STACKING / Double Fine / PC
 
 
Stacking is very similar to previous Double Fine release Costume Quest in that it's long on the charm, wit and imaginative world to explore, but unfortunately much shorter on the gameplay.

For pure originality, the game gets a 5 - Russian matryoska (stacking) dolls that walk and talk inhabit an industrial Victorian sort of world, and the story progresses in silent movie cutscenes (complete with old-timey piano and violin soundtrack). You play as Charlie Blackmore, youngest son of the struggling Blackmore family. Dad goes off to start a new job as a head chimney sweep, but never returns, and within weeks the family is penniless and an evil Baron conscripts all the children as labor to cover their debts. All except Charlie, who is considered too runty for manual labor as of yet.
 


Charlie has the miraculous power to control larger dolls by sneaking up behind them and inserting himself (ahem), which no one else in the world seems to have. You wonder why the family is in dire poverty with this ability at their disposal, but anyway. Charlie sets out to find and rescue his siblings, who turn out to be slaving away on the Baron's various luxury vehicles -- a cruise ship, a zeppelin, and a triple-decker train.

A couple of wrinkles to the gameplay make it a bit more challenging than just possessing any old doll. Charlie can only capture a doll that's slightly larger than he is, and each doll has their own unique abilites -- from maintenance men who can repair things to drunks who rip a powerful toot on command. Of course, there's various puzzles you have to solve to get through the levels to your siblings, which require creative use of these abilities.

Well, very mildly creative. Puzzles are often one step only, and the solution is sitting right in front of them. The first pass through the game offers very little challenge -- it's almost "push A to win", really.
 


Defenders of the gameplay will argue that that's missing the point -- the easy solution is there just to open the game world up quickly, and the real challenge is in finding the two or three alternate solutions to each puzzle. The problem with that is that the alternate solutions are almost never very challenging, either -- they just involve walking a bit farther away from the puzzle to find another ability that's obviously suited to it. The potential of having complex puzzles revolving around the different stacking sizes never seems to be realized all that well. The only time the game is really challenging is when it's being obtuse; for example, sometimes alternate puzzle solutions aren't initially available as a character has to magically appear after you've progressed a certain amount in the game, but that's not made apparent anywhere.

Still, given the almost universal positive reviews (slightly more positive scoring than this one), toodling about in another adorable Double Fine universe just soaking up the atmosphere and charm seems to be more than enough for many people, even if the gameplay and overall playtime are somewhat wanting. That seems to be Double Fine's whole deal these days, I get the sense the development process there is "come up with high artistic concept first, then somehow make some sort of gameplay fit into it even if it isn't really all that great." You can pinch this one on sale fairly often for 3 or 4 bucks, though, and at that price I think it's worth a gamble to see if it fires your coal engine.
 
 
 
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