Stacking Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted Feb 09, 2011

Double Fine's latest downloadable outing exudes charm and quaintly crude humor amidst a sea of engaging puzzles and great atmosphere. If you loved the humor in the company's past titles, then Stacking is certainly easy to recommend.

The Pros
  • Wonderfully quirky atmosphere and puzzles
  • Tons of characters and side quests to find
  • Multiple solutions for puzzles
The Cons
  • Silent movie sequences are simply too frequent and invasive
  • Canned dialogue is text-only
  • Some minor camera issues

Stacking Review:

Double Fine Productions continues to tap into the exquisitely weird, adventure-game laden background of its venerable founder -- Tim Schafer -- with its latest downloadable-only release, Stacking. Essentially, a puzzle-centric adventure game, Stacking is just what you’d expect from the company responsible for Brutal Legend and Costume Quest ... and I mean that in the best possible way.

A Babe in Toyland

All of Double Fine’s games have essentially focused more on character and humor than actual gameplay innovation, and Stacking doesn’t break that mold. The game takes very familiar classic adventure game concepts and, well, stacks them. Most old-school adventure games—particularly the Monkey Island series—relied upon finding the often painfully obscure right item and using it on the right character or object. Stacking tasks players with doing this seemingly simple thing repeatedly, but how it does so is where the joy of the game lies.

The world of Stacking is a kind of wonderful toyland. All the characters are Russian nesting dolls, each with their own unique skill, and they wander around four main areas made up of toy-like sets. Hopping, wobbling, and shimmying around, these quirky characters make for endlessly entertaining visual appeal. The levels have a homegrown puppet-theater like appeal, and the silent film, 1920’s-era ambience only helps increase the overall visual panache.

As young doll Charlie Blackmore, you must rescue your family from the clutches of the evil Baron. Your father has vanished without a trace, your siblings kidnapped, and only your poor mother is left to fear the worst. Charlie, despite being incredibly tiny, has one huge ace up his sleeve. He can stack. Sneak up behind a doll one size up, and Charlie can jump inside them and take them over. Charlie can then keep taking over larger and larger dolls to help solve puzzles. 

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Puzzles that Really Stack Up

Granted, bigger is frequently not better, and you’ll spend a lot of time capturing dolls just to see what their special abilities are and how you can make use of such options. Some dolls innocently seduce, others yell and condemn, little kids have crazy sugar rushes, and yes, some fart. There is an amazing array of dolls to discover and utilize, and they come in all sizes… though usually just the one shape.

The nice thing about Stacking’s design is simply that it’s a full-blown puzzle game set in an active environment. Since the characters are the key to solving puzzles, and there are so many characters to choose from, the game makes certain that each of a level’s main puzzles have multiple solutions. This lets you go out of your way to try as many different dolls as possible.

The first puzzle, for instance, gives you the opportunity to seduce, fart, or even repair a way into a club, and it’s this focus on making even a single puzzle replayable that makes Stacking such a welcome diversion. There are usually only a handful of storyline-based puzzles in each section, so another area where the game shines is in providing tons of other things to do. There are side quests and hi-jinks tasks, ranging from finding lost children to annoying as many people as possible with a specific doll’s obnoxious ability.

The game also pushes players to discover all the special dolls wandering around each level, including stacking a group of related dolls for extra bonuses. All these extra missions and tasks are tracked in a sort of trophy room that you’ll almost certainly be compelled to fill up.

It Really Stacks Up!

Stacking is brought to life thanks to its gorgeously sharp graphics and great atmosphere, but at times, it’s clear the game is perhaps a bit too in love with itself and its visual attire. The gameplay is brought to a halt far too frequently with silent movie-style cut scenes that can’t be skipped and tend to just be a bit too slow. There’s no voice work here, and while you have to talk to lots of characters, they only have a few canned text lines that are easily lost by the camera.

Still, those are minor quibbles on the whole. Stacking focuses on its steady stream of charm, slightly bawdy humor, and incredibly clever tasks. The gameplay takes familiar adventure gaming into a creative direction and the result is a strange, entertaining, and distinctive trip through the surreal.