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Stacking is an unsettling mesh of industrial revolution, socialism and stacking Russian dolls. However, it's the layered solutions to each puzzle and wonderfully simple interface that really makes this something special.
It would be terrifying for me to lose my family. The idea of them being taken and not knowing their fate would torment me, so the beginning of Stacking came as something of a shock. Silent movie styled cut scenes frame the introduction well, but its jaunty tone sits in contradiction to the horror of a young boy, Charlie, watching as his siblings are taken into slavery by an evil Baron. This would be too much for any normal child, but Charlie is far from normal and without a thought the tiny hero sets off to retrieve his family.
Charlie's confidence comes from his Matryoshka ability to stack inside larger dolls and inherit their powers to overcome obstacles. It is an appealing and easily grasped concept that allows Stacking to remain simple in terms of control, while revelling in the creativeness of its puzzles.
Double Fine's roots can be traced back to point and click adventures. These were games that required feats of logic so absurd that to understand them fully required either genius or lunacy. Stacking retains this strangeness but progress remains constant thanks to the structure of its problems. Every task has a number of increasingly difficult answers of varying ingenuity. It is an interesting carrot that inspires replaying puzzles to uncover every possible solution.
We see this in the first puzzle, where Charlie is trying to get to three characters in the guarded VIP lounge. At first this seems to be a simple possess-the-guard puzzle, but the doll at the door keeps his eyes constantly trained on Charlie making it impossible to get behind him (a requirement to take control of another doll). Other more creative methods must be employed.
It would be terrifying for me to lose my family.
The first answer I found, which probably says more about me than it does about the game, was to seduce the guard. By stacking inside the right doll (an attractive widow) it was a simple task to use her special ability to attract the eagle eyed doorman, allowing me to stack inside him and then enter the room. This revealed itself as solution two of three. Intrigued I began to search for other answers.
An alternate way into the lounge was an air vent, but with no clear access. However, a flatulent doll gave me an idea. I leaped inside, sauntering up to the fan to let rip. The result was suitably comical, as the fan transported the smell into the room with causing an immediate evacuation.
Two solutions down but I was stumped on the first, supposedly most obvious answer. Spying a doll wearing opera glasses I stacked with her to use her ability of finding other nearby useful characters. This revealed what I had embarrassingly missed -- a doll right next to the vent holding a wrench. I quickly used him to unbolt the vent and with that I had my three solutions.
As you can see here, Stacking is beautifully conceived, both in terms of appearance and puzzles. The environment signpost solutions, and a hint system means you never feel completely stumped.
At heart Stacking may deal with some dark subject matters.
A picturesque world pulls all these puzzles together creating a real sense of place. This ties the industrial revolution and socialist themes in well in a way that doesn't feel forced or overbearing. Stacking feels coherent and whole.
While at heart Stacking may deal with some dark subject matters, the charming silent movie aesthetic and humour that revels in its own joyous logic ensure that the grave nature of Charlie's fight to free his family never encroaches on the fun.
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