Hot on the heels of Costume Quest's success, Double Fine is already giving us our first look at their next downloadable title, a puzzle-adventure called Stacking. Dispensing with the usual item-finding, arbitrary puzzle solving of a typical adventure game, Stacking instead uses the characters themselves as items of sorts, where you jump in and out of various dolls to possess their unique abilities and solve puzzles. So far all signs indicate that Stacking brims with Double Fine's brand of charm and pizzazz too.
Above: Charlie can only stack up to a doll that's exactly one size bigger than the biggest doll in his current stack
Here's the basic set-up: you play as Charlie Blackmore (possibly named after GamesRadar's own Charlie Barratt?!), the tiniest of a large family of stacking dolls, whose siblings have all been kidnapped by an evil baron to toil in the coal mines. Charlie sets off to save each of his siblings and gather clues about the disappearances of other children too. The world of Stacking is set up in an open-ended way, where you can visit any area anytime you want (it resembles Mass Effect's structure, if you're familar, which you should be and if not for shaaaame). You start off at a huge train station hub world (like the Citadel in ME), and from there you can travel to other places and tackle challenges in the order you'd like.
Each challenge Charlie faces must be solved by stacking in and out of other dolls, with eight size levels in total. To stack, you simply approach a doll from the rear and hit Y/triangle to pop open the doll and jump inside. Each doll has a unique ability that you can use creatively to problem solve. In the first challenge we saw, the goal was to clear all the patrons from the swanky lounge area in the train station, guarded by an immovable bouncer.
Above: The toilet humor is kept classy by juxtaposing farts with a beautiful Chopin piece
First, Charlie stacked into a large doll named Meriwether Malodor with the power of noxious flatulence, and let loose a fart in front of an exposed vent outside the lounge, causing the hoity-toity guests to scatter in olfactory horror. Problem solved! But there's more than one solution to each puzzle, and Stacked lets you know how many unique solutions are available for each one (always between three and six), so you can get creative and explore alternate solutions if you want. Each unique solution can have lots of smaller variations too, so you can go about each puzzle in your own way.
Above: We also has success luring the guard away with a hypnotizingly voluptuous lady
These are merely the simplest of puzzles to start though, and we saw in a later steamboat level how challenges get more complex and difficult as you go. To cause chaos at a safari-themed attraction, Charlie had to figure out how to position a couple of dolls moving a backdrop so that a bicyclist would round a corner and tear through the prop at just the right moment, requiring not only problem solving but some careful timing as well.
Above: Or you could just stack into this ferocious bear and roar your way to chaos, causing dolls to violently crap sawdust in terror (this happened, truly!)
The mastermind behind Stacking is Double Fine's art director, Lee Petty. The artist's touch definitely shows here – Stacking's world seems rich and cohesive right off the bat, and its style is like a Victorian era silent film set within a shoebox diorama. Scale is important, since you need to get a sense of size as you stack up and down (think Katamari, but on a smaller scale), and so the diorama aesthetic works well to give you a point of reference. Popsicle stick floorboards, cotton ball clouds – we noticed little details throughout that help point out the size differences as you stack up into larger and larger dolls.
Above: The trailer gives a brief glimse at Stacking in action. It's neat to see how the animators bring the dolls to life despite their static nature
What most impresses us about Stacking so far isn't just the novel concept and gameplay mechanic, but the level of detail we've seen so far. Not only does each of the over 100 unique dolls has his or her own unique ability, but all the dolls interact with each other uniquely too. Although it's an adventure game with a definite goal, an equal part of the fun seems to be exploring the world, and not only finding each unique doll but also experimenting with playing as that doll (spoiler: you can punch babies). We can't wait to see what other delightful surprises Stacking has for us when it releases on PSN and XBLA sometime early(ish?) next year.
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