Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Stacking - Review

Stacking is a Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and Windows game developed by Double Fine Productions, the team that made games such as Brutal Legend and Psychonauts but is a smaller, arcade game like Costume Quest. It is a game about Russian stacking dolls with the core gameplay mechanic being that you can jump inside any NPC that is one size bigger than you and control them, with each one of them having a unique ability which can be used to complete tasks.

The concept is obviously quite unique and sounds good in theory, but to pull it off and still make the game interesting and fun would be a tall order for a game studio but with the unique comedy that Tim Schafer brings to all of Double Fine's games it makes it an interesting and amusing adventure around a wacky world that makes close to no sense and yet is a pleasure to explore.

From the beginning the game makes you wonder what you've just bought. It opens with some dolls which have a very simple model used for the majority of characters which is textured on a flat surface and while this actually works very well the immediate reaction is probably not the best one. The introductory scene then goes on to have no voice acting involved and instead uses text plaques in a similar style to old silent movies, whether this was a good choice or not I am not sure as it can make the cutscenes last a little longer than I would like them too and if I look away from the scene for a few seconds to talk to someone then I can miss part of the story. On the other hand when it is combined with the obvious stage setting and props it creates a weird but wonderful kind of cinematic.

So the game is a weird 3rd person game where you possess dolls, that may not seem so enthralling, but the real genius of the game comes from the characters and the abilities each one brings to the table. Finding different characters is always a treat as each one has a such a strong personality you can instantly get a feel for the kind of person they are and can even pretend to live their life for a short while. The abilities each one brings can be fun to use such as the 'Northern Kiss' head-but or simply shouting 'Good Day, Sir' in a hilarious manner as you watch the crowds of people around you give you weird looks. Some of these abilities come with an additional side mission such as the Northern Kiss in which you have a hit 5 different mime actors. Most of these are not difficult but can be fun a few moments in between tasks.

The missions themselves can all be solved in multiple ways with up to 5 solutions for some of them, this means you have to think outside of the box, generally 1 or 2 of them are easy to figure out so they won't slow down your game if you're just a casual gamer or have trouble getting your head around the mechanics but at the same time there are some solutions which involve real tactics and skill so if you want to complete them all and unlock all of the hidden gems within the game then you best have your thinking cap on.

The game is arguably too short, especially if you don't stop and linger on each task, but these games a only short arcade games so a full length game cannot be expected (although certainly wouldn't be unwelcome). These small games that Double Fine are making are fun little titles that are also good for testing the waters and experimenting with what gamers like, dislike and what they are willing to put up with.

I will hopefully return soon with the review of another of these short Double Fine games I picked up recently which is Iron Brigade (formally known as Trenched). Or at least I will once I can get Windows Live to let me play the game I actually paid for.

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