A Great Game With A Unique Premise
Double Fine Productions has now become a downloadable-only game development company. Their first attempt in this market was with the game Costume Quest which was a great, simple role-playing game with a unique premise. With its second attempt, Double Fine's proclivity for unique games continues with Stacking, a game about Russian stacking dolls. There is little doubt that the game is original, but it is its gameplay that puts Stacking above the myriad of other downloadable games on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.
The player controls Charlie, the world's smallest stacking doll. Charlie's size allow him to hide in the bodies of larger dolls and control their movements and actions. This skill is what Charlie relies upon as he attempts to save his family from the evil Baron that is controlling the world of Stacking. The story is charming and thoughtful with a very well written script. The world of Stacking takes a Dickensian approach in terms of appearance and politics but with a much lighter tone. The game is full of humor that shines light on the dark subjects introduced.
The stacking mechanic is incredibly satisfying. There are a number of unique dolls Charlie can control all of which vary in size. Charlie can only control a doll that is exactly one size bigger then himself. He can continue to stack into ever larger dolls until there are no larger dolls to stack into. As the game progresses, Charlie is able to stack into even larger dolls at one time. Each doll has unique abilities and a minority of these abilities must be utilized to solve challenges introduced throughout the game. The game is made up of a number of these challenges spread across four unique worlds and a hub world. Each world presents with a specific story situation and a number of challenges that, when completed, solve the problems surrounding that story situation. Each challenge has a number of different solutions and the player is rewarded for finding all of these solutions. There is always one simple solution to the challenge but a number of odd, mind-bending solutions as well. One doesn't have to find all of the solutions to challenges but the game is markedly shorter and would be less satisfying if one didn't. Each solution has a hint system associated with it. In the pause menu, the player is provided with three hints for solving the challenge at hand. This system could be easily abused as there are no penalties for using the system and each hint can be unlocked after a short time has passed. Within each world players can also find a number of unique dolls and perform hijinx, which are odd challenges specific to certain dolls outside of the main story. All of the challenges, dolls, and hijinx are tallied and add to the overall percentage of the game the player has completed. This percentage is presented to the player every time they pause the game pushing a completionist mentality to the player.
The presentation is phenomenal. The user interface is sleek and easy to use and the graphics are really nice. The world is made up of modern household items like tacks and dominoes giving it a unique look. All of the dolls are very well designed, animate well, and really show a lot of creativity. Technically, this is one of the best looking Double Fine games I've played. Great effects, like depth of field effects, are used heavily and give the game the needed tech to power the great art design. The music and sound is also very well done. The music is primarily piano-based with an emphasis on the styles used in silent film. The sound design is also top-notch with particularly well designed surround sound.
I really want to say that Stacking is a must buy for everyone. However, it falls short of perfect due to the game's design and length. The game is a completionist's dream as there is a lot to do in each world and the challenges allow for a lot of player creativity. But, if one is not interested in finding every solution to each challenge, finding all of the dolls, and completing all of the hijink the game, at $15, may not be for you. However, if you like the idea of a puzzle-adventure game, based in large open worlds, with a ton of charm then buy and enjoy Stacking.