Super Stacker Review
I still remember stacking toy blocks to the ceiling of my bedroom. I was really into stacking things; I was no artist and I couldn’t make a structure that actually resembled anything, but I did like to stack things in a variety of ways. I have no idea why. I think I even remember walking into the gym for the first time and wondering if I could ever get one stack to reach the ceiling… One would experiment in other ways, too, which is why I found myself transported back in time when I went to play Super Stackers. It’s one of those simple yet appealing PSN titles that is moderately addictive and really forces you to embrace the idea of interactive entertainment from a new angle. Good puzzlers do that, you know. The game works very well and although the price is just a few bucks too high in our opinion, Super Stackers is a worthwhile experience if you’re looking for something original, and a game that’s both straightforward and challenging.
In terms of graphics, it isn’t the slickest or most polished downloadable presentation you’ll ever see, but the pleasant pastel colors and cutesy facial animations really tie together nicely. It’s all about fitting and enhancing a certain atmosphere, regardless of the game, and SparkWorkz has managed to “fit,” if not entirely “enhance.” There’s some appreciated imagination and creativity involved in the backdrops; various things like floating ghosts and weirdo monsters reminiscent of what you might find in LittleBigPlanet rear up every now and then. This, along with the music, does get a little repetitive, though, and the game would’ve held up for longer periods of time with more environmental diversity. The focus is on the gameplay, though, so you probably won’t be too disappointed in the aforementioned lacking…but you’ll almost certainly notice it. Beyond that, there isn’t much to talk about: colorful blocks and other objects dropping into a small, creative little scene.
Oddly enough, it seems as if the light sprinkling of clear sound effects contributes heavily to the overall fun factor. A block will react to its position and situation; if it’s precariously placed, it’ll make a face and you’ll hear “uh-oh” in a humorous tinny voice. And when lots of blocks and objects are on the screen, sometimes the effects can be downright hilarious, especially if many are teetering on the brink of destruction. It’s definitely one of those games that will make you smile, and it’s due in large part to the effects. The soundtrack is also a big help in this capacity, but it does get extremely repetitive; I’m not even sure there are more than two or three tracks in the entire game. It fits but much like the graphics, we could’ve used just a bit more variety and overall “oomph.” Of course, with an experience like this, we don’t necessarily need “oomph;” this isn’t a blockbuster action game. …a little extra could’ve helped, though.
At first, you almost think there’s very, very little involved concerning the gameplay. The very first easy stack you do is as straightforward as straightforward can be: start with the largest package and get increasingly smaller as you stack one atop the other. That’s it. You win. But it isn’t long before you start to realize just how far the designers took this concept. You’ll start to glimpse it during the end of the easy puzzles and when you’re tackling the medium ones; the hard puzzles will likely leave you scratching your head for a while. Thing is, it’s not just about stacking and being precise so the stack doesn’t topple over; it’s about creating structures that are solid, it’s about trial-and-error and really wrapping your mind around a particular problem. And you have aids: there’s no time limit, you can zoom the camera in and out, and you can even see every new block/piece coming your way by viewing the shadowy line of images on the right. It’s like the preview in Tetris but in that game, you could only see the next piece.
Furthermore, Stacker isn’t the only mode available. There’s also Present Stacker and Unstacker; Present Stacker has you attempting to reach a present in a certain spot on the screen. You just have to build your way up there and once nabbed, your construction must stay whole while a timer ticks down (this feature exists for a very good reason; it’s so you can’t be slipshod in your design). Unstacker is very different, in that you have to allow a white block or piece to fall (and stay) on a matching white platform at the bottom of the puzzle. You have to blow up various pieces of the puzzle to allow this to happen, and it can involve timing and a great deal of thought. For each of these modes, we have easy, medium and hard sections, and each of those have 10 puzzles each. So you won’t be finishing this game in only a few hours; not unless you’re some kind of stacking and destacking prodigy.
The controls are simple. You just move a piece into position with the left analog and drop with the X button (you also use this button to blow up pieces in Unstacker), and you can use the trigger buttons to zoom in and out. There’s also the appreciated option of fine-tuning the movement of your piece with the directional pad. Like most decent puzzle games, it’s really easy to pick up and play, even if the solution isn’t readily apparent. The only downside is that sometimes, I had to move quickly to drop two pieces in succession, or blow up a piece in Unstacker within a set time frame, and I couldn’t move the piece/reticule quite fast enough. It sort of felt like a hindrance at times. Then there’s a spiking difficulty level that can throw you for a loop; you’ll be going right along at a fine clip and then suddenly, one particular puzzle stumps you for a long time. When you finally finish it, the next few are easy again.
But maybe the latter complaint is more of a personal thing. It’s really all based on how you interpret this type of problem-solving. In the end, Super Stackers is plenty fun and even addictive in its own strange way, and it’s most definitely one of the more unique titles out there. It’s a little barebones, even for a downloadable game, but it all works out fairly well. Now, if the game had been $6.99 or $7.99 (like Magic Ball when it first launched), I’d say this SparkWorkz product is worthy of a solid 8. Priced at $9.99, it falls just a little short of that plateau because there are a lot of ten-dollar games on the PSN that, in comparison, “stack up” well, if not better. Still, those seeking original puzzlers to pick up and play likely won’t be disappointed, and it’s a much better buy if you play it with a friend. Aren’t most puzzlers?
7/15/2010 Ben Dutka