Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stacking and the Constructive Sandbox

System: Xbox 360
Developer: Double Fine Productions
NA Release: February 2011

The most memorable puzzlers allow players to take familiar concepts and accomplish goals well outside the realm of real-world familiarity. For me, however, the true joy comes in knowing that while I gain a great sense of accomplishment in mastering the physics of Portal, I can feel just as much of a genius by farting into a ventilation shaft in Stacking.

Let's try to keep it as classy as possible in here.
You never quite know what to expect next out of Tim Schafer's Double Fine studio, and Stacking plays much like a cross between Ghost Trick and Scribblenauts. As the smallest in a world of living Matryoshka dolls, you are able to climb into—and essentially possess—progressively larger dolls, using their individual talents to solve the various puzzles in your way. Each problem has several different ways to approach it and, like Scribblenauts, you are encouraged to wrack your imagination and find them all.

It is games like these that make me a bit sad to think the term “sandbox game” is largely commandeered by titles that emphasize speed and violence more than anything else. Not that there is anything wrong with those games. It's just that when I think of a sandbox, I see the greatest freedom in the minds of those using it; not the sand. Stacking fires the synapses by setting its toys in the box and asking the player to use them for more than their original purposes. The fact it's designed like a goulash- and Little Rascals-fueled fever dream adds just the right whimsical element that goads you to be a little more “child-like” in your cleverness.

The Fine Art of Seduction in the world of wooden dolls.
Perhaps one of the concerns we first had as gamers was feeling too childish in the shiny new sandboxes developers made for us, so we started off happier to run about kicking and smashing cities in an ironic showing of "maturity." And really, who doesn't want to have fun and blow off steam that way at times? But we've also come to learn that it feels better sometimes to sit down, take some time and actually be more like a child in heart; imagining, building, and feeling free to play in more fabricated worlds. Thankfully, games like Stacking, Scribblenauts and Minecraft are giving us chances to do that as well.

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