Stacking is a highly original downloadable game from Double Fine, the development studio founded by Tim Schafer of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Psychonauts fame. In the last decade it’s become apparent to Double Fine that AAA titles that are critically acclaimed but commercial failures are the quickest way for your studio to go bust. They’ve changed tactics and Stacking is their second small but perfectly formed game for download after the fabulous Costume Quest which was a big hit last October. Like Costume Quest, Stacking’s immediate appeal is its clever but devastatingly simple gameplay premise. In Costume Quest when you changed costume you became the overpowered, awesome creature the costume represented, in battle. That’s a concept you just really want to explore. It grabs you immediately. Stacking has you playing as the smallest of Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls who can stack inside other bigger dolls, each of whom has a particular special skill from being able to unlock doors to peeing themselves and almost everything in between. Through these abilities you solve puzzles and help little Charlie Blackmore rescue his family from the evil Baron. Again as a premise it just grabs you immediately and the lovely 1930’s sepia-tone artwork and silent movie style cutscenes add loads of appeal. Fans of Double Fine’s previous work such as Psychonauts will also be in heaven as, way more so than Costume Quest, this game oozes Double Fine’s brand of cosy explorable wonderland.

Beyond that most charming gameplay idea and the pretty looks is a collecting and side quest element that makes up the meat of Stacking. Each puzzle can be solved in several different ways. Once you solve a puzzle you can move on plot-wise and there can be several puzzles available in one of the four large levels at one time. Once you solve a puzzle, though, it immediately resets and you are told that you have solved the puzzle one of a possible three or four ways. You can then immediately solve it again using different dolls with different abilities. So, for example, you light up a room that needs illuminating by using a mechanic to fix a manual lever and then jumping on the lever with little Charlie. Once you’ve seen the cutscene for that part of the story you appear back at the same spot. You can now illuminate the room by using a doll with a candle on his head and another doll who farts on him setting the place alight. You can also seek out and stack together families of dolls as well as making sure you stack inside every unique doll in a level. If you want to crack on with the story you can forge ahead but still jump between levels and resolve old puzzles at any time as well as after you’ve finished the story.

If you’ve checked out other reviews of Stacking you will have seen it’s getting solid eight out of ten scores with just a couple of negative points. Now I’ve always been a believer that if you have to explain a less than stellar element of a game then that doesn’t excuse its problems but I’ll make an exception here. The big moan is that Stacking is short. It takes about four hours to play. Firstly I think games journalists and gamers, too, to an extent have to start getting with the program and realising that some game ideas are intentionally limited. Some downloadable titles are designed to be the short story of the games world, as opposed to the full novel that retail titles often are. Stacking would not gain anything by being longer yet feels like a full realisation of its idea, and for its price, platform and style it is exactly the right length, so the other reviews are wrong. The other complaint is that the camera isn’t spot on and again I’d beg to differ. Your camera angle alters depending on which size doll you are currently inhabiting and even the biggest dolls are still just dolls diminutive within huge environments. The camera is intentionally too close and give you a myopic view of the world. It’s a choice Double Fine has made that gives more creatively than it takes away technically. They were right to set their camera the way it is and if they widened it out and made it less sticky it would feel completely wrong. These were the only complaints and they are erroneous. They were made because you’re meant to write reviews in a balanced way and Stacking can’t be perfect because as we all know only Allah is perfect. I believe Stacking is actually close to being a faultless gaming experience. Only the crumbs in between the cushions on my couch that worked their way up my bum while I was playing Stacking took away from the experience.







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