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Review – Stacking | Level Up News

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Review – Stacking


Publisher: THQ
Developer: Double Fine
Platform(s):Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network
Genre: Puzzle, Adventure
Rating: E – 10+
ESRB Content Descriptors: NA
Players: 1
Official site: http://www.doublefine.com/

The Scoop: Russian nesting dolls and child labor are what Stacking is about and both have never been more fun.  They are two things that have no business being in a video game and yet somehow Tim Schafer and his Double Fine Productions use them both to create an absolute gem.  Stacking’s easy-going pace might not be for everybody, but its wit and charm will enchant most.

The Setup: Charlie Blackmore is the youngest child in the Blackmore family and the smallest doll within the world of Stacking.  The Blackmore family is poor and lives in debt to a “not so nice” industrialist named The Baron.  When Charlie’s father goes missing The Baron removes all of the Blackmore children from their home and puts them to work to pay off the debt.

Thought of as too small to be useful, Charlie is the only sibling left behind; which turns out to be a big mistake, because of his ability to stack into larger dolls.  He can take control of almost anyone as long as he follows the process of hopping into dolls that are the next step larger and so on.  Once inside, he gains not only a disguise he can use to move freely through The Baron’s empire but also whatever ability his new outer layer has.  Charlie can interact with any character in the game and use his stacking ability at any time, which leaves you with a lot freedom to experiment and explore.  Wandering the environments and discovering the different abilities of other dolls is a blast.

Everything looks good in here.

Among other things, Charlie will need to resolve a labor dispute, dock a steamship and ground a zeppelin all while keeping a low profile to reunite his family.  Charlie does this by using some clever thinking to create anarchy for The Baron.  Simply taking control of the steamship captain, for example, will not be an option because it is too obvious;  instead Charlie will have to convince the crew that the ship is not sea worthy.  There will be several ways to get each member of the crew upset enough to demand the captain return to dock, but it will be up to you to decide how.
What’s Hot: Stacking’s story does sound like a bit of a downer, but the material is handled with a whimsical sense of humor that reminded me a lot of a Roald Dahl book.  The characters ooze charisma despite not having a single word of spoken dialogue and their cartoon-like animations help to keep the game grounded in satire so it never gets too heavy.

The backdrop to Charlie’s adventure is a diorama of the early 1900s with objects that are in scale with nesting dolls of the real world.  They are blended into the background and it’s a real treat when you spot objects like a box of matches being used for a suitcase or a book for a kitchen table.

Not sure we want to know what went on in here.

A virus-infected bowl of soup is an example of one of the game’s wackiest objects needed to complete a task, but the solutions are logical and you will even have a few “Why didn’t I think of that in the first place?!?” moments.  If you are like me, it is those moments that will stick with you long after you have played the game.  Here is my favorite:

I needed the help of a Pirate who wouldn’t budge until I fed the parrot on his shoulder.  I was on the steamship level, so logically I went to where the food is in the cafeteria and kitchen.  The kitchen was serving a buffet of caviar for the rich and gruel for the poor; this bird wouldn’t eat either.  On my trips back and forth to the pirate I kept passing this boy who was getting sick and making this awful retching noise.  After a thorough search of the rest of the ship I decided to head back to the kitchen to see if there might have been something I missed.  This time when I passed the sick boy I heard the retching noise and a chocolate chip cookie rolled on the ground in front of me.  This kid wasn’t throwing up but “tossing his cookies”!  I had Charlie take control of him and sure enough his special ability was to toss cookies at command.  I promptly marched the boy in front of the Pirate and had him perform; the parrot flew down, ate the cookie, and the Pirate was mine.

What’s not: Stacking is not all that difficult of a game and it does end up being, although fun, a short ride.  There are usually three to five different ways for Charlie to complete each task during the main quest.  They can be done in any order, but you will only need to complete one if you wish to move on.  Solving only the minimum amount will get you through the story in less than a couple of hours.  The game also has a hint system that will give you the solutions and you can breeze through it in no time without using a single brain cell.  You will get more out of the game by finding all solutions on your own, but getting to the 100% completion mark can be done in a couple of sittings.  Considering other downloadable games with the same $15 price tag like Shadow Complex have a ton a replay value it might be a point of contention for some.

Some of the doll’s animations when walking can go right through walls or overhangs and you might miss a word bubble or two from a character due to some odd camera angles.  Both are minor blemishes that hardly take away from the beautiful look of the dolls and overall wonderfulness of the world you are in.

Final Verdict: Stacking will not be for everyone as it is a slower paced game.  I found it a refreshing way to wind down after hours of intense shooting in games like Dead Space 2 or Call of Duty: Black Ops.   The game can be overly simple at times, but if you avoid the hint system and let yourself get sucked into its charm you are in for a rewarding experience.  Anyone that is even remotely interested in this game needs to buy it now.

Review - Stacking, 5.0 out of 5 based on 6 ratings
Review – Stacking  

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About the author

Growing up, Kevin's parents believed video game consoles to be the spawn of the devil. Using twisted logic he was able to convince his father that video games on a computer were educational and was given a Commodore Vic 20. Kevin was able to keep the charade going long enough to acquire a Commodore 64 and a PC with an Intel 386 processor. He now attends junk sales regularly to find all of the console games he missed in his youth. You can follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinSimister



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