Nobody does games like Double Fine. Iíd feel confident that I could identify a new Double Fine game in production just by playing the first minute of it, due to their unmistakable style. And by style I donít just mean how it looks, but how it sounds, how itís written, the humour and how you interact with the world and how the world interacts with you. Stacking has oodles of Double Fine style.
Although the characters donít actually speak, their conversations are spoken through the clatter-clatter of a typewriter keyboard, which somehow leads to more character being portrayed than most speaking characters in other games can achieve. The way they speak from their mid-riffs, where the two sections of their Russian doll bodies join, instead of their painted on mouths emphasises Double Fineís attention to detail.
But, at some point around the time of Costume Quest (which, although still an enjoyable game, started to show signs of a change in direction), Double Fine seemingly lost the ability to construct the gameplay that deserved to accompany the style theyíve always been great at creating. Itís games have now become style over substance, a description that sadly for me describes Stacking perfectly.
After having fallen in love with the demo, and intrigued by the challenge of attempting puzzles in different, ever-increasingly inventive ways, I was let down by the rest of the game. What started off so promisingly in the train station quickly turned into disappointment.
For starters the puzzles are just far too easy, and the solutions are, in the vast majority of cases, always mere seconds away from the problem. The whole game ends up playing like some overly long tutorial. Got to get people out of a room with a big fan outside of it? Why not send the guy who canít control his flatulence over to the fan to fart into it. Itís not as though you could miss him, heís been walking past this area for the past five minutes creating plumes of green gas from his posterior. Got to get a safari area on a boat closed down by the health and safety inspector? Why not take control of the bear in the room opposite the safari area and walk over to scare the visitors.
Having completed the game in well under 4 hrs, and having achieved nearly 70% completion along the way, even for the paltry price I paid, I still felt out of pocket. Had I wanted to achieve 100% completion, Iím sure I could have done that in under six hours. I could already see the vast majority of the alternative solutions to the puzzles, I just couldnít be bothered anymore to go and collect the correct doll to complete it. If Iím honest, thereís only one puzzle I can remember where the final solution wasnít completely obvious to me and, as it was so late in the game, Iíd already resigned myself to not bothering to discover the alternative solutions by that point. The further challenges that unlock are also equally easy to complete, often requiring you to just take control of a particular doll and press X a few times in front of other dolls. In some cases you have to reunite families or groups of particular dolls along the way (by stacking them together) but, again, these arenít particularly hard to achieve and Iím fairly certain I captured them all along the way to completing the story.
Iím still a fan of Double Fine; even though they appear to have lost the ability to reach the heights of games such as Psychonauts, theyíre still able to create enjoyable experiences. But I miss the days of when they could create enjoyable games to accompany those experiences. Stacking could have been a brilliant game but, although pleasant enough, it ends up feeling quite small and ultimately hollow. Much like the last Russian doll at the bottom of the stack.