posted 2/21/2011 by Jeremy Duff
other articles by Jeremy Duff
One Page Platforms: 360
 Tim Schafer and Double Fine have built quite a reputation for themselves when it comes to taking usually mundane subjects or topics and creating hit games. Think about it, they turned rock and roll into Brutal Legend and trick or treating into Costume Quest. The team also created Psychonauts, which is an insane concept in itself which they managed to turn into a modern day classic. The studio just seems to have a true knack for putting their imagination to good use when it comes to creating games. When it comes to Stacking, their latest title, the same concept applies. Double Fine has taken an idea as simple as Russian stacking dolls (also known as matryushka dolls) and managed to turn it into a hilarious adventure that has an originality unmatched in today’s industry.

Stacking tells the story of the Blackmores, a simple, lower class family. The Blackmores struggle simply to make ends meet, and before long nearly the entire brood is forced into indentured servitude by the villainous Baron. The only two family members spared from a life of manual labor is the matriarch and the smallest doll on the lot, young Charlie. In an attempt to ease the heartache of his mother, young Charlie embarks on an adventure to free his family from the bonds of servitude. While the subject matter may sound serious, Double Fine approaches it with a light-hearted and entertaining tone which reduces the gravity of the situation to comical levels.

Charlie isn’t just the smallest doll in the family, he is the smallest doll in all of the Stacking-world. Thanks to his paltry stature, Charlie has the ability to fit into any and every stacking doll you will encounter. Just as with real life nesting dolls, one figure will only fit into another one that is one size bigger. Charlie has the uncanny ability to fit into even the smallest characters he will meet, which will then allow him to move up the nesting food-chain and take hold of huge cast of personalities. This is the core gameplay mechanic of Stacking. Using the ability to stack dolls according to size, you will be able to compile small teams of characters with varying abilities to accomplish the goals set forth for you by the game.

In conjunction with the concept of stacking the dolls, the game is built upon the notion of solving a series of puzzles to get what you want from the world. Players are presented with seemingly impossible situations and encouraged to manipulate the environment and the characters within it to their benefit. Charlie will need to seek out other personalities within the world who possess abilities that will allow him to progress in his journey and complete tasks that he normally isn’t capable of completing. Perhaps you need to gain access to a restricted area of an adult social club, find a mechanic and use their skills to remove a vent and sneak in through the side; if you need to disperse a crowd within a crowded dining hall, why not take control of the chef and ruin the evening’s fare? The world is yours to experiment with and manipulate to your heart’s content. To be perfectly honest, I found half of the fun of the game to lie in simply “playing around” in the world and interacting with the various inhabitants.

The main drive of the game involves solving sequences of situations which can be completed in a matter of a few short hours. In order to alleviate the brevity of the experience, the game offers you the chance to approach its puzzles / situations from a variety of ways. There isn’t one solution to each of the game’s trials, instead there are multiple solutions and players are rewarding for going back and trying to do things in different ways. Even after you have completed your primary goal of a level, there is still plenty for you to do before moving on and progressing the storyline. Each level offers multiple problems with multiple solutions, unique dolls to find and collect, special doll sets to encompass, and a wide variety of mischievous hijinx that do nothing more than put a smile on your face (and of course earn you achievements / trophies).
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