Written by Brock Poulsen Friday, 11 February 2011 06:00
THQ, along with Tim Schafer's indie darling game company Double Fine, have brought us Stacking for the XBLA and PSN, an oddly alluring game that takes puzzles, exploration, and charming dialog and visuals, and stacks them all together in a gorgeous and very fun package.
The idea is based around Russian nesting dolls. Your character can jump into dolls that are one size larger, taking control of their persona and their unique abilities. You then use them to interact with other dolls and ultimately to solve puzzles. The first of which is to empty a VIP lounge of train conductors, so they can break up the striking coal workers. “Quirky” hardly begins to describe this game. There are multiple ways to solve each puzzle. And there are side-puzzles to solve like finding sets of dolls that go together. There's also little touches like the doll whose ability is to sip tea. That's it. Who knows if you'll ever use it to solve a puzzle, but small things like that give this game the feeling of a toybox, where goals are present but the main objective is fun.
The first thing to notice are the visual details. The environments are made from playing cards, push pins, and other little knick-knacks. The story is presented in the style of old-time silent movies, complete with fake scratches on the film. The characters move like a Russian nesting doll would have to: a back-and-forth waddle (with the exception of the seductive doll who moves with considerably more hip-shaking). All of these seemingly minor details contribute to the overall whimsical and fun feeling of the game. Even my wife was noticing and appreciating the details, which is definitely saying something.
A big part of this story (at least to me) is the unique strategy that Double Fine is taking with their recent game releases. Prior to Stacking was Costume Quest, a well-received return to turn-based RPGs, this one with a childhood Halloween theme. The interesting thing is that both these games have been released as download-only titles. This requires less financial risk from developers, and thus allows for more experimental and niche type games like Stacking. I, for one, wish Double Fine the best of luck; it looks like they'll keep making interesting, innovative games.