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Review #404

Stacking: The Lost Hobo King
Developer: Double Fine Games
Publisher: Double Fine Game
Genre: Puzzle/Adventure
Release Date: 4/4/2011

Less than two months after Stacking was released on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live, we have our first piece of DLC for the game. I was pretty excited for this. If you read my original review of the game, you know that I absolutely adored Stacking. A few days ago, Stacking also made the #2 spot in my Best of Q1 2011 list I was pretty happy with the DLC fro Costume Quest, Grubbins on Ice (which is where we first met Charlie Blackmore) and found it to be well worth my money. So five dollars towards DLC for a game that I loved and received for free via Playstation Plus sounded like money well spent.

However the DLC took me between sixty and ninety minutes to complete. This seems to be the going length for a lot of DLC these days and honestly, compared to DLC like Hyperdimension Neptunia where you pay $2.49 for a swimsuit costume skin for a SINGLE CHARACTER, that seems like a pretty good deal, right? Well, it all comes down to quality. Did The Lost Hobo King prove itself to be a worthy addition to Stacking or did it turn out that game was better off without DLC stacking onto the core title?

Let’s Review

1. Story

The Lost Hobo King takes place after the events in Stacking. This time Charlie Blackmore has gone to help his friend Levi the Hobo in a small coastal fishing town. One of Levi’s relatives needs Charlie’s ability to solve puzzles and stack with other Matryoshkas to find the lost Hobo King Crown. Doing so will let him become King of the Hobos and reunite his transient people. Of course one would think that trying to organize hobos would be like herding cats, but I digress.

Charlie comes to the town and discovers that the crown has been shattered into three pieces. In order to fix the crown he must free the three legendary hobo blacksmiths from suspended animation. To do THAT he must solve three trials, each of which will unlock one of the blacksmiths. That’s pretty much the plot. Unlike the original Stacking, where characterization and storytelling is just as important as the puzzles in the game, the focus here is on solving the puzzles. You get a bit of plot at the beginning to set up the DLC, and a bit at the end once you’ve completed the game, but other than that, you’re just spending an hour solving puzzles.

The incredible humour that permeated the original game is also lost here. The game is so puzzle oriented, you really don’t get a cast and crew of crazy characters this time around. You do have all new Matryoshkas, none of which appeared in the main game, but they are all really here just to advance the puzzle solving and nothing else. The only real bit of comedy you get comes from a creepy guy in a panda suit who likes to sniff the backs of other people, which is more creepy than funny. The game also gets pretty dark compared to the original, which managed to make things like black plague and child labour funny. Here half of the game’s puzzles are devoted to getting past flesh (or wood I guess) eating ghouls. You actually can have Matryoshkas killed and raised as undead creatures here, but they do eventually get better…which is a good thing as if the wrong doll gets eaten, you can find a solution to a puzzle blocked until it does.

Overall, I felt most of the magic that made Stacking so endearing storywise was lost here. There was a lot of potential with the theme and setting here, but with the puzzles lacking the additional level of storytelling that the main game has, it was a bit disappointing.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

The visuals are of the exact same quality as the main game, which is a good thing. However, we have all new backgrounds and Matryoshkas, all of which look wonderful. We have a Monty Python reference doll, a rabbit, a raccoon, a fish, and even a deep sea diver. Everything looks fantastic. The industrial revolution theme is gone, replaced by a quaint English seaside village, but the game still oozes charm out of every…pixel. For only five dollars you’re getting brand new visuals from the ground up, with only Levi and Charlie as graphics that you’ve seen before. The Lost Hobo King is a beautiful piece of DLC, which a style that manages to be all its own, while holding true to the main game.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

Like the original there isn’t any voice acting. Unlike the original, there really isn’t a lot of sound effects. It’s a bit toned down and the audio layers are definitely diminished. As well, the soundtrack played a key role in the original for setting the tone of the game, with music playing in much the same way that an Olde Tyme piano would accompany a silent film. Here the music is simply a score in the same way that it would be for any other video game. This is a bit disheartening, but at the same time the scoring of The Lost Hobo King is actually better than the first game. The music is some of the best I’ve seen in any of Double Fine’s titles. However, it doesn’t fit the setting or the theme of Stacking very well and so it’ doesn’t mesh well with the actual game. The audio is still an enjoyable experience, but much like the story, it’s just not an immersive experience like the main game’s use of music.

Sound Rating: 6.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

The controls of the game are pretty simple. You move Charlie through each of the DLC’s one small little level (well, small compared to the levels in the main game), and you use his ability to stack with other Matryoshka to pass through puzzles that either move the story along or are optional bits to do for the sake of comedy (and trophies). You can only stack into a Matryoshka that is one size larger than your current figure, so you’ll constantly be switching dolls to find the right combination to advance. The key is that each Matryoshka has a special ability, and most of those abilities will come into play at some point to solve a puzzle. For example, you might need a doll to get past a room full of ghouls to unlock a blacksmith. Each puzzle has multiple solutions. For this example, one solution is to take a doll that hucks stinky cheese as the ghouls, causing them to run away like a vampire faced with garlic. Another darker solution is to take a doll that can cage little children, then switch to a another doll that can carry child sized items on a wooden pallet it balances on its head. Then you drop the trapped child off in the middle of the ghoul camp and while the undead crowd around the child hoping to get a bit of its flesh, you run like hell for the gate and unlock it. Like I said, the DLC is a LOT darker than the main game…

This is really all there is to the game. The key is simply using your wits to figure out the solutions to various puzzles. It is worth noting though that the hi-jinx puzzles are actually harder to figure out than the story based puzzles, and the latter gives you some direction, while with the former you have to figure out the question AND the solution. All you are given is the name, which is part of the fun. It encourages you to try all sorts of wacky stuff if you want to view the extra content.

The controls are simple to learn, although there are times when the camera can get a bit wonky or when you can get trapped and have to restart the game. For the most part though, Stacking is a fun game whose simple controls belie the actual depth of the game’s possibilities.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 7/10

5. Replayability

If you just want to beat the DLC, you can do so easily in about fifteen minutes. That’s right, if you’re just looking to complete the thing, The Lost Hobo King DLC is shorter than a game of Tetris. However, if you want to see all the possible solutions for each of the three main puzzles, complete all the optional hi-jinx and find all the unique special dolls in the game, you can increase the play time to about an hour or an hour and a half, depending on how good you are at solving puzzles, or if you use the hint system or not.

In your first playthrough, you’ll only earn one or two of the four trophies in the game. The other two will come after you start the “unlimited play” mode, which really exists to let you get the last hi-jinx and last solutions to the ghoul puzzle. Once you’ve done those two quick little things, you’ve 100%’d the DLC and there’s no reason to ever boot it up again. I can’t deny that I was a bit disappointed that the DLC lasted only an hour or so, but that’s about the length for things like Case West and the latest Mass Effect DLC, and both of those cost twice as much as The Lost Hobo Kingm so it’s not all bad. Still, you’ll only get that hour or so of playtime out of it and then you’ll never have a reason to pick it up again.

Replayability Rating: 4/10

6. Balance

If you’re just trying to get through the game, you’ll find The Lost Hobo King to be quick and easy. Two of the puzzles have three possible solutions, while the third has a whopping six. You should be able to figure out at least one solution for each pretty quickly and the game will be done. However, if you want to find all the solutions, and thus net yourself a gold trophy, you’re in for a bit of work. The same holds true, if you want to find all the unique dolls or all of the possible hi-jinx solutions. Some of these are pretty out there and you might not be able to find the correct solutions without looking online (for dolls and hijinx) or using the in-game help guide (for the puzzles) . The key to Stacking is the same for any adventure game – try just about everything. Trial and error wins the day.

It’s nice that the game gives you puzzle solutions, and thus anyone can and should earn the game’s gold trophy, but I can see people become frustrated with the other parts of the game if they aren’t used to adventure titles. What’s here is definitely fun, but because the game forces you to use your mind instead of your reflexes, a cross-section of gamers might find this a lot harder than they were expecting.

Balance Rating: 6.5/10

7. Originality

Directly from my review of the main game because it still holds true:

I can honestly say I’ve never played a game remotely like Stacking. Sure I’ve played puzzle games with a story or where there is action in addition to puzzle solving. I’ve even mentioned a few of them. I’ve also played way too many adventure games and can see how that style of gameplay has influenced Stacking a bit. However, when it comes down to it, I can honestly say I’ve never played a game that involves Matryoshka characters in an open world puzzle game set during the late stages of the Industrial Revolution where you solve puzzles by climbing inside other characters and then use their special abilities to advance the plot. It’s also the only other game beside the Hamtaro title for the original Nintendo Game Boy where I’ve had to solve a puzzle by urination. In fact, the closest I can come to a puzzle adventure game like Stacking are Ham-Hams Unite! or Ham-Ham Heartbreak, and they’re still very different games.

One of the things I love about Double Fine is they constantly take a genre, like adventure, platformers, turn based RPGs, and now puzzle games and then make something totally outside the box with it. Stacking is innovation at its finest here. It’s a combination of so many things that haven’t been in a video game before coupled with mechanics that feel natural and familiar. Awesome.

Originality Rating: 10/10

8. Addictiveness

On one hand, I played The Lost Hobo King from beginning to end without stopping. On the other, It was only an hour or so long. As well, because the story aspects of the DLC were noticeably lacking and the puzzles (and their solutions) felt a bit uninspired compared to the original, I didn’t find myself enjoying the game as much. It was still fun, but The Lost Hobo King felt more like DLC for the sake of DLC than actually adding to the entire experience of Stacking. For five dollars, what was here was fine, but the X Factor I felt throughout Stacking just wasn’t here with the DLC. Although I might play the core game again someday, I can’t ever see myself bothering with the Lost Hobo King again.

Addictiveness Rating: 5.5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Unless you really loved Stacking as much as I did, or you just want to earn four trophies in less time than it takes to watch a movie, there’s no real reason to get the DLC for the game. As well, even if you loved Stacking, you’ll notice that The Lost Hobo King doesn’t hit the same level of quality as the core game. As well, the original game was $14.99 and lasted several hours. For the DLC you are paying one-third the price of the core game…but you’re not getting one-third of the play value. I think people will be disappointed with the drop in storytelling and the fact that Hobo King is nowhere as weird or funny as the core game. It’s only five dollars, but it’s not a purchase that will actually add to or increase your enjoyment of the main game.

Appeal Factor Rating: 5.5/10

10. Miscellaneous

I enjoyed The Lost Hobo King for what it was. It’s was a step down from the core game and it felt way too short for my tastes, but it was only five dollars and there were a few cute things about the DLC that made it worth playing through. That said, compared to the depth and quality of Costume Quest’s DLC, The Lost Hobo King pales by comparison, and I’ll probably take a “wait and see” attitude toward any other add-ons that come out for Stacking. When all is said and done, I wanted a little more story and substance than what I got here, but the puzzles were still fun and pretty original.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5.5/10

The Scores
Story: 5/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 7/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 6.5/10
Originality: 10/10
Addictiveness: 5.5/10
Appeal Factor: 5.5/10
Miscellaneous: 5.5/10
Total Score: 62.5
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (ENJOYABLE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
The Lost Hobo King is an enjoyable addition to the Stacking universe. Sure the DLC is thin on plot, the level is noticeably smaller than those in the core game, and it should only take you an hour to fully complete all there is to see and do, but the game is still remarkably charming and the unparalleled originality of the game still holds up. With all new visuals to behold as well as new Matryoshkas to discover and find a use for, The Lost Hobo King will still bring a smile to the fan of those who enjoyed the core game, even if the end result is a step down in quality for the original.

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