+Lots of variety
-A bit short
-Some solutions are too complicated
Final score: 8 / 10
An Xbox 360 with an Internet connection
The gaming industry is seemingly running out of ideas, especially when it comes to ones for blockbuster, triple-A releases, so that's why quite a lot of talented independent developers are trying their hands at downloadable games.
Double Fine is one such studio, who, after the somewhat lackluster Brutal Legend, has started doing smaller, lightweight downloadable games, like last year's Costume Quest or its most recent one, Stacking.
This last game is definitely out of the ordinary, as it focuses on Russian nesting dolls, Matryoska as they're also known, and sees a pretty unique gameplay mechanic grow around them based on … you guess it, stacking.
The story of the title is pretty grim, focusing on child labor in a Victorian age world where an evil baron uses children to power all of his industries.
After a small kid named Charlie sees all his bigger brothers and sisters kidnapped by the baron and forced to work on an array of machines, he sets off to free them all and stop child labor for good.
Little Charlie and the big world of Stacking
The different types of bigger dolls
In between the start and the end of the game, you'll be transported through a variety of locations, from a central train station to a boat on a never-ending cruise, a zeppelin or a complicated, multi-layered train, all featuring unique dolls with special powers.
The world of Stacking is filled with challenges for little Charlie, who must stack on top of bigger dolls and use their powers, ranging from being able to fix up and open certain areas to being able to seduce others, fart really loudly, slap enemies or scream at others, in order to overcome all of the aforementioned challenges.
This is where the beauty of Stacking actually is, as most of the problems that Charlie needs to solve have multiple solutions, so you can really put your mind to work in order to uncover them all.
Will you seduce a guard in order to enter an exclusive restaurant, open up an air vent and crawl inside or fart into the vent and get everyone outside?
Don't worry if a solution doesn't come to you, as the game has a nifty little hint system, which offers three increasingly obvious tips in order to overcome the solutions that elude you, so you won't be checking up Wikipedia or YouTube for strategies all that often.
Even so, some solutions do end up being overly complicated, but, most of the times, you'll be having fun trying to uncover the secrets of the game.
Stacking offers plenty of other challenges, as each area has a set of unique dolls and tricks you can pull (Hi-Jinks) which need to be uncovered by yourself in order to get achievements or reach 100% completion.
Seeing as how this is a Double Fine game, expect plenty of humor in the dialog as well as in some of the solutions to the challenges, including things like getting rats to follow you, as some sort of Pied Piper, and devastate a kitchen in order to stop a duchess from eating all the caviar.
While plenty of games outstay their welcome, Stacking feels just right, weighing in at around four hours, depending on how much of a completionist you are or how intent you are on finishing it.
In between fulfilling the story challenges, finding out unique dolls, completing the Hi-Jinks and the bonus challenges that are unlocked once you finish an area, you'll certainly be spending quite a lot of time with Stacking.
Explore unique locations
Meet weird dolls
The graphics quality is quite good, with the game's world having a certain Victorian feel, while the dolls each feel and look very different from one another, so you can easily spot them, deduce what their purpose might be and how they can help you in completing challenges.
The cut scenes act out as silent movies, with dialog cards in traditional British English coming up in between the action. You'll also be able to talk with the other dolls in the game, both as Charlie and as other, bigger dolls, and their responses will change accordingly.
The sound design complements the graphics and dialog, with classical music highlighting the regular exploration while more bombastic pieces accompany the cut scenes.
Overall, Stacking is definitely something we've never seen before, and really shows how Double Fine can work outside the box.
It does feel a bit short and some challenges are a bit hit or miss, but, in the end, Stacking is a great and unique experience, perfect for both hardcore gamers and more casual ones, that want to unwind with their friends or families.