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raguio avatar 2:27 PM on 04.16.2012  (server time)
Puzzle Game Analysis: Stacking

[As a Game Design student from the Savannah College of Art and Design, one of my assignments this week was to write a 600 word analysis of a puzzle game with a focus on it's puzzle mechanics and how well they work. The game I picked was Stacking. I hope you enjoy this reading!]

Double Fine attempts to introduce a whole new generation of players to the wonders of adventure games, but with one core difference: unlike the old adventure games, Stacking presents a variety of different solutions to each puzzle. More than that, the puzzles are introduced with ingenious core gameplay that, not only eliminates cumbersome user interfaces of old adventure games, but also makes Stacking a game that anyone can pick up and instantly start playing.

And falling in love with.

Stacking puts players in the shoes of Charlie Blackmore, a tiny matryoshka doll living in the industrial age of the 1930’s, whose family is kidnapped by an industrialist named ‘The Baron’, and forced to work in order to pay their debts. Charlie then sets out to stop The Baron, rescue his family, and put a halt on child labor for good.

Everything in the game revolves around the concept of matryoshka dolls; from the artstyle and animations, to the puzzles and challenges Stacking presents; the last two being the game’s biggest strength. In order to progress, the player has to solve different puzzles through the grouping of other dolls located around the game world. Russian Dolls with ‘special talents’ act as verbs from old adventure games, and the proper organization and use of each will help you solve the challenges. Lateral thinking and some perplexing logic will put the player’s wits to the test as they unlock doors, seduce their way into restricted areas and, in traditional Double Fine humor, fart on crowded areas.

The puzzles vary in complexity and, while none makes players want to pull their hair out, they present a satisfying level of gratification and achievement. Stacking test logic and the way players perform different actions in very quirky situations, but some puzzles are also mixed up with unusual uses of conventional objects, sequence puzzles which require performing certain actions in a certain order, and occasionally fixing some sort of small contraption or machinery. These puzzles and their clues are fluently delivered to the player through small idle chat, by some NPCs in Stacking. There is a hint system available, but I find it far too generous and it pretty much gives the player the answer to a puzzle straight forward. Fortunately, it’s a completely optional feature.

Stacking can easily be called a short game, but that’s only if players breeze through the puzzles. The fun in the game is the fact that every single puzzle has more than one solution. Or two. Or even three or more. Each puzzle features a non-difficult, but still fun way to solve, before challenging the player to find other alternate solution to it; doing so feels even more satisfying. Other than the main puzzles, Stacking also features different challenges and “hi-jinks” that can extend the length of the game. While the hi-jinks do present themselves as padding, it’s the extra challenges that really enrich the value of the game, highlighting Double Fine’s ingenious puzzle-crafting and wacky humor.

At its best, Stacking is a love letter to adventure games of the 90’s, and I say that as a good thing. It’s good to see that Double Fine was finally able to create that “modern” adventure game they have always wanted, while cleverly disguising all the elements of old adventure games that modern players shun thanks to a fresh coat of paint. Clever and wacky puzzle design, charming delivery of narrative and the concept of building every aspect of the game around Russian dolls makes Stacking an unforgettable experience.


ABOUT THE WRITER: Luis studies Game Design and Development at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Other than video games, he enjoys music, voice acting, and many other arts. One of this strong points it's his 3D Art, which you can see (and maybe hire *wink* *whink*) on his portfolio website:

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