Video game review – Stacking
XBox Live Arcade
It’s incredibly heartening to see a bizarre, quirky game not get crushed under the weight of its concept – something that seemingly happens far too often with games of this sort. Stacking neatly avoids this trap by focusing on providing interesting gameplay that complements, rather than distracts, from the world the game creates.
And that world – an industrialized, alternate-universe turn of the 20th century populated entirely by matryoshka dolls and heavily indebted to the language of silent films – is perhaps what sold me so quickly on Stacking. Tim Schafer (the head of Double Fine) has had some delightfully bizarre settings in his games before but Stacking is perhaps the most bizarre and the most delightful of them all.
The game casts you as Charlie Blackmore, the smallest of the Blackmore clan of chimney-sweeping matryoshka dolls, and quite possibly the smallest nesting doll in the world. After the nefarious Baron kidnaps Charlie’s siblings to put to work in various child labour positions, Charlie sets out to rescue all of them and put an end to child slavery.
If all the game had was its setup, it’d probably still be worth playing if only to witness the sheer strangeness of it all. Thankfully, though, Double Fine was generous enough to also make Stacking a pretty brilliant puzzle game. Charlie’s special ability – being able to enter any matryoshka doll one size bigger than him – allows him to be able to find solutions to the various problems the game throws at him. Each doll that Charlie inhabits has a special ability of their own, which can range from silly little timewasters like being able to slap people around, to abilities tailor-made for the solution of any given puzzle. It’s never done in an obvious way, though I often found myself smacking myself on the forehead and thinking “why didn’t I think of that before?”
If I had one criticism of the game, it’s that on occasion, the solutions are just a little too straightforward. This isn’t so much the case towards the end of the game, but I think that Double Fine figured that since Stacking doesn’t really play like any other game on the market, gamers would have a tougher time figuring out its nuances.
There are only a few games that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone, but Stacking fits that bill – as long as you’re able to handle sheer delight.