Stacking First Look Preview

A friend's grandmother has a collection of Russian nesting dolls. I would always notice them and wonder what their purpose ultimately was. What led some artist to come up with the idea of dolls stacking into one another? Tim Schafer and the design team at Double Fine don't have the answer for me, but they have opened a whole new avenue for my curiosity about Russian nesting dolls by creating a world for them in a game called Stacking.

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Stacking is the latest creative efforts from the makers of Brutal Legend and Costume Quest. The game is set in the miniature world of Russian nesting dolls. Little Charlie Blackmore is the smallest nesting doll in the land, living with his family of chimney sweeps. One day his father disappears, which doesn't sit well with the evil industrialist he works for. Without Charlie's father around to work, the industrialist takes Charlie and his brothers and sisters, and puts them to work in various locales around the land. It's up to Charlie to venture around and solve puzzles in order to free his family from their laborious confines.

In this first demo of the game, I saw the principles of Russian nesting dolls exercised in dozens of unique ways. As the smallest of the dolls, Charlie can stack himself into any doll that's one size larger and, in essence, possess the doll. That doll can then stack into another larger doll, and so on. This grants Charlie unique abilities, depending on the doll he controls. I saw one doll with the ability to clear out crowds with a bellowing "Make Way" command and another with a "Flatulence" command that cleared out crowds in a different way. Some commands like the "Paddle Ball" are mostly cosmetic, but art director Lee Petty assured me that every doll's command could serve some purpose in solving puzzles or moving the game forward. There's plenty of room for experimenting, as Stacking will boast over 100 unique dolls, all with their own special abilities.

The main idea in Stacking is to solve puzzles using the dolls available to Charlie. One of the puzzles I saw tasked Charlie with having to clear out an exclusive lounge. Stacking appeals to perfectionists by offering multiple solutions to every puzzle. For this particular task, I saw Charlie stack into the "Flatulence" doll and clear out the lounge by letting one rip right into the air vents, causing the lounge's denizens to run out in a panic. Another solution saw Charlie stack into a handyman doll and bust right into the lounge, which caused the lounge's owner to kick everyone out. Those looking to complete the game quickly can move the story along by directly going from one challenge to the next. For more inquisitive players, the game also offers rewards for completing all the alternate solutions to each puzzle. Some of these can get more complex too. I saw one solution that needed Charlie to stack into several different dolls, and to get through all the steps within a set time limit.

Though it was over too soon, I enjoyed my time with Stacking immensely. The puzzle-solving elements are not only fun and unique, but I also thought the "silent film" atmosphere added a tremendous dose of character. It's one thing to get under the skin of surrounding NPC's, but it's funnier to do it when they're decked out in Victorian garb and handlebar mustaches. Stacking even encourages you to create mayhem with these characters by rewarding you for completing certain "Hi-jinks" tasks. Those looking to create their own miniature chaos can do so early in 2011, when Stacking releases for Xbox LIVE Arcade and PlayStation Network.