Best Concept: Stacking
Most new concepts in adventure gaming tend to be minor advances in user interface and presentation, with most of the gameplay remaining largely the same as it has been for decades. The nature of the key changes from one inventory item to another, as does the appearance of the door, but you know when you use the former on the latter, you will solve the puzzle and advance the story. Double Fine's Stacking turns that notion upside down – or perhaps inside out – by taking a single gameplay mechanic and building an entire adventure around it. Instead of acquiring items to solve puzzles, here you become the solution, as the characters that inhabit this unique world are the collectable objects themselves: Russian stacking dolls to be precise, each with its own unique ability. It's a simple idea, but a bold and brilliant one that turns problem-solving from a question of how into who, earning Stacking this year’s Aggie Award for Best Concept.
As Charlie Blackmore, the smallest matryoshka in the world, you set out to save your chimney-sweeping family from a corrupt industrialist bent on exploiting the common man in the 1930s. While the boy's diminutive stature has its advantages when it comes to accessing small places, Charlie is still quite limited in what he can do in the world at large. Fortunately, everybody is a Russian doll and every doll has a special talent, from spilling soup to passing noxious gas to entrancing lecherous men. While Charlie lacks any obvious skill, he perhaps has the most useful one of all: he can jump into the bodies of larger dolls and use their abilities as his own. Along the way, he will occupy opera singers, maids, guards, and even rats and birds, sometimes only for non-essential fun. Often he has to jump into multiple dolls, creating a stack, and then use the appropriate abilities in proper succession in order to overcome the current obstacle. It’s a concept so fresh and unique that the game feels like nothing else on the market, and it makes Stacking a joy to play from start to finish.
Runners-Up: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, L.A. Noire, To the Moon, Portal 2
Readers’ Choice: L.A. Noire
Like a good poker player, being able to read people is essential for detectives. Team Bondi obviously impressed you with its brilliant (e)motion-capture technology that let Cole Phelps spot subtle body language “tells” to indicate when people were lying. At least, we’re assuming that’s the concept you voted for in numbers, as some people’s hearts may not be able to withstand the thought of more games with car chases and gunfights, if that’s what you meant.
Runners-Up: Portal 2 and Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (tie), Gemini Rue, Gray Matter
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Next up: Best Setting... the envelope, please!