As we played through the first levels of Stacking, Project Lead Lee Petty delighted in pointing out the tiny diorama-scale props that dot the game’s environments: marbles for lights, cigars for smokestacks, soda caps for stools. That sense of visual detail extends to the characters themselves, which are surprisingly detailed and expressive for being, you know, Russian dolls.
Why dolls? “We tried to condense the adventure game experience,” Petty explained, “so the dolls themselves are the characters, your inventory, and your abilities. You know that any given problem is going to be solved with dolls.” And these dolls just so happen to have powerful problem-solving abilities, whether it’s seducing a guard, plowing through a crowd, throwing a “proper uppercut,” or strategically using a bodily function. You play as Charlie, a tiny but plucky doll on a quest to save his kid brother from forced child labor at the hands of a dastardly industrial baron.
To advance the story, Charlie must “stack” into other dolls to assume their appearance and control of their all-important special ability. Simply walking up to a doll’s exposed backside and pressing a button does the job. From there, problem solving takes over in the form of Challenges, whether it’s using a doll’s skill to empty a room or outrage a safety inspector. If you’d rather not stick to the script, Stacking also features sandbox side quests called “Hijynx” that reward you for wantonly experimenting with the various character abilities. “What we found was that a lot of people enjoy slapping,” Petty said, “so the Hyjinx provide some structure to that.” That means earning rewards for punching, slapping, or emitting foul odors at characters you meet in the game. “Bodily functions are a running gag in this game,” Petty promised. “We have all sorts of them.”
While Challenges serve as the meat and potatoes of the gameplay in Stacking, your overarching goal is to collect complete sets of matching Russian dolls to advance the story and, ultimately, save Charlie’s family from the baron. A prime example comes early in the game at the Royal Train Station, with Charlie reuniting a traveling German family who got lost on their way to the Schnitzel Museum. The Royal Train Station has further significance in that it serves as the central hub for Stacking’s levels, including a “secret hideout” where Charlie stores the more than 100 collectible dolls hidden in the game.