Stacking

Stacking might force you to buy a Matryoska...

By canana, Posted 04 Mar 2011

If you know the creator of some of the most important franchises in gaming history, like Grim Fandango, Monkey Island, Full Throttle and the latest Brutal Legend, then you know what to expect in this game. Schafer is not only famous for coining quality games, but also ones with lots of personality - the examples cited above reflect that. Furthermore, the designer usually comes up with unique ideas that can give fresh air to an industry dominated by shooting, post-apocalyptic worlds, and excessive violence. Schafer gives life to inanimate objects among toys, Russian dolls known as matryoskas. Chances are you've probably heard of them, but never imagined that they could be in a videogame as the main character. This is where the designer amazes us once again.

A relatively simple way, but with a proposal and an atmosphere that could only have come from a genius mind like Schafer’s. The narrative, as always, is almost enough to win the game highlights, but still offers puzzle elements in ways you’ve never seen before. Without a doubt, you will be surprised with Stacking even before the game begins. The title exudes the word whimsical in its art direction, something which can be given already in the game’s very stylized menus, which combine with the whole atmosphere inspired in Victorian times that we find throughout the game.

Stacking, Review

However, in the first scene you realize that Stacking isn't a conventional title at all. Schafer decided to narrate the whole story through cut-scenes that are straight out of a silent movie. Yes, there is no voice acting during the cutscenes, only one relevant orchestrated track with text. The player sees the action and, shortly thereafter, gives the text referring to the previous scene to better understand the concept. All of this is done in a masterly manner, with all aspects of classic cinema printed on the screen - you hear the sound of the projector, giving you the impression that you're really in the movies.

Another interesting point is the game’s plot. The game takes place in broad industrial era, where the family Blackmore is living an everyday, quiet life. The father of the family mysteriously disappears, leaving them with a huge debt. With that in mind, the much-feared Baron, known for forcing children to work, decides to do some collecting. The result? The children of Blackmore end up being enslaved to pay their family’s debts. With this, the hero will have to talk extensively with any other matryoska who crosses his path to acquire information about the whereabouts of his other siblings. Charlie goes through several different places, doing all kind of missions to find clues that will help him find the rest of his family. It's worth spending time exploring the city to see what each of the puppets has to say. Schafer's talent is reflected in the personality created in the dolls, ranging from cooks to British boxers--who will not hesitate to strike you, by the way--if necessary.

Stacking’s storyline and presentation are really nice, doing justice to the tradition established by Double Fine. Now, the gameplay? How does it work, exactly? Fortunately, the gaming experience is fully connected to the plot and the matryoskas, resulting in a completely homogeneous formula. One of the tricks is in the unique abilities of each of the dolls. In addition to having distinct personalities, the dolls also offer skills that can be used both to solve problems for Charlie or just plain fun. Many of the missions in the game require you to use the skills of certain matrioskas to get access to specific places or to meet key matryoskas for the journey to find his brothers. The cool thing about it is that each mission has several different outcomes, although the player only needs one to advance in the campaign. Still, it is a waste to not try all the solutions for each mission. Many of what you will find is totally unexpected and very creative. Fortunately, there is a hint system that offers players help without spoiling any surprises.

Stacking, Review

Unfortunately, Stacking suffers with some technical problems. The game's engine often does not realize what's happening on the screen, resulting in a noticeable drop in frame rate. Otherwise, the gameplay is somewhat clumsy, with the turnover often imprecise and unresponsive. Another problem is the actual length of the game. If the player wants to play through just the main plot - something that, frankly, find it difficult - you have your hands on a title that takes less than four hours to finish. Also, Stacking does not have any multiplayer. It would’ve been really interesting if we had missions that would require a combination of several matryoskas, something that would make the experience even more dynamic.

Stacking is a peculiar title, and many players may even be turned off at first sight. However, the mind of Tim Schafer has always managed to create a very fun experience, using only Russian dolls and a great script. It’s a tiered formula in which the player embodies various dolls to take advantage of their skills, and brings a fresh air to the video game industry. Schafer is no stranger to game-making mastery, and it shows. Those looking for puzzles that ultimately go beyond the standards in favor of smart challenges and good humor must visit the world of Stacking.

Marco Cecilio, NooobFeed

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  • I remember this review. Had to find it out after seeing your blog post. I wish I could play it.


    Posted Mar 07, 2011

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General Information

Stacking

77/100

Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3
Publisher(s): Double Fine
Developer(s): THQ
Genres: Puzzle
Themes: Action
Release Date: 2011-02-08

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