I’ll start by mentioning that Stacking is a Double-Fine game. For those of you who don’t know, Double-Fine was a studio founded by Tim Schafer after leaving Lucasarts. It focuses on interesting, quirky games such as the fantastic Psyconauts. So you know you’re in good hands.
Stacking takes place during the industrial age, in a world where the people have been replaced by matryoshka dolls (stackable Russian Dolls). You play as Charlie who is the smallest doll of a fairly large family. When his father suddenly vanishes and his mother can no longer pay her debts, Charlie’s brothers and sisters are taken into forced apprenticeship and it’s up to Charlie to rescue them.
Charlie has only one thing on his side, his ability to jump inside other dolls and control them. Every doll has a special ability, ranging from slapping other dolls to playing the violin to commanding dolls to move out of the way. On top of this there are unique dolls with unique abilities, finding and using these dolls is key in many of the games fantastic puzzles. To stack with another doll requires two things, firstly you need to be one size below the doll you want to stack into, Charlie is far too small to jump into the largest dolls straight away so you need to go stack into some smaller ones first. Secondly you need to be behind the doll, a lot of guards or suspicious dolls either have a wall at their back or turn to face you constantly, so you need to either make them move or distract them before you can stack with them.
Puzzles are what Stacking is all about, there are several of them in each level and they all have several possible solutions. For example, you can make a woman leave the caviar buffet by stacking into a chef and sabotaging the caviar, or by jumping into the maitre d’ to call over the caviar chef before stacking into him and dumping the caviar. Stacking lets you and indeed wants you to go back and try solving the same puzzle with a different solution. Solving the same puzzle repeatedly may not sound like a good time, but the quirky characters and fun doll abilities combined with some clever and funny solutions will keep you entertained.
When you’ve completed a level, you’re little friend Levi will paint a mural of the level, makes jigsaw puzzles based on the puzzles and makes models of any unique dolls you may have found. He encourages you to go back to each level to find more solutions and unique dolls to complete your collection.
Story points in Stacking are shown in two forms of cut-scene. Some cut-scenes are covered in an old film-grain filter, while others are made to look like they take place on a stage, complete with opening and closing curtains, and painted backdrops. The cut-scenes are also done like silent movies, in that there’s no spoken dialogue, instead you get a title card which tells you what the characters are supposed to be saying.
There’s one part of Stacking that rubbed me up the wrong way, it started early on but my concern grew when one of the characters mentioned it in a cut-scene. Despite the world being made of stackable dolls, no-one has ever tried stacking before. In fact, Charlie’s ability to stack and control other dolls is brought up by one of the characters, with the specific phrasing “bend people to his will”. So not only has Charlie discovered something that should have been very obvious but he’s controlling people’s minds like some kind of evil gnome, jumping inside people and making them do his bidding.
Stacking is unique, it’s a fun (if short) little puzzle game with a good atmosphere, but it’s the interesting unique premise that’ll draw you in. I had a lot of fun with Stacking, and you will too, give it a look.