Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: Stacking (XBLA/PS3)

A game set at the turn of the century dealing with child abduction, labor strife, and poverty, all done in a whimsical silent-movie style and featuring a cast of matryoshka (nesting) dolls with diverse powers? Yeah, Tim Shafer and Double Fine Productions are back.

Stacking is a small, Xbox/PSN Arcade game developed simultaneously with Double Fine’s more high-profile Brutal Legend, and is altogether more entertaining and imaginative than its big-budget cousin.

Stacking concerns the adventures of Charlie Blackmore, the smallest member of a family of nesting dolls. When his siblings are kidnapped and forced into indentured servitude, Charlie is left behind due to his small size. This, however, becomes one of his greatest assets, because Charlie is able to “nest” in any doll that is one size larger than him.

Each kind of doll has a unique power. Some of these are useless, such as playing tag or going to the bathroom. But some are essential for solving puzzles, and therein lay the key to the gameplay. If you need to lure a doorman away from his door, you can use the female doll that screams (he’ll rush to her aid) or the female doll that “seduces” (he’ll fall in love and abandon his post for a few seconds). Many locations include multiple solutions, so you might find yourself clearing a room by (ahem) passing gas into a ventilator, or by infiltrating the room as a mechanic, or by sneaking past the guard.

The variety of dolls and powers along with the detailed environments mean the game is rich in content. You can simply go about collecting new dolls and trying out their powers. You can search out sets of matching dolls in order to learn their stories. Or you can just follow the adventure where it leads by talking to characters and using various doll abilities to solve puzzles.

This is an immensely clever and appealing game. There is a bit of potty humor (belching, flatulence, bathroom visits, etc), but nothing too offensive. The odd and disappointing part is the length. For a game that is jammed with detail and loaded with potential, the adventure itself plays out rather quickly. A sequel—The Lost Hobo King—is already out, but it’s even shorter. I guess there are worse things to say about a game than “I wish it went on longer.”


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