Welcome to Easter Eggs, where the TA Team shines the spotlight on games that many gamers might have missed, perhaps hidden away behind the millionth copy of Call of Duty or FIFA. Much like a gamer who finds an Easter Egg hidden away in a game and proceeds to trumpet it from the highest hills and forums, the TA Team is going to be featuring these Easter Egg games on the front page for all to see.When we put a game disc into our console or load one up from our library, we expect an adventure full of dialogue, living, breathing people or creatures and the odd bit of combat here and there. That combat takes up the majority of the gameplay whereas the dialogue and people themselves help to progress the story forward. What if I told you that there was a game where none of that existed. There were no living people, no dialogue, or even combat, and yet there is a deep and dark story to be found. That game is called Stacking, an adventure title by Double Fine Productions that proves conventional gaming elements are not needed to create a great experience. Do you like Russian dolls? Well, you will now.
Stacking is an adventure-puzzle game that tells a surprisingly depressing tale. You play as Charlie Blackmore, the smallest Russian stacking doll ever. He is part of a large family who are sadly torn apart by the evil Baron and his child labor regime. Apart from Charlie's mother, his brothers, sisters and even his father are taken to slave away for the Baron's own doings. Due to Charlie's minuscule, and supposedly useless size, he is left behind, so it's up to him to reunite his family and stop the dastardly Baron once and for all. This story is told through silent movie-style cutscenes where speech bubbles act as the dialogue with fitting piano music accompanying them.
On his adventure, Charlie will come across four different areas where he will have to solve different challenges to get ahead. While each area looks strikingly different, the objective always remains the same. You will be presented with a number of different challenges and activities that are scattered throughout the level. Using all of the other dolls that inhabit the level, you will have to use their abilities to triumph over these challenges so that the story can progress. With that, you may be wondering how you use these other dolls and what these challenges may be. Well...
I used to love Russian Dolls as a kid, and I had a fair few of them. If you're like me, then you'll know perfectly well how they work. The smallest one is able to stack into another doll one size up from itself, and then that doll is able to do the same, and so on until you get to the biggest doll with a load of smaller dolls stacked neatly inside it. Stacking works in exactly the same way. There is absolutely no other doll that is smaller than Charlie or even one that is the same size as he is, so the world is literally his oyster. Each level is basically a giant playground and there is no doll off limits. Once you find the right doll for your particular size, you can just hop right in and go from there; though you always have to be standing behind them to successfully stack. While some dolls provide only an aesthetic change, certain dolls have their own unique ability, and when activated, will end with some interesting and potentially amusing results. For example, you will find an attractive blonde woman (for a doll, anyway) roaming around, and once you take over her, she will have the ability to seduce other male dolls. A simple shake of the hips and they will be hers for the taking. Many of these abilities have hilarious consequences and it gives the somewhat saddening tale a lighthearted feel.
So we have a load of unique dolls with their own silly abilities. What's the point in it all? Well, remember those challenges I mentioned? You will regularly come across obstacles standing in your way to another area or special doll and it's those doll's abilities that are needed to make it through. Let's come back to that attractive blonde. Charlie has a challenge to sneak into a posh party but, unfortunately, there's a guard who will not leave his post. Now, if you stack into that female doll and use her seduction ability on the guard, she will become too hard to resist and the party entrance will be ready and waiting for Charlie. What makes this even more interesting is the fact that every single challenge has multiple ways to complete it. There is never one way to do it and so there is the incentive to re-do the challenge and find every single solution to make it past. For extra help, there is a hint system that gives clues into each solution. While these hints start off cryptically, they eventually become so obvious that they literally tell you what to do. This eases the difficulty of the game; however it's extremely fun to possess another doll and unlock a new solution that you never would have otherwise known about.
As well as the main challenges, there are also mini-challenges scattered around the levels called "High-Jinks." These are also seen in the game's menu and act more as fun distractions to keep you entertained. These usually involve using a doll's ability on other dolls a certain number of times, which, in turn, unlocks a special gold item for that doll. In one instance, you will be walking around slapping dolls in the face ten times to unlock a golden slapping glove on the doll with that ability. Another may have you possessing bird-like dolls to fly to all available nests in the level to unlock another completed challenge There's even a challenge to use a particular male doll to fart on other dolls to gross them out. There's a huge variety of dolls and abilities and the developers have made a remarkably unique world. It feels like a living, breathing world with real people, even though it's just inanimate objects bouncing around making strange noises. Whether or not you think that slapping a doll in the face counts as combat is up to you, but the game is about solving puzzles, completing challenges and simply wreaking havoc at every opportunity. There is always something to do and you will always be looking for new dolls with hilarious abilities.
Stacking is not a very hard game, but it is definitely a fun one. To get all the achievements in the game, you will need to find every solution to every challenge and complete all High Jinks in each level. All levels also have special dolls and there is only one version of them (like our favourite blonde bombshell). You could say these act as the game's collectibles and yep, there's achievements to find all of them too. Basically, you have to do everything possible to finish the game. There is also a DLC Pack for the game that is an extra adventure for Charlie. However, it is more of the same (but that's good!) and so the achievements follow the exact same structure. In all, you won't have a nightmare completing this one but you will have great fun along the way. Don't be surprised, though, if you need to look further into completing a certain challenge due to the solution being so hidden away.
As of writing 10,121 TA'ers have given Stacking a go and 3,557 of those gamers have completed it, which is accounts to 35%. It would probably be even more if all of them owned the DLC!
The community has given the game a 4.1 rating, and it even has the privilege of owning one of those renowned TA GOTY ribbons for 2011 as the best Adventure title of the year. Metacritic have also given the dolls a thumbs up with a rating of 84. Not too shabby!
Stacking currently resides on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace for £9.99 / $14.99. For a charming game such as this, that is a reasonable price and, when on sale, it's something to be snapped up immediately. This particular newshound noticed it in a past sale and it was most definitely £5 well spent.
Stacking is one of those games that don't come around very often. In this day and age, shooting up players online and saving the world from diabolically evil villains is all too common. It's a breath of fresh air to see this title amongst all of those. While lacking in speech, combat and actual living things, the game more than makes up for it in its deep story and amusing ways in which it is told. Conventional elements don't belong in Stacking anyway, and they never would. This is pure "Adventure" through and through and you will have a great time taking the tiny little doll that is Charlie Blackmore across the game's diverse locations. When not engaging in the many challenges available to you, simply goofing around and burping in a crowd of elder dolls is fantastically entertaining. If you want to experience something different to freshen up your gaming, unleash your inner Russian Doll enthusiast and buy Stacking.
If there's a game you'd like to see featured in Easter Eggs, be sure to let us know in the comments!
We've got the full list of Stacking achievements - check the list for guides to unlocking them.