Matryoshka. That’s the way I always heard it from the woman in the cubicle next to me, who had been born and raised in Belarus. This strange doll she had on her cube’s top shelf was positioned in such a way that it seemed to stare down at me unrelentingly; a kind of small, wooden supervisor making sure I wasn’t goofing off. Its comically exaggerated eyes, handlebar mustache and misaligned overalls would have been quite amusing had it not been so creepy. Every month or so the doll would give birth to a new family member with similar yet smaller features, and would fill my afternoons with thoughts of what must be going on around those shelves through the dark hours of the night. What this woman never told me, and what Double Fine’s XBLA title “Stacking” seems to show, is that while the lights were out this doll and his family were up to such various hi-jinks as jumping into each other, union organizing, sailing on cruise ships, opening exhibits and amusement parks, farting, vomiting, glove slapping and eating caviar. While this makes a sad reality of untold adventures to the guy sitting down there in the cubicle, it also makes for one instant classic of a game for your Xbox that should not be missed.
Players assume the role of Charlie Blackmore, the smallest doll in a family of dolls that has just been forced into labor by the evil Baron, who uses child labor to further his own socialist agenda. With the unique and engrossing presentation of a silent-era film, players achieve goals and comedic tom-foolery by jumping into larger dolls and therefore taking control of them. Each doll type has its own special skill, and stacking Charlie into different dolls with different skills provide the methods of solving various puzzles throughout the game. At its core, Stacking is an adventure title, but one so unique and comically entertaining that even players who are not fans of the genre are bound to get hooked.
The visuals are wonderfully done (particularly for an XBLA title), presenting this cartoony world of matryoshka with such gloss and detail that it is easily to believe in the fantasy. The illusion of wooden life is convincing and cheeky at the same time. The controls are simple and intuitive, and the sound design strikes your ear in a new and inventive way. It would be hard to say that everything sounds as one would think it should considering the fantasy setting, but it is remarkably done and endlessly entertaining.
It’s easy to recommend Stacking for a blind purchase, especially for those who are fans of the old-school adventure game genre. It’s not a particularly deep or difficult title to complete, but, like a Saturday morning cartoon, is remarkably fun while it lasts. If you were ever one to stare at a doll or a toy and wonder what lives they may lead at night or when nobody’s around (*cough*Toy Story*cough*), jump right in to the next size doll with both painted-on feet and have a blast.