Stack King… Stack… King… Nope, I’m not going to get through this review without bringing it up. The name. Oh my, the name! As those of you with more than four brain cells will have guessed, Stack King is a game about stacking. Why the bloody hell they couldn’t just call it Stacking and not Stack King is beyond me. They both mean the same thing, except one of them has an annoying pause for breath between two hard consonants. I feel like I’m speaking in a disjointed Russian accent with having to cough up a mouth full of bile between one “keh” and the next “keh”. However, the space is there, so I will pause for that little blighter and pronounce this game properly. I did the same thing for Demon’s Souls, even if I did sound like a slowly deflating bicycle wheel…
So I guess we’re stuck with Stack King for the foreseeable future, so I’ll stop the grumbling, for now. Developed by Appy, or App Pee as they should probably be known, Stack King challenges you to stack various objects with the best placement possible to earn points, and to get your stack as high as possible to earn medals, and unlock new features. If you think this game will only appeal to seven feet tall shelf-stackers from Tesco then think again! Although awarding supermarket employees with medals for stacking tins of soups with an air of grace and dexterity might improve the demeanour of many a shop assistant.
At the start of the first level a row of five cardboard boxes shuffles across the screen from left to right. Each level is seven squares wide, and you tap the screen when you are ready to place the foundation of your stack firmly in the mid.. Oops, it went one square to the right, guess I’m going to have to start afresh. A warning to anyone who gets a massive fit of OCD when playing Jenga: this game will ruin your life. It may seem petty, but if I am going to stack several hundred boxes on top of each other, I at least want the base of the tower to be strong and firm. If I wanted to recreate the leaning Tower of Pisa using Snack-a-Jacks I will in the comfort of my office thank you very much, Stack King.
Place one row of boxes and the next row appears on top of the last, increasing the speed in which it is darting about from left to right and back again. This is where the clear and understandable scoring system comes into play, har har. Scoring highly is achieved by placing your next row of boxes directly on top of the previous row, without losing a box off either end, and without even going over the previous row, or falling short on the previous row, by a single pixel. By luck more than judgement you can chain together a few “perfect” placements together, but for every pixel you are off by, the scoring system rapidly decreases. Four pixels can be the difference between 5000 points and 13 points. Okay then. If you overshoot and lose a box altogether you gain no points, and you will only have four boxes to place on your stack. You keep going in this fashion until you reach the top of the level, which is 48 rows up, or you lose all your boxes by incorrectly stacking your last box.
This brings me some confusion. I can achieve a ‘Platinum’ ranking for completing the level, and still have three boxes in play at the top of my stack, and be awarded a total of 60,000 points. Then, on my next turn, I can barely scrape the ceiling of a ‘Silver’ ranking, but somehow score 200,000 points. So what am I being awarded on, Stack King, my score or my ability to create a tall stack, because challenging me on each of these at the same time seems a little unfair of you. It’s like asking the average person to rub their stomach and pat their head, while riding a unicycle and juggling chainsaws. I guess the true test of skill is being able to correctly chain combos and complete the level, but I’ve only ever managed to get the ‘Platinum’ ranking once, and I only made myself do that to unlock the ‘King Mode’ for the box level. My grand total for achieving this: 57,000 points. Oh bravo. Shall we organise a parade?
There are currently six different levels to choose from, each new one being unlocked when you achieve a ‘Silver’ ranking in the previous level. So completing ‘Stacking’, ironically the name of the first level, unlocks ‘Tumbling’, which is essentially ‘Stacking’ but with cart-wheeling gymnasts instead of boxes. ‘Invading’ is next, with Space Invaders going from side-to-side at the top of the screen, and you have to stack them downwards. Huh? How does one stack something downwards exactly? I asked myself this when typing that line. I guess the only way to describe it is as if you are making a stalactite made of Space Invaders. Yep.
Each new level comes with it’s own background and musical score. ‘Haunting’, a ghostly version, features a wonderful background of someone’s living room, while someone sits on a grand piano repeatedly to provide us with background music. Delightful. The ghosts fade in and out at whim, so half the time you cannot actually see what you are stacking, and might as well play the level blindfolded for all the good your own eyes are going to be. The developers lowered the number of rows needed to complete ‘Haunting’, so you can enjoy the joys of ‘Snowing’, and this time you get to stack ice cube full of woolly mammoths and frozen Space Invaders, while a powdery blizzard fills the screen and obscures most of your vision. Good luck getting ‘Platinum’ on this one before you have an aneurism. Finally there is ‘Speeding’, only it is actually called ‘Speed’ so the less said about that level the better I suppose. If I just type the words ‘Tron’ and ‘Jenga’ you’ll catch my drift.
The game shudders a bit at times when it thinks you’re actually going to win, so expect to lose a lot of levels because the game is too spiteful to let you get more than nine rows into ‘Haunting’. I shudder to think how much tooth enamel I have ground away in the past week through playing this game. In all honesty, I’ve grown weary of trying to get anywhere with Stack King, and I don’t think it’s down to any lack of skill on my part. The music flits in and out when it pleases, rows of boxes or ghosts or acrobats appear from nowhere and ignore my commands to stay still, and there is always this gnawing feeling that, even if I manage to complete the level after hours of trying, my score will still probably be beaten by someone whose stack could barely be considered ‘Bronze’.
So I can’t recommend the game to you if you anger quickly, or if your eyesight is poor, or if you suffer from OCD, or even if you enjoy a game being the slightest bit unfair towards you. With that in mind, I do wish the six remaining people on this planet the very best of luck with this game. I don’t care if I sound petty, I can say what I like about a game and can do all the sulking I want. Maybe I should crown myself the Sulk King in the game’s honour?
MLG Rating: 4/10
Platform: iOS Release Date: 18/08/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Stack King for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an iPhone. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.