent film of the 20s, unfortunately this does unfortunately mean that this is Double Fine's second game without spoken dialogue, however the music is reminiscent of a piano jingle that would accompany a light hearted film, and the fantastic nonsense noises that some dolls produce will catch you off guard in fits of sheer pleasure.

Keeping to the theme of films, you?ll even find that on closer inspection of some areas that the delicately created locations are in fact intricately crafted sets of a movie; cutscenes are shown on a stage backdrop and harsh edges of a film reel overlaid with the churning cogs of a hand operated camera. The dolls themselves are all hand drawn on the split halves of their models, everything is totally charming, and relives the classic art style and architecture of 30s Art Deco and harsh nature of pre-war industrial revolution.

The four environments include the Royal Train Station, the Zeppelin of Consequence, the Gilded Steam Ship and the Triple Decker Tank Engine, all of which gradually become larger and larger in scope and size, environments are huge for little Charlie Blackmore and you?ll find yourself getting a little lost in the winding underground of the Zeppelin of Consequence and turning in circles aboard the Gilded Steam Ship searching for that doll that you thought you knew the location of. This is a brilliant turn for the game that just appears to be absolutely massive when you are playing, the subtle change in size between the larger dolls much like DrinkBox Studios' About a Blob creates a fantastic illusion of the great lengths that Charlie has to go though to save his family.

An appealing factor of Stacking is the high replay value that stems from the different additions to the main story. Throughout each level you have a certain amount of unique dolls that you will come across, there are also more than three solutions to each puzzle, and on top of this there is a vast collection of hi-jinks littered around each environment that you will visit. Hi-jinks are actions that specific dolls can perform, either in general or on specific other dolls, these are the most fun side to the game and engage the player into using dolls that they would otherwise ignore. The solution to Hi-jinks are fully up to your skills of deduction, and it is through the abilities of dolls and the names of the Hi-jinks that give away what you doll you will need to use in order to fulfil them.

After spending cherished hours throughout the four expansive locations, players are rewarded with a fantastically inspired boss battle, I won?t give out any surprises, but you definitely won?t see it coming! As the curtains ?literally- draw on Charlie Blackmore?s story of triumph the game continues in a sandbox state, allowing you to find any dolls you didn?t capture, any hi-jinks you didn?t know about, and any solutions that you just couldn?t figure out.

The one minuscule tarnish on an absolutely superb and unique game is that Stacking does suffer from a slightly dodgy camera, which will at times get a little too close to little Charlie Blackmore, however this will be encountered very little, and is possibly the only problem with the game, and definitely does not detract any enjoyment or purpose from the game whatsoever.

Stacking is a brilliant example of the niche avenues you can take with condensed downloadable titles, there is no other game like Stacking and there probably never will be, Double Fine?s foray into the downloadable scene definitely seems to have paid off with this charming and witty spectacle of a game!

five stars
1 comment
Comment from: Stephen [Visitor]
5 stars
Stephen

Started playing this on Saturday night. I loved the idea at first, but then once I started playing I wasn't so sure I liked it. After completing the first few puzzles I simply fell in love. I found it's a game that has grown on me so I am glad I stuck with it. It's charming, different and like you say, well worth 5/5.

14th February 2011 @ 14:09