Sunday, October 23, 2011


Once again, apologies for not posting and whatnot. The game for today is one that I actually finished quite a while ago, but then never thought to write about because it's a Playstation Network game and therefore somehow slips my mind when I think about what I've played recently. But enough about my forgetfulness! Onwards to the review!

Stacking is a game by Tim Schafer and DoubleFine productions, who are essentially legends in the video game industry (I say essentially because I am hesitant to grant that name upon anybody aside from Shigeru Miyamoto). Those of you that haven't played Psychonauts (or any of DoubleFine's other games) should definitely check it (them) out. The games aren't perfect, but are all so incredibly full of personality that you'll fall in love anyway. Just go read a plot synopsis for any one of them (some of their bigger games include Psychonauts, Grim Fandango, and Brutal Legend) and you'll see what I mean. As further testament to DoubleFine's incredible stature in the video game industry, I have heard multiple people (college age) express interest in obtaining a Kinect just to play Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster, which they are only interested in because it is being developed by DoubleFine.

Now that I've hopefully managed to impress upon you just how amazing the guys at DoubleFine are, let's talk about Stacking! As you may have already noticed from the logo picture above, Stacking is a game about Russian nesting dolls. It may sound crazy, and honestly it really is quite insane, but bear with me for a bit. Stacking places you in the role of Charlie Blackmore, the youngest in the Blackmore family (and the only one whose name doesn't start with an A). The family has fallen upon some hard times, and Charlie's father and siblings have all been forced to work for the evil Baron in order to pay their debts. Charlie is so small even the Baron doesn't want him (and the Baron definitely doesn't have any qualms about child labor), but he decides to take matters into his own hands and free his family.
The tiny one is Charlie
That's pretty much it as far as Stacking's story goes. The story does glance over a few sensitive subjects, such as child labor and environmentalism, but nothing is taken very seriously and the tone is lighthearted throughout the entire game. All of the game's cutscenes are told in the style of silent movies, the music is very dramatic and the dialogue absolutely hilarious. This is very definitely a good thing, because the primary gameplay of Stacking reads like something out of a horror film. It's not entirely clear whether this is something that any doll in Stacking can do, or if it's exclusive to Charlie, but Charlie is able to enter the bodies of dolls larger than him (as long as he approaches from behind), and control them from within. Stacking into a small doll allows Charlie to then stack into a medium doll, then a large one, and so on. Each type of doll has a unique ability that Charlie can use, and only the outermost doll on the stack can use its ability. There are overlaps in doll abilities, but for the most part each doll has a unique ability, and Charlie will need a lot of them in order to get through each level and save his siblings. Thankfully, although nearby dolls gasp and scream whenever Charlie bodysnatches, no lasting harm seems to be incurred upon the victims (though who can say about mental health, victims go right back to doing what they were before after the experience).

Seeing as the entire game revolves around Charlie's ability to bodysnatch, it's a good thing that the mechanic works well. Players will very easily remember which dolls do what and how many dolls they'll need to stack before they can enter a targeted doll, which is good because each environment has a lot of dolls available for stacking. Each level has a primary objective for the player to achieve, but most likely the player will get distracted by sidequests, hi-jinks (earned by performing a number of actions on a specific target with a specific type of doll), and collecting unique dolls, before actually attempting to save Charlie's sibling. Many major objectives also have multiple solutions, which allows for a bit of replayability as the player attempts to figure out what other wacky combination of doll abilities will get them past a particular obstacle. If you ever get stuck on an objective, a hint system is available in game if you don't want to immediately turn to the internet.
Your enjoyment of Stacking will probably depend on two things. One, whether or not you enjoy DoubleFine's particular brand of humor. And two, how much of a completionist you are. Stacking would have ended very quickly if I ignored all the sidequests, hi-jinks, and alternative solutions, and I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much because I wouldn't have been able to discover all the ways different dolls interact. I found it very fun to discover these things and 100% every single level. On the other hand, there were a few points that felt more tedious than they needed to be. Quite a few of the hi-jinks involve finding all of a single type of doll scattered around an entire level, which was made more difficult because there was no easy way to remember which ones you had already gotten. Some of the alternative objective solutions were extremely difficult to determine, and required all of the hints to finally figure out what the game wanted you to do. If you don't have the patience to deal with these kinds of moments, then Stacking is probably not the right game for you.

That's pretty much Stacking in a nutshell. There are around five transportation themed levels (such as a train, a cruise ship, a zeppelin, etc), each of which has a mix of primary and secondary objectives, around a dozen hi-jinks, and close to 30 unique dolls to collect. It won't take days to finish, but it's a good length for a PSN title. Overall, the gameplay and story are somewhat simple, but they work well. More importantly, Stacking has a health dose of that DoubleFine charm, and that really makes it worthwhile.

No comments:

Post a Comment