When Double Fine were robbed of the opportunity of making a sequel to Brütal Legend, I was naturally a bit dejected. I enjoyed Eddie Riggs and the age of metal and wanted more. But at that point I had no idea what direction the studio would take and in fact looking back it seems to have been a move that allows the studio an even greater creative outlet. Stacking follows Costume Quest as the second downloadable title out of four planned from the studio, and it's premise is as simple as it is fun. Stack dolls to solve puzzles.
The basic premise is built around Russian Matroyshka dolls where you stack smaller dolls inside larger ones, layer on layer. In Stacking you play as the very smallest doll of them all, Charlie Blackmore, who has to save various members of his family from the clutches of an overly evil Baron. It may sound like a simple enough storyline, and it is, but from the true insane nature of the game begins. The writing and dialogue is as good as you'd expect from a Double Fine title, and the quirky weird tasks you have to perform in order to save a family member and progress are hilarious. The dolls themselves don't have voices and when they speak they move a bit like the Canadians of South Park, their midst split open as if they were speaking from their bellies. The whole presentations is wrapped into an incredibly fitting silent film scenario, and the piano music fits just perfectly with the rest of the theme.
Progressing through the game is not very challenging, instead the challenge lies in discovering secrets and alternative ways of solving puzzles. There aren't that many areas to explore, but in order to truly complete the game you will have to spend a few hours in each area finding all the unique dolls, using various abilities to do all the hi-jinks and finding new, funny ways of solving the puzzles that are part of the main storyline.
I'm going to give you an example of how Stacking works using an optional quest aboard the steam ship. Two brothers who are musicians want to get inside the club to play their instruments (jug and washboard combo), but stacking into them won't get you in as they are dirty and not properly dressed. Now you can either stacked up with some well dressed gentleman or lady and have them escort the brothers in, or perhaps go and have an extreme crayon makeover for one of the brothers in the ship's "beauty parlour", or you could do it by helping the nearby pirate feed his parrot. In order to do this you have to stack into a boy who constantly eats cookies, his ability is to "toss cookies" and thus he can feed the parrot. Now the pirate will escort you inside the club (his special ability is the yell "YAR!" by the way). Mission accomplished.
Exploring the different abilities of the dolls and how they can solve puzzles is a lot of fun. Aboard the same ship there are boys who fart, a pied piper, adventurers (one can mummify other dolls), pelicans, a little dog, an illusionist family who can perform tricks and much, much more.
The creativity has really been flowing and there are so many wonderful details from character names such as Ambassador Bon Appetit, to a judge whose ability it is to "deliver justice" and whacks people in the head yelling "Community service!", to little things like what a chef says when you fart him in the face "What's a little extra flavour among friends?", to the simple true-to-doll movement animations that are sure to bring a smile out. For a title not developed by Peter Molyneux there is an awful lot of farting in Stacking. In one instance I tried to negate the effects of some toxic gas with a toxic leak of my own only to told it seemingly just made matter worse. Apparently you cannot fight gas with gas.
With all its wonderfully quirky appeal there are still some issues with Stacking that prevents me from scoring it higher. I would have liked the game to have had a more subtle hint system, instead of the three tier written hints and the glowing blue line that directs your way, and the puzzles are perhaps not complex enough to really challenge you (the challenge lies in finding all the solutions, not the one solution). But perhaps challenge isn't what this game is about, it's meant to be enjoyed at a comfortably pace with a plate of cookies and some tea. This a tiny little adventure that is sure to put a big smile on your face. Get stacking!