Upon first hearing the premise of a game that tasked players to play and take over Russian matryoshka dolls, I was both confused and intrigued. Leave it up to the creative minds over at Double Fine Productions to think of something so outrageously unique. Stacking follows the exploits of a young, miniature stacking doll named Charlie Blackmoore. His older siblings all get abducted by the dastardly Baron, and are forced into a life of child labor on many of his establishments. Charlie's ability to stack into other dolls breathes courage into the little guy and he sets off to not only free his siblings but to bring down the Baron for good.
That's an impressive amount of story to squeeze into a game about stacking dolls, but it comes together all quite well. The premise is that since you're the smallest of all stacking dolls, you can only hop into a doll one size bigger than you. Each doll has a special ability, some which are crucial to solving puzzles and others that just serve to amuse you with their silliness. You'll come across dolls that fart, slap people with gloves, do uppercuts, have a sugar rush, throw bananas, or even throw up cookies. When not solving puzzles, you'll find that most of your time is spent messing around with these abilities and watch as the other dolls react to you.
While games nowadays often tout the possibility to solve a single goal multiple ways, Stacking outright tells players how many ways a single goal can be solved. For instance, one of the first goals of the game tasks you with clearing out a VIP room. One of the ways to solve it is to find the doll that farts, and let one rip through the ventilation system until everyone runs out. Once you've done this however, the goal is cleared and you can move on with the story. Only dedicated players will stick around, or come back and figure out the rest later, but the need to only solve each goal only a single way makes this game terribly short for non-completionists.
If you're one of those gamers who finds satisfaction in earning a 100% completion, you'll find a lot to like here. Not only are there loads of unique dolls to find in each of the four levels and the train station hub, but there are also activities called 'Hi-Jinks.' These are essentially activities that require you to use a certain dolls abilities on others. For example one of the dolls have an ability called the 'Northern Kiss' which headbutts other dolls, and you complete his Hi-Jink once you headbutt five different Mime dolls. They're not all overly clever, and are mostly there to lengthen the playtime, but they are humorous and will have you smirking each time you pull them off.
The shortness of the game should definitely not detract from the overall experience however. The game looks absolutely gorgeous, with dioramas made up of lifesized everyday items, as well as cardboard cutouts. The silent film style cutscenes have a certain charm to them as the play out, and they fit the Victorian time period that the game takes place in. If you're up for something completely unique that's not overly challenging, but still entertaining, then give Stacking a try. You'll definitely start seeing stacking dolls in a whole new way.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]