Stacking Review

The old school adventure game can be kinda hard on our brains these days; they tended to be mind-benders even when it was a genre of game we played often, but now it’s much harder on us. Every time I try  play one, be it Planetfall or the downloadable Monkey Island special editions, I find it hard to get into the groove required to make progress.

Part of the problem, of course, is that we’re no longer used to the kind of esoteric thinking necessary to solve the puzzles in those games, but the bigger problem, in my view, is that we’ve become so unused to the mechanics of those types of games that our ability to focus on the puzzles is diminished. The solution, by that line of thinking, would be to drag the genre into the current age in gaming by making them handle like current games. There are examples of current-gen games that kinda fit the adventure game mold, but, again, there’s nothing that’s quite so esoteric as what we used to deal with.


Stacking (PS3 [Reviewed], XBox360)
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: February 08, 2011
MSRP: $14.99

Enter Stacking. Stacking is an honest-to-god old school adventure game dressed like a modern game with a  third-person camera.

The hook is that you play as the smallest in a set of a Russian nesting dolls (your family), named Charlie Blackmore. The Blackmores are a family of chimney sweeps — this is sort of a period game — but all hi older siblings are kidnaps by the evil Baron, who really likes making use of child labor. He leave Charlie behind, though, because what use could that tiny little asshole be? Well, hold on for a second and I’ll tell you.

The convenient thing about being the smallest nesting doll is that all the other dolls are bigger than Charlie, which means he can stack inside them and take them over. This very simple mechanic is the heart of the game, and while it sounds a little odd, you’ll get the hang of it within the minute or two of gameplay.

In the adventure game formula, the other dolls are the items that you use to unlock doors, essentially. Each type of doll has some thing it does, like puking cookies everywhere or slapping folks with a handbag or singing loudly enough to break folks’ champagne glasses. This is where a lot of the game’s humor comes from, because it’s a veritable s–tload of fun to just wander around and find unique dolls and make them do stuff. The kid that pukes cookies kills me every time.

As Charlie travels around freeing his siblings, he’ll travel to a few hub world in which he’ll have a few puzzles to solve in order to progress, and he can attack these in any order. If you get stuck, you can just try some other puzzle. Too, each puzzle has several solutions, and it’s usually pretty simple to find one solution, but you can do the puzzles as many times as you want in order to find all the solutions.

That’s the genius of this game. It isn’t difficult to find one solution to each puzzle in order to progress through the game, but it is much more challenging to try to get all the solutions to all the puzzles. The frustration factor so closely related to adventure games in the past is nowhere to be found in Stacking, thanks to Lee Petty and Double Fine building it this way.

You’ll find that intensely-thoughtful, esoteric adventure game mindset is required if you want to unlock everything, but you’ll never get bogged down in it. Like Costume Quest, Stacking becomes a quite pleasant gaming experience, although Stacking is certainly a deeper experience than the last Double Fine downloadable game.

Stacking does have one more twist for the player: the cutscenes are silent films. Throwing that style into the mix emphasizes how truly unique a personality Stacking has, and it’s all the more pleasant and charming for it.

Stacking is just a nice game to have. It’s an excellent change-of-pace title, and folks who killed themselves trying to make it though all those 90s SCUMM adventures will greatly appreciate Lee Petty’s vision for the game. It’s without a doubt one of the must-purchase titles on the PSN and XBLA. What it wants to accomplish it does, and I really have no complaints about it whatsoever.

Pros:

  • True-old-school adventure game
  • The dolls are full of funny
  • Puzzles aren’t horribly frustrating!
  • One of the few games with a truly unique personality

Cons:

  • Could have been funnier?

Final score: 100/100

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