The last game, Costume Quest, launched around Hallowe'en to generally positive acclaim, providing a unique spin on the traditional turn-based RPG formula. Similarly to Costume Quest, Stacking works a charming concept into some traditional adventure game mechanics, honing in on the simple premise of item combination.
Set in a whimsical world occupied by Russian stacking dolls, players will assume the role of Charlie Blackmore, a tiny doll set on a quest to rescue his missing family. Playing as Charlie, players are presented with a series of puzzles in which Charlie must stack inside other dolls to find solutions. For example, one early mission requires Charlie to break into a private bar. Unfortunately the bouncer is determined to hold his post — unless of course a damsel in distress should catch his attention. To solve the puzzle, Charlie can assume the role of different dolls, before he is one size below a tempting looking lady. Taking the place of the woman, Charie can lure the guard away from the door and gain entry to the club. Alternatively, Charlie can seek out a mechanic and gain access to a vent leading inside the club. Both are simple examples, but indicative of how the gameplay in Stacking is set out.
Stacking rarely changes its formula over the length of its three-four hour campaign, providing a variety of similar puzzles throughout. While the puzzles are fairly simple to solve, there are multiple solutions to each, offering the game longevity beyond its narrative. Upon finishing the main storyline, we had only completed 38% of Stacking's challenges, and of course there are trophies and unlockables available to incetivize further exploration.
Similarly to Costume Quest, Stacking takes its single gameplay mechanic and runs with it. As good as the mechanics are, it can feel a bit one-dimensional next to the wonderful world DoubleFine's created. Spanning four different environments, Stacking looks absolutely sensational. The Russian dolls provide a stop-motion sensibility that compliments the game's soft sepia tones and charming silent movie cut-scenes. It's certainly unlike anything else, and towards the end it carries the repetitive nature of the game's core-structure. The music, which will annoy everyone else in the room, is also wonderfully fitting, offering dense piano melodies that supplement the atmosphere perfectly. Additional visual effects such as blurring and camera flicker really add to the game's mood, which is without doubt its greatest strength.
Stacking's simple blend of exploration and combination puzzles make it an easy game to unwind to. There's nothing particularly head-scratching about the challenges, but the solutions are charming and satisfying throughout. With every doll occupying a unique ability — from simplistic actions such as "Dance", to more complex tasks like "Seduce" — there are multiple resolutions to each puzzle, adding longevity to the game. There's an optional hint system for those struggling to meet the demands of the game, but we rarely used it throughout our initial playthrough.
While Stacking has a fairly concise campaign, the game piles on plenty of replay value through various sub-challenges and tasks. Hi-jinks reward the completion of simple tasks through cryptic clues, while other side-quests require the complete construction of full doll-sets. Each of the game's quests play into a pretty cool interactive progress room constructed by Levi the Hobo. Puzzle solutions are represented by paintings, models and jigsaws that are filled in as they are solved.
Each doll in Stacking has a slightly different weight to it, affecting the controls. When playing as Charlie, this can feel a little bit twitchy. It's not a particularly big problem, but it can get frustrating when trying to navigate vents and tunnels.
Once the initial excitement of Stacking's core gameplay mechanics have worn off, the mission structure does get a bit predictable. Each level requires the release of a number of captive characters, and culminates in a task requiring the combination of their unique abilities. While the structure presents itself well at first, it suffers from a repetition towards the end of the campaign, which is short in itself.
The simplistic level structure also leads to some linearity in the environments. The last level in particular, which takes place aboard a triple-decker train, funnels Charlie from puzzle-to-puzzle, leaving little room for exploration, which is a bit disappointing.
Stacking may rely on its art-style a little too heavily when the novelty of its gameplay mechanics wear thin, but it's still another admirably creative downloadable effort from DoubleFine.