They say it’s what’s inside that matters. For little Charlie Blackmore, what’s inside can be anything from a proud pugilist to a seductive siren or a homeless tramp with a heart of gold. He may look like the runt of the litter, but in his world of bouncing matryoshka dolls, he is king – wielding the power to jump inside larger dolls, one size at a time. Every body he takes has its own ability, and he’ll need all of them to rescue his kidnapped family, crush the ruthless Baron, and finally put a stop to his society’s cruel child labour laws. Hmmph. So much for children being seen and not heard...
Stacking is one of the most adorable adventures ever, with a brilliant central gimmick and moment after moment to make you smile. Most importantly, while it’s a short game, it’s one that constantly encourages experimentation. If you want to just blitz through it, you can, and you’ll be done in a couple of hours. None of its puzzles are difficult, and most are incredibly simple affairs where you just have to find a suitable doll to help you out, stack into a couple of intermediate ones to get big enough to hijack its life, and finally use its ability for something clever or just plain silly in a challenge area.
The twist is that each puzzle has multiple solutions, making the real challenge discovering the three to five other ways you could have solved them instead. Experimentation is what makes Stacking so much fun, not so much forcing you to play with its large cast of dolls as gently encouraging it: telling you how many solutions to look for, while still letting you move on whenever you like. You’ll also find plenty of scope for hi-jinks that reward you for having fun with the various powers, such as slapping people in the face. Stacking never spoils your enjoyment by adding those pesky ‘consequence’ things. It’s a pure comedy playset, there to be poked and prodded at your leisure.
Take the very first challenge. You need to get a train crew out of an exclusive lounge so that you can travel to the first proper destination, but the door is guarded – and unfortunately, by a guard who never turns his back on you so that you can simply stack into him. You can deal with this by finding an engineer to remove a fan in a nearby vent and sneaking in around the side, by finding a sexy, seductive, stacked-in-another-way doll capable of leading the guard away so that you can body-snatch him, or by combining the vent and a flatulent doll to create an impromptu gas attack. Later puzzles involve everything from stealing a mummy by jumping into it and simply walking away, to re-ordering several queues by jumping into a boxer type and punching everyone jolly hard in the face until they bloody well sort themselves out, the smelly oiks.
The only real issue is that while such easy solutions guarantee you can always stumble on the answer, after a while you start wishing for slightly more complicated puzzles that combine the dolls’ abilities in interesting ways. Despite being stacked into several dolls at a time, you usually only need one of them to get past any obstacle, and usually with a single use of their special ability at that. Ticking off all the solutions is time-consuming, but never exactly difficult.
What Stacking lacks in challenge though, it more than makes up for in charm. It’s a game that encourages you to mess around by leaping into a guy with a white glove and just smacking people in the face, and one that has no shame about featuring an army of noble hobos or a woman who farts potpourri. It may not be a very long game, but it is that rare breed of adventure that never frustrates while it lasts, and will keep you smiling like very few others.
Short but sweet – a relentlessly imaginative adventure from Double Fine that never wears out its welcome.