Originally Published: February 27, 2011, on my StrongProtector account on GiantBomb.com

They had us save a world of metal and then showed us that there is still a little magic left in Halloween. So what would the folks at Double Fine Productions have for us next? Well, they felt we needed a little bit of a break and could play with some dolls. Specifically, Russian matryoshka, or babushka, dolls.

In Stacking, you are in a world similar to ours during the industrial revolution near the turn of the 20th century, but the entire population is made up of babushka dolls of varying sizes and you play as the smallest one of them all, Charlie Blackmore Charlie and his family have fallen on hard times when an industrialist named The Baron hires Charlie’s father to be his chimney sweep. But then days turn into weeks and then into months and Charlie’s father is nowhere to be found. In order to pay the rising debt the family owes, the Blackmore children are all then forced into slave labor by The Baron and his men. All that is except Charlie, who is deemed too small to be of any worth in the labor force.

Determined to save his siblings and put a stop to The Baron and his child labor schemes once and for all, Charlie sets out ready to show that it isn’t the size of the doll in the fight, but the size of the fight in the doll, or doll within a doll within a doll.

Being the smallest member of his community, Charlie has a unique talent that most others around him would be shocked to know. He can control other dolls. Well, he can stack into them anyway and then use their own unique talents around the world Charlie finds himself in while on his quest to free his family. Whether needing to take over a mechanic in order to access ventilation ducts, a fire chief in order to put out a fire, or a boxer to smash some heads with a proper uppercut, the puzzles laid before you are all rather straightforward and will require a minimum of effort for you to figure you out. The only hard part you’ll find is making sure you have the right size doll in your control to stack into the next size up.

This simple gameplay mechanic is really the entire premise of the game as you’ll work your way through some beautifully designed levels inspired by the time period like train stations, cruise ships, and zeppelins. Also fitting of the time period, and since babushka dolls don’t talk, the cut scenes are done in the silent film style where you cut to a grainy full screen of text before continuing the scene. Add in the player piano themes and although there is no voice acting whatsoever, the audio is still good, if not great.

The biggest downside of Stacking though is that the game is too short. Sure, there are plenty of collectibles and alternate ways to complete mission objectives if you’re looking to pad your achievements or trophies, but if you’re just looking for a varied gameplay experience and deep plot, then this is not the game for you, especially considering the $14.99 PSN and 1200 Microsoft point price tag that comes with Stacking. The only reason why the game doesn’t start to feel tedious is because it should only take you two or three hours to beat the entire story.

Although with just as much humor and polish as previous Double Fine titles, Stacking just doesn’t have enough content to warrant such a large price tag for this downloadable game. Without a glitch to be found and with a premise that was as inventive as this one, I wish I could just sing the praises about Stacking, but at the end of the day the game is too short, simple, and just not as fun or as addictive as it could be. Since it is technically very sound, if you’re still curious about Stacking, I would recommend waiting for it to go on sale or be included as some sort of downloadable game deal before making this a part of your collection.

Ratings based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best.

Graphics: 10.0: Although the character designs are as simple as can be, the world of Stacking comes off without a glitch and the perspective change as you move into larger and smaller dolls is seamless. I can’t think of how Double Fine could have made this world they crafted come to life any better.

Audio: 8.0: It may have been inventive to use the silent movie style for the cut scenes, but I really would have preferred voice actors. Aside from this, the classic piano themes and “click-clack” SFX as you enter and exit various dolls work perfectly.

Plot/Plot Develoment: 7.0: A very basic and predictable plot that does the job, but is really nothing more than a vehicle for the concept of Stacking.

Gameplay: 6.0: Innovative and unique, the core gameplay of Stacking, although glitchless, does become very repetitive over the short time you’ll be playing this game. Combine this with simple puzzles and you have an interesting experience that just fails to impress beyond the initial few moments.

Replay Value: 6.0: There may be several ways to complete each puzzle and a variety of collectibles to find on each level, but most are so simple to solve that even if you come back to finish the game, it shouldn’t take you more than five hours to get to 100% and there isn’t enough here to make you play through the game again.

Overall (not an average): 6.5: Stacking is a very polished downloadable game, but considering the lack of content you get for the $15 price tag and I’d wait until this game went on sale before seeing this as a truly worthwhile purchase.