Tiny Brains from Spearhead Games is a cooperative action puzzler for 1 to 4 players that, without wanting to spoil the rest of the review, is full of great ideas but never quite lives up to its promise.
The background to the game is that you play as one of 4 animals (switching between them with the d-pad or shoulder buttons) that have been experimented on by a clichÃ©d mad scientist (complete with dodgy Russian accent) to the point where each has developed a unique power, and each is colour coded so you always know what power you have available to you at the time – Blue is Create (a block of ice), Green is Pull, Pink is Push and Orange is Swap. OK they aren’t the names the powers are given in the game, but give an approximation of what you can do.
The ingenuity of the game is the way it places you in situations where you need to use combinations of powers to achieve your goal.
For example, one of the earlier puzzles has you needing to place a cube on a pressure pad, but there is a deep chasm splitting the room in two (too wide to jump across), and the cube is on the opposite side of the screen, behind a wall. One solution may be to create a blue block, use the force push power to send it (with you on top) over to the other side of the chasm, then pull the cube out from behind the wall. Now the block is visible from where you started, you can head back and use the Swap power to swap places with it. Then travel back again with the block/push combination and pop it on the platform.
OK I probably didn’t explain that very well, but it shows how you have to swap between characters multiple times, using various combinations of powers to accomplish the task at hand, whether that be unlocking an exit, moving a ball through a tilting maze, or protecting a strange pink creature from attack by mutant chickens. Yes. Mutant chickens. Levels can be completed in different ways, and although obviously designed for multiplayer, they can also be played alone.
Another issue is that in each set of levels you will see similar problems to ones you have already encountered, used again and again, maybe as part of a larger puzzle, but you do get a sense of dÃ©jÃ vu.
The developer has added some longevity to the game by adding additional game modes to the “Tiny Story”. Â Tiny Challenges, as the name suggests are single player challenges with online leaderboards, such as “how far up a rotating cylinder can you push a ball”. There is also Tiny Soccer mode where 4 local players can play a 2-a-side version of football with the Tiny Brains characters and powers. Competing the Tiny Story game unlocks a Tiny Trolls mode which adds friendly fire to the main game, and also unlocks a fifth character, Jules, with all four powers at his disposal (one to each shoulder button).
The main problem I had with the game was the controls – they weren’t exactly unintuitive, but I always felt like I was fighting against them, especially as a solo player. I struggled to remember which d-pad direction was which character, and as every character change costs you a small amount of time, this can be frustrating on some of the more time sensitive puzzles, or the “protect Pinkie” levels. Another gameplay design element is that each power has a cool-down period before it can be reused. Whilst understandable, it can exasperate, especially when playing alone.
The quirky music and art-style are both great, and although I was playing it on PS4, I didn’t see anything that couldn’t have been done on PS3 (apart from the use of the touchpad as an on-screen pointer to assist online communication). Each of the characters have their own distinctive design and style, but once you are in the game itself, the overhead view means you are just relying on the colour changes to tell your characters apart, so are largely wasted.
In summary then, Tiny Brains is a clever puzzler, with some great mechanics, but ultimately let down by some clunky controls, especially for the solo player, and some repetition of mechanics and solutions between levels. However, its saving grace is that it is pretty much the only local co-op game on the PS4 so there is definitely more entertainment value here if you have friends to play with.
Reviewed on PS4