Adventure, intrigue, mystery, disguise, and… Matryoshka dolls? Double Fine returns to Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network with Stacking; a new adventure-puzzle game set in a 1930's style world where a young Russian doll named Charlie Blackmore sets off to rescue his brothers and sisters from the nefarious Baron. The Baron is a cruel industrialist bent on using children as slave labor to run his empire and will do anything to get what he wants.
Stacking is one of the most unique creations that I've seen in a long time. This action puzzler uses the premise of matryoshka (or babushka) dolls( those little Russian dolls that stack a small one, inside a larger one, inside a larger one and so forth) as a device to not only progress through the game, but earn accomplishments within the game as well.
Each type of doll ranges in a different size and ability. These abilities can be anything from a simple handshake, to repairing different gadgets, flinging bananas, and even farting flowers. The trick is to find the proper ability and/or the right size doll to complete a given challenge in the game. Challenges are tasks that you must complete in order to progress through the story. However, one interesting thing that Double Fine has done with these challenges is to have multiple solutions for each one. And while you can go through and find each solution (which helps you unlock achievements and get ever closer to the 100% completed mark), you don't actually have to find each solution in order to progress further in the game.
There are also a number of side quests and accomplishments that you can do as well. Many of these accomplishments range from capturing unique dolls to complete sets, to performing "Hi-Jinks" (which are mini-challenges using a certain doll’s special ability on other dolls), to finding all of the different ways challenges can be accomplished. This adds quite a bit of re-play value to the game because you can actually go back to each of the different levels and continue through unlocking all of these side quests even after you've finished the overall story.
When a level has been completed, you return to the area that you began initially in the game to Charlie's secret hiding place. This is an area where Charlie's hobo friend, Levi, listens to Charlie's adventures and paints a grand mural in honor of each adventure. This also serves as a trophy room of sorts, where you can view all of the unique doll sets that you've collected, as well as a small painting that is only completed when the associated doll set and their respective Hi-Jinks challenges have been accomplished. But don't think for a minute that these challenges and collections are for your own self-satisfaction; All of these are tied to that 200 points of gamer score that we all love to collect.
One aspect that I really enjoyed the most out of this game is the puzzles. There are multiple ways to accomplish any given challenge. Many of these solutions require you to do a little bit of thinking outside of the box. For example, there is a challenge early on where you need to force the occupants of a particularly exclusive establishment out of the building. You could choose some way to either dupe the guard or sneak through another way, but I found it much more amusing to grab a doll whose special ability was flatulence and send a stink wave through the ventilation instead.
While you don't need to accomplish every little thing to make it through the game, there's a real feeling of satisfaction in doing so. However, don't think for a minute that just doing the bare minimums will make for a short game, as you can spend five or six hours doing just that. Of course, for those times when you get stuck, Double Fine has also added in a hint system to help you on your way that will either point you quite literally in the right direction (by providing a little trail for you to follow), or if needed, you can access more direct hints as to what needs to be done by heading into the menu.
The controls are very intuitive, and there's always an action reference on the screen if you ever need to take a look. This reference tree also lets you know what ability the doll you're currently controlling has. This makes things a lot easier if you're looking for a doll that can perform a specific task, as you don't have to experiment with them much in order to find out. Just jump in, take a look, and jump out. The only problem I really have with the control is that moving little Charlie isn't always the most fluid, especially when navigating tighter areas. But after you get used to the controls, it's not that big of a deal.
The crew at Double Fine has really put a lot of attention to detail into the look and feel of the game. The cut scenes are given the old 1930's style silent film treatment where instead of a vocal dialogue; period music is played over the top of the scene with text cards shown in between dialogue lines. The characters and environments are given the period look as well with a wide array of colors and styles to please the eye.
As a matter of fact, I'd say that Double Fine has really worked hard on every aspect of this game. The graphics and music are sharp and pleasing to the eyes and ears, and the story is robust and well written with many amusing and memorable moments. They've managed to add in some very unique elements to a puzzler that is really fresh and keeps you playing and exploring for hours. It's simple, yet very refined.
Double Fine has yet to disappoint me with any of the games that they've released on the console as of yet. As a matter of fact, their games only seem to get better with every new release. If you're looking to get your money’s worth out of your Microsoft Points or PSN Wallet, then look no further. This game is worth every penny.