Sunday, 12 August 2012

Review: Stacking

Stacking can only be described as an odd game, as it is based on the idea of Russian matroyshka dolls. Your character is the smallest type of doll possible and there are a wide variety of different dolls that you can stack in to, each having their own ability, that can be useful in some way. In a standard adventure game you may have an inventory full of items that you have to use at different points in the game; in Stacking you create a stack of dolls to get the doll you need to the location where it is needed. You can only stack into dolls one size bigger than you, so it is important to get the right stack of dolls together, especially later in the game when you have to combine the abilities of different dolls.

Stacking is bursting with style; it is set in the industrial age and told in the manner of a silent film, with characters communicating through muted gestures and title cards displaying the dialogue. The main antagonist of the game is simply called the Baron and wants to use child labour to fuel his developing country; you play as a young child who, suitable annoyed that all of your siblings have been taken away, sets out out to save them. The game takes place over four main areas, each with their own set of dolls, and reaches a climax in another area that requires you to combine the abilities of many dolls together.
Throughout the game you are given puzzles to complete to progress forwards; each puzzle has many solutions but, after the first few, you only have to find one solution to complete them. The problem is that every puzzle has a very simple solution, that will be in the immediate vicinity and won't require much thought, and after that you don't have to do the other solutions to progress; this makes game is exceeding easy to complete. Other ways to complete puzzles and collecting all the dolls in each area is a way to extend the game further, but it's just not enough; Stacking feels very light on content.

For such a short game it is pretty amazing how repetitive Stacking can get; each level follows the same pattern as you work your way towards a family member, rescue them, and then have a similar conversation with each of them, before moving on to the next. In the last level they all get captured again and you have to free them all again in quick succession. Towards the end of the game you have to mix two abilities to complete a challenge, but by then it is too late to be anything but under-used; it would have been better if you had to mix together the abilities of whole stacks of dolls.
Stacking's graphics are nothing special, but its character and level design do manage to set it apart. Stacking fully embraces its industrial setting and creates a rich and full world. Character animations are extremely well done here as dolls walk in different ways, have distinct and easily identifiable abilities and react to what you are doing. The sound design is also very well done; different dolls sound distinct, all abilities have fitting sounds associated with them and the music fits perfectly with the silent film method of story telling.

Generally Stacking seems to be a case of style over substance as it's visuals, animations and tongue in cheek humour are the only highlights; past Double Fine games have managed to mix these qualities with great gameplay too, but Stacking just feels somewhat lacking. Stacking falls short of its high potential and feels more like an overly long tech demo, though it starts with a unique idea and has innovative story telling, it is overly simple and feels dragged out. The first and last chapters stuck out in my mind as being especially good, whilst the three in-between felt boring and repetitive; as though they just copy and pasted the script to make it last longer.

No comments:

Post a Comment