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Game review: Stacking

01 Apr 2011

Set in the industrial age, in a world populated by matryoshka dolls (the Russian dolls that stack inside each other from smallest to largest), Stacking is the latest title from Tim Schafer’s Double Fine.

It’s a story about the plight of Charlie Blackmore and his family: The Baron has forced the Blackmore kids into slave labour, with the exception of Charlie since he’s the runt of the litter.

But the pint-sized doll has a heart and determination that’s larger than life, and Charlie soon embarks on a quest to rescue his siblings.

As one the smallest of matryoshka dolls, Charlie can jump inside dolls one size larger than himself who, in turn, can jump into dolls one size larger than them (and so on, and so forth).

Each doll has a unique ability, which can be used to interact with the environment or other dolls in some way. And you can "unstack” one level at the press of a button in order to use the preceding doll’s ability.

In Stacking, you're essentially presented with a series of puzzles with any number of possible solutions, many of them requiring the special abilities of a variety – or even a combination – of dolls.

Observation is key; it pays to keep a close eye on the other dolls populating the area, talking to them and perhaps even taking them for a test drive to receive clues on how to progress.

Stacking certainly belies its Xbox LIVE Arcade nature. Its presentation is immaculate, with the story unfolding as portrayed in an oldie-timey silent film/puppet show.

It’s also rather funny, with particular regard to some of the dolls’ abilities and their use as solutions (e.g. the "flatulence” ability).

That said, most puzzles are solved rather simply, and there’s typically a single "silver bullet” doll nearby for each puzzle that will allow you to progress without too much hassle.

Very rarely is a mandatory puzzle taxing in any way. And although there are various possibilities, there’s little incentive to experiment further once you’ve solved a puzzle outside of slightly altered cutscenes. Unless you’re a completionist, of course.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous and truly innovative game that’s, unfortunately, often not a particularly fun game. To be honest, it can feel like a chore to play at times, and it was generally the presentation and the story that kept me on board for the whole ride.

As an adventure, a work of art and an example of innovation within the medium, Stacking absolutely succeeds. But as a game, Stacking is somewhat lacking.