Last week I bought the Xbox Live Arcade game Stacking, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Admittedly, before I purchased it, I thought 1200 Microsoft Points was a bit steep for any Arcade game, but, after playing it to 100% completion, I don’t in any way feel ripped off. In the game you control a Russian doll called Charlie Blackmore, he’s the smallest, inner-most doll, and during the game you take control of larger dolls by “stacking” inside of them, working up through the different sizes one step at a time. Each doll you possess has their own special ability, and they vary between the more mundane things, such as the ability to punch other dolls, or barge them out of the way, to the more fun, like the ability to throw up cookies, or, to put it politely, the ability to pass wind. Each level in the game basically consists of several puzzles, usually in their own small room or area, set within a larger open area you can walk around. Each area has loads of dolls of varying size wandering around, and in order to solve the puzzles you have to hijack the correct doll and use its respective ability correctly. Each puzzle usually has three to five different ways it can be solved, but the story progresses after you find just one. However, to encourage you to experiment, and to add to the game’s length, after you first complete a puzzle it is reset so you can try again, but the story dependent character/object etc. doesn’t reappear, i.e. if the puzzle involves opening a door to let somebody out, then the second time you do it the door will open with nobody behind it. This was a good design decision, because finding one solution is usually very easy, but finding all of them usually requires a bit more thinking. If you get stuck with any of the solutions the game includes an in-built hints system, which, again, is a good feature. As well as the puzzles, each level also has a list of “hijinks” for you to complete, these are additional tasks which usually involve using one doll’s special ability on another several times, for example using the doll with the punch ability to punch five other dolls, or sometimes they are a single special task using a combination of several dolls’ abilities. There are no hints for these, and completing them all requires quite a bit of thought, and perhaps a bit of luck too, but again they add to the overall feel that the game is pushing you towards just having fun trying different things.
It occurred to me while writing this that Stacking’s basic premise, the central character has no powers of their own but can gain them by taking over other dolls, is very similar to a game on the N64 called Space Station Silicone Valley. If I remember correctly, and it was a very long time ago when I played it, in that game you controlled a microchip that could move but couldn’t do much else, except take over the corpses of dead animals, which would then reanimate them and give you the powers you needed to progress through the game. Interestingly, Space Station Silicone Valley was made by the same people as Grand Theft Auto, but I digress. Anyway, despite the fact that a long forgotten N64 game had a very similar basic idea, I don’t think I’ve played a game quite like Stacking. The art style is quite unlike anything else and the game’s filled with humour, in fact one of the cutscenes near the end of the game made me burst out laughing, no easy feat. But perhaps above everything else it’s very enjoyable to play, and you don’t want it to end. Perhaps the game’s only real flaw is that this end comes too quickly, but people always want good games to be longer, so perhaps I am being a bit harsh. Also, I must admit that I felt the very last part of the game, where you take on the game’s main antagonist in what is effectively a boss fight, didn’t work as well as the rest of the game, simply because you are only given one way to complete your task, which doesn’t give you any room to experiment as the rest of the game does. But overall I think you’d be hard pushed to get better value for 1200 Microsoft Points, because I enjoyed every minute. Hopefully it will be a big enough success to warrant a sequel.