Ostensibly a casual puzzle game, Stacking’s novel game mechanic, distinctive art style and colourful world will draw in almost everyone. You take on the role of Charlie Blackmore, the youngest (and smallest) of a family of matryoshka, or Russian nesting dolls if you prefer. The Depression-era story is one of child labour as Charlie must rescue his siblings who have been pressed into service by a corrupt industrialist.
Set against this backdrop — complete with silent film inspired cutscenes to progress the story — the game itself is a light-hearted romp rather than heavy-handed social commentary. Charlie can do little alone, but has the ability to jump inside the other dolls that populate environments. Doing so lets him use their abilities to solve puzzles. The draw is that each puzzle has multiple solutions and while finding one or two is usually swift, others will take some creative thinking.
If you breeze through for the story alone, Stacking may feel somewhat slim even at its low downloadable price. However the urge to collect the unique dolls and discover all the puzzle solutions encourages return trips to completed areas and will keep most players engrossed for several hours.
While Tim Schaefer’s critically-lauded creativity has not resulted in the financial success it deserves, it’s great to see that Double Fine has found a way to push through fresh and interesting game design (between this and last year’s Hallowe’en-themed Costume Quest) in a small package that reduces the innovation risk associated with large-scale releases. While their next big project gestates, this provides developers with a creative outlet and keeps fans happy, so it’s hard to see a downside. Perhaps more studios should take note as the downloadable game market continues to mature.