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If you came up to me and said, “Russian stacking dolls game.” My response would be, “Is Double Fine developing it?” As that is just the reputation Double Fine has garnered over its time in the video game industry, making games that have a seemingly ridiculous yet lovable plot, which is the definition of their newest release, Stacking.
In Stacking, you are Charlie Blackmore, one of the smallest
Russian stacking dolls out there, and your brothers and sister have been captured
by the evil Baron and summoned into some kind of child labor hell. Little
Charlie decides it is his time to prove he is more than just the smallest doll
in the family, as he goes out to save his siblings. Stacking may have a
seemingly cute concept, but the story has some oddly deep underlying messages
involving child labor in foreign countries and even forcing you to deal with
your father’s possible death throughout most of the game. It’s these messages
that make Stacking more than just a cutesy puzzle game. Throughout its story,
you continue to get deeply invested into the Blackmore family and actually
stopping child labor. Stacking is oddly serious at times, but never to the
point where it loses its charm and wit.
Since you do play as a doll, the movement is a little odd. Your character has to hobble back and forth to get to other places which is never an issue until you have to go into tight spaces, which is where you realize Double Fine didn’t design the movement to be akin to tight entrance ways. It can be fairly awkward having to slightly navigate your little fellow into the hole that is just big enough for him to fit in.
Stacking has a ton of unique mechanics in it, but the biggest is the fact that you can stack into literally any doll you see, and there are a plethora of dolls at your disposal. The incentive to stack into these is that many of the dolls have their own kind of special ability, ranging from a “seduce” ability (which make the bottom of the doll move back and forth, hip shaking style, delivering one of the most hilarious animations in the game) to a “toot,” which is simply a little kid farting. The abilities bring about some of the more funny spots in the game, as you rarely can tell which ability you’re going to get, and all of which have their own little comedy factor. And apart from the occasional fart joke, they’re all clever and largely hilarious. While the stacking is never fully explained (when you think about it, you’re kind of taking over the dolls minds), that doesn’t make it any less fun.
Stacking has a fairly linear story; giving you four levels in which you sabotage certain people into doing something that will help you get closer and closer to rescuing your family. This is how they manage to set up the puzzle areas. In puzzle games, it seems like there is always at least one or two puzzles that are just tedious and arid. Stacking breaks that mold as all of its puzzles are daedal in their own special way, leading you to eagerly anticipate every single puzzle you encounter.
The replay value in Stacking is a plenty. Ingenious puzzle
design definitely helps though, as there is always more than one way to solve
the issue at hand. And since the
stacking is such a blast, you’ll have no problem replaying the same puzzles
over and over just to find out all the clever ways to disrupt the happenings
around you. It’s not just the main story puzzles that consume your time. There
are multiple side objectives littered throughout whatever environment you’re in,
as well as there being certain “hi-jinks” you can perform on other passengers
around you; such as slapping people around you 10 times or maybe even giving
them 5 good punches. These don’t do anything particularly game changing but
they are quite funny to perform.
There isn’t much to say about the animations in Stacking apart from that it is one of the many reasons I adored the game. Watching your little guy hop into another person’s body is just so cute and funny, and it never gets old.
Another fairly unique thing to Stacking is its look. It has a very “retro” silent movie style to it, which works flawlessly. The cutscenes, though featuring no voice acting and only title cards to express what is happening on screen are largely effective in conveying the message it is trying to send. I’ve never enjoyed a silent movie before, but I definitely enjoyed Stacking’s silent cutscenes. It truly is remarkable how Double Fine created such deep lovable characters using something that no one has took seriously in almost 100 years.
Double Fine has been a company that has delivered largely hit or miss titles throughout its lifespan. Stacking is purely one thing, a hit. Featuring some of the most unique and fun puzzles out there, all pushed by a brilliant story that has one of the most clever endings I’ve ever seen, Stacking is a must own no matter who you are.