Stacking: review

Let’s face it: Stacking has a weird, weird concept. In a world populated solely by Russian nesting dolls, Charlie Blackmore (a diminutive fellow with a plucky spirit) must struggle against the Industrial Revolution itself to rescue his kidnapped siblings from the clutches of the evil, monocle-sporting Baron. It’s a daunting task considering the rampant use of child labour and stubbornly dimwitted adults that thwart Charlie at every turn, but the young lad has plenty of gumption and an incredibly useful power called stacking at his disposal.

By sneaking up behind a fellow doll, Charlie can leap inside of him or her and take full control, including access to the victim’s innate ability. This process can continue as larger and larger dolls are found, each figure disappearing into the last one’s shell as is custom with nesting dolls. With strategic use of stacking, the myriad of puzzles and challenges scattered around the world can be approached in a variety of ways, and the game encourages creativity when solving them.

For example, the head chef of a cruise ship may order you to leave his perfect mixture of gruel alone, yet you clearly wish to upset the caviar distribution for noble reasons of your own. You could stack into one of the chefs and use his talent to dump gruel thickener into the meal, thereby ruining the texture; conversely, you might smuggle one of the larger guests through the back door and shove the whole caviar cart into the ocean. Every puzzle has a set number of possible solutions, and striving to complete them all is a great way to prolong the experience. Merely going with the most obvious route generally yields victory, however, and you will have no shortage of hints and clues along the way, making Stacking an absolute breeze to finish. Still, completing all solutions is rewarding, and the fun-filled happenings will keep most potential cases of the doll-drums at bay.

A great deal of Stacking’s appeal comes from interacting with the dozens of denizens inhabiting the Royal Train Station (the game’s hub world) and its three adjoining levels. Their abilities range from useful to endearingly pointless, and simply running about and seeing what they do makes for a good laugh. Imperious gentlemen harrumph their way through crowds, coal miners dig up debris with their shovels, and industrialists stamp down literal carbon footprints, just to name a few. The dolls are animated in a subtly choppy fashion that mimics a stop-motion video, and the handful of entertaining cutscenes are played out in a silent film style to great effect. The subdued classical music that plays throughout the game highlights the theme nicely, often adding to the authenticity and humour of the situation. Presentation-wise, Stacking is positively dapper.

It won’t take long to defeat the less-than-well-thought-out final boss and watch the credits roll, but helping Charlie to complete his quest is only half the fun. Completionists will have a grand time going back to puzzle out every solution, collect all the dolls, and satisfy a whole mess of special conditions for rewards, much of which could easily be missed the first time through. You’ll find little in the way of challenge or depth in this game, but the entirely delightful premise and odd brand of humour make up for these drawbacks. If nothing else, Stacking fits snugly into the new line of Double Fine games that wouldn’t hold up well via full release, but are easily worth experiencing in the comfortable realm of digital downloads.┬áIt’s not often a game can truly be called unique, but Stacking’s bizarrely original gameplay mechanics and imaginative, Victorian-esque setting earn it the title.


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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it’s a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

2 comments

  1. KrazyFace /

    When I fist spotted this as a demo I went for it straight away, and although I’ve only gone through the demo (so far) I’d have to say this is by far one of the nicest little games I’ve come across for a while. At first I was always skeptical about the idea of download only games, but if games such as Flower, flOw, Pixel Junk Shooter, Eden and now Stacking are a taster of what will be produced from it all, then I’m beginning to feel a lot more comfortable with the whole thing.

    • half_empty80 /

      I gotta agree. This game is utterly charming and great quality. It’s availible for pocket money. There’s even a trial version. Everyone should give it a go!

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