Being a PC gamer – that is to say being locked away in my darkened room, posting elitist comments about quick saves on PC-only websites whilst stroking my £80 backlit keyboard – I’d not heard of Stacking until it had actually been released. This is one of the downsides of being such a gaming snob - you may miss out on some console treats that pass under your cocked snook. Sometimes – sometimes - it pays to keep tabs on the proles. After all, it’s not beyond the realms of reason that one used to foie gras and the finest Sauternes can still enjoy the odd Pot Noodle with their can of Excelsior.
Stacking is a game by Double Fine (of Psychonauts fame) in which you play a Russian doll, in what looks like a 1920s version of America populated entirely by other Russian dolls, who’s out to rescue his family who have been kidnapped and forced into child labour in order to pay the bills. You do this by stacking with the other dolls – you can only stack with dolls of the next size up (and larger sizes are unlocked as you play) – and using their abilities to overcome various puzzles and situations. It’s like a modern day Victorian Paradroid (or Quazatron if you’re a Spec-chum).
You take control (using mouse and keyboard, natch) of little Charlie Blackmore, the smallest doll in the family, and bimble off on your way to wherever your brother and sisters are being held captive – be it working on a cruise liner, or shovelling coal in the darkest depths of the train station. Each area is teeming with different types of doll, and has tasks that need to be accomplished in order for your siblings to be released. Most of these tasks have multiple solutions – each achieved using a different doll and their particular skill. For example, your first visit to the train station requires you to clear an exclusive club out so the Railway Union reps that are drinking there return to work, thus enabling the trains to run letting you get to the other locations. Gaining entry to club is the challenge, but there are several ways of doing it; do you lure the bouncer away with the sexy widow doll (who wiggles her hips in an alluring manner as her special ability), or do you use the maintenance doll to unscrew the ventilation ducts before switching to a smaller doll to make your way through? Complete the task one way, and it remains in the game so you can go back and try it again with different solutions until you’ve seen everything.
Each area is fairly small, and you can work your way through them in no time at all (a few hours from start to finish if you’re one of those daft speed gamers who ignore everything that’s good about games), but they’ve got an awful lot of replay value. There are hoards of dolls in each area and just stacking into them to try out their special abilities is top fun – some break wind spectacularly, others play instruments, some just bark out bizarre utterances. Every ability has a specific reaction from the other dolls, so you’ll end up trying everything you can think of. Attempting to 100% all the tasks is good fun too, and rewarding as you can unlock different scenes for your hideaway (a friendly hobo doll decorates your hideaway after hearing the tales of your adventures). There are additional side tasks in each area, such as ‘High Jinks’ where you use your abilities to wreak havoc. There’s an awful lot to do, see and hear.
It’s all held together with some utterly sumptuous presentation. Double Fine have absolutely nailed the feel the era – all cut scenes are presented in a silent movie style, complete with jumpy projector and exaggerated movements from the doll actors. The music is beautiful – piano tunes that sound like they could’ve been written by Scott Joplin, suitable jazz, classical tunes – it all fits the mood perfectly. In fact, the ambience of the whole thing reminds me of Jeeves and Wooster, which is a Very, Very Good Thing Indeed. Double Fine’s humour shines through as well – lots of daft incidental animations, silly one-liners (in the subtitles), and comedy sound effects litter the game. Nothing aggressive – all good natured and warm-hearted.
Stacking’s a beautiful game: a strange concept wonderfully realised and executed with real flair. In fact, it’s the perfect game to ease the burden that comes with having such a superior gaming machine.