Early in the game young Charlie Blackmore needs to get into a private club. Unfortunately, the guard out front is making this extremely difficult on our pint-sized hero. Getting through the door requires finding a gassy doll and making them fart (yes, it's THAT kind of game) into the fan circulating the club's air. Or better yet, just take over the body of the sultry blonde lady, who will seduce (and consume) the guard. Each of the game's puzzles has multiple solutions, each of which ends with a funny animation and a sense of accomplishment.
As Charlie progresses through the game he'll find himself forced to use his abilities in several different open locations. He starts his journey in a train station, but before long he'll be on a boat cruise, flying high in a zeppelin and even taking the scariest train ride of his life. There are several fun settings to explore, each with their own types of dolls. You can get lost just seeing what all of the new dolls can do, not advancing the story one iota. The world of Stacking is unlike anything I've seen before, sewn together using the trademarked Double Fine wit that makes these games so endearing.
Given how much personality this game has, it's hard to believe that the character animations are so simple. Characters sway back and forth as they walk, much like you would expect a motionless doll to walk across a table. But not everybody waddles in quite the same way. That sultry blonde doll I mentioned earlier shimmies back and forth, in a suggestive fashion that emphasizes her hand-painted hips. It didn't take me long before I completely forgot that I was dealing with a bunch of dolls and not miniature human beings.
The puzzles are challenging enough, though some players may find a few of their solutions fishy. Even though the world is large, it's easy to know where to go next thanks to a helpful market that keeps track of the closest puzzle. The game also aids players when it comes to problematic puzzles. By simply pausing the game players can view one of three helpful hints that should push them in the right direction. Some of the hints are a little too easy, but it's nice that they are there to keep the pace going.
Without question, Stacking is the best looking game Double Fine has ever made. Each of the dolls is expertly crafted and I love how the light shines off of their hardened exteriors. The world itself is made out of nothing but everyday items, giving off the impression that this is a world spawned from somebody's closet of spare knickknacks. This could easily be some child's form of entertainment as they play with grandma's collection of nesting dolls. Even the more spectacular effects (such as the cardboard water) feel like it's something anybody could do with the unused items laying around their place. It's hard to find fault in Charlie's world.
Unfortunately the control isn't nearly as inspired as the open world surrounding our hero. For the most part Charlie has solid control, but there are times when his waddle makes it difficult to turn the direction you want to go. There's no precise movement here, players will have to put up with smacking into other dolls and accidentally getting stuck in tight areas of the environment. It's a shame the gameplay isn't as refined as everything else in this game.
Even though I didn't solve every solution to every puzzle, I had a great time helping Charlie put his family back together. This is not a game about fighting or killing, it's a good-natured adventure with little to no risk of getting hurt. Having said that, I do want to mention how impressed I was with how Double Fine handled the final confrontation between you and the Baron.
I don't feel it's too early to say that Stacking is one of the most creative games of the year. Not only is it a visual tour de force, but the gameplay is unlike anything I've seen in a recent Xbox Live Arcade game. Even if this is a world of inanimate objects, there's enough personality to keep the adventure compelling from start to finish. The lengthy (and unskippable) cinemas may turn some gamers off, but Stacking is a fun journey everybody should take.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Double Fine proves yet again that you can make a great video game out of just about anything. Stacking may be nothing more than a world of nesting dolls, but that didn't stop the developers from coming up with one of the most intriguing game concepts of 2011. The gameplay is a little stiff at times, but the personality of this micro world more than makes up for any minor gripes I have!
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