Stacking is a small title that will grab your heart, put it inside of a Matryoshka doll and it won’t let go until you finish playing.
I’m a fervent believer that independent developers have their own DNA and even when their projects are different from each other, those games share more than we think. That’s certainly the case with Double Fine Productions who develops quirky and adorable games that cater to a specific audience and puzzle adventure game Stacking is another entry in the series of unrelated titles that are more similar than they look like at first sight. That alone should make you want to play it and if it doesn’t, keep reading.
Set in what appears to be the British Industrial Revolution, Stacking puts you in the shoes (actually none of the characters have shoes, but bear with me) of a child who’s on a mission to reunite with his family. Am I forgetting something? Oh, of course. In Stalking, everyone is a Matryoshka doll and not only is this appealing from a visual perspective, but it’s also part of the gameplay. Despite the simple premise, Stacking is all about quirky humor, meeting adorable characters, being immersed in a charming world and using some unique mechanics.
So you’re always exploring three-dimensional environments and getting inside other dolls. As simple as it sounds, this mechanic allows you to use other dolls’ special abilities to solve the puzzles that punctuate this adventure. Abilities range from intimidating people, shooting a cork gun, slapping and the list goes on and on. I found most puzzles simple enough, but challenging and entertaining. Should you get stuck though, you can always pause the game and use the three-step hint system or push a button to see where you’re supposed to go next.
Apart from the main puzzles, there are several side-quests that involve collecting complete sets of dolls, finding unique dolls, solving additional puzzles and more. Personally, I never felt the draw to complete all the extra content, but that was because I was more than happy with the main campaign. Nevertheless, I can see a lot of people interested in checking out the side-quests and reaching the 100% goal.
Visually, the game does some compelling things. First, let me just say that this is a unique-looking game and that you’ll be hard pressed to find something that looks remotely similar. Also, the fact that the characters don’t speak and that everything in the game emanates charm already makes the game funny to look at. The presentation resembles classic films and if there’s something in particular that I didn’t like is that there are several cutscenes interrupting the action and some of them are quite long. This is aggravated by the fact that the game isn’t that long in the first place (finishing the campaign should take you between 4 or 5 hours, though that number can easily double if you want the 100% completion rate.) In fact, if you just focus on the story, you can plow through this game and complete it in 2 or 3 hours. But finishing the campaign is just a small part of what Stacking has to offer, since there are dolls to unlock, additional challenges, hi-jinks to complete and secrets to find.
The soundtrack is simply fantastic and it’s something that stands out as soon as you start playing. The game has several orchestral pieces and while I never found myself humming any of those tunes outside of the game, I often stopped playing just to listen to the song that was playing. But underneath that simplistic premise, pretty coat of paint and amazing soundtrack lies a truly heartfelt and memorable story. All the other parts are terrific and when everything comes together, the result is something unique, special and memorable.
It’s worth pointing out that I reviewed the Steam version of the game which comes with downloadable content. Titled “Hey, Hobo King”, this DLC features an entire new chapter and as its name suggests, it focuses on the elusive character called Hobo King. This chapter adds some extra content and it should take you an hour to see everything it has to offer which includes the story, challenges, hi-jinks and characters.
In the end, Stacking is a special and memorable indie game that, unfortunately, a lot of people will never play. If you’re remotely interested in its bizarre premise, if you want to try something different or if you simply want to know why Double Fine Productions is an adored developer, give Stacking a chance. This is a small title that will grab your heart, put it inside of a Matryoshka doll and it won’t let go until you finish playing.