Final Thoughts 02



Note: This is not a review, but merely my musings after having recently completed a game as part of my Rogue's Adventures playthrough of my backlog. Follow @RoguesAdventure to keep up with my playthroughs.

Also Note: This was originally written (and game was completed) in December 2012.


Developer: Double Fine Productions

Release Date: February 9, 2011 (DLC 4/6/11)

Stacking is the second game, following Costume Quest, to come from Double Fine's "Amnesia Fortnight" event during Brütal Legend's development period. The event is an annual two week period where the entire production team essentially "forgets" the current game they're working on, and everybody fleshes out their own game concepts. The best ones are chosen to be prototyped (like making a pilot for a TV show) with the hope that they eventually get the go ahead from a publisher to turn into a full-fledged game. Well a smaller $15 game anyway. Since the commercial failures of bigger budget titles Psychonauts and Brütal Legend, the company has found great niche success with these "smaller" titles.

Stacking's concept is novel and innovative - a world populated by Russian nesting dolls (matryoshka) that also takes place during an industrial revolution filled with evil industrialist and cruel child labor practices that's like something straight out of a Dickens novel. The game absolutely dripping with theme from the violin and piano soundtrack to the silent film style cutscenes (complete with dialogue placards).

As charming as the world is, it wouldn't be worth much without solid game play. Double Fine crafted a solid adventure game that utilizes the nesting feature of the dolls to solve puzzles. The protagonist, Charlie, is unique in that he's super tiny compared to other dolls. In fact, he's one size smaller than all the children dolls. But he has the unique ability to stack into other dolls (provided they're exactly one size bigger) and use their abilities. Each doll comes with their own ability, though many are generic citizens with tongue-in-cheek powers like Cough and Smoke Pipe. Most of the puzzle solutions are found in various unique dolls that have abilities you have to know where to use and when they're applicable.

The game is made up of several levels that all take place on various vehicles: a boat, a zeppelin, and a train, with a Train Station acting as a central hub. Most of them are presented to be fairly linear in the order that you naturally solve the puzzles, but multiple solutions ensure lots of creative puzzle solving. Each puzzle has at least one or two painfully obvious solutions though. For example, in one puzzle on the boat level I had to ruin a cloth map, and right outside the room is a midshipmen doll that's scrubbing the walls. If one were inclined they could easily run through the game's story in a matter of hours, but the relative ease and laid back fun make exploring the puzzle solutions, finding all the unique dolls, and discovering all the wacky hi-jinks more fun than tedious.

I also want to make special mention of the hint system that Double Fine implement for this game. Any time you got stuck, you could pull up the menu and ask for a hint. Each solution had three hints that got progressively more obvious until the final hint just straight up told you exactly what you needed to do. It's a refreshing system as any time you'd get stuck on a puzzle you'd go straight to the internet anyway. This way the game itself can give you a gentle nudge (or violent push) in the right direction. It's a really cool system that every adventure game should take advantage of if they can do it well. The DLC expanded on this further by offering various runes around the level that certain mystics could reveal as visual hints to puzzles.

Like Costume Quest, Stacking's game play mechanics are not all that deep, but the games get away with it by being just the right length that you never grow tired of the relatively simplistic game play. That being said, I think Stacking could've benefited greatly from another good size level. It's not until the final Train level that you even being to combine multiple doll abilities to solve puzzles, and it really opens up your capabilities. The DLC alleviates this by adding in a really fun but on the shorter side level with a lot of cool abilities and a neat setting. But that was paid DLC at the time, and I feel like even after that the game could've benefited from yet another level. But such is the testament to my enjoyment of the game that I wanted just a bit more. As it is, I clocked in a little over nine hours and did absolutely everything you could do.

I can easily recommend Stacking to adventure game fans, but beyond that it's a tough game to describe. Double Fine's humor is present here as all their games - a unique kid-friendly but Adult-enjoyed humor that I find similar to what the folks at Pixar do in all their movies. The game play is simple but the game itself is incredibly charming and whimsical. It's short with little to no replay value, but it's a great experience. I continue to look forward to any game that Double Fine Productions puts out, but if it's not in my immediate tastes, I'll wait for the sale.