I love a good puzzle game, and with the PS3/Xbox 360 generation, a golden age of indie titles has given me the opportunity to play some really good entries in the puzzle genre.
A few months ago, I got the opportunity to preview an early PS4 build of Tiny Brains. Sitting with three other players playing this frantic four player co-op puzzle game was a ton of fun, and like I mentioned in the hands-on preview, it evoked more than a few memories of playing Fusion Frenzy back in the day.
I now had the chance to play through a finished build of Tiny Brains. Does the final product offer as much fun as I had during the preview? Yes and no, depending on your situation. Let me explain.
As a single player game, Tiny Brains is not really the game you want to play. At its core, TB was built to be a co-op experience, preferably four player co-op. I hate to say that the game is virtually unplayable with only one player…but it’s virtually unplayable with only one player. Sure you can get through the earlier levels just fine, but if you have any intention of finishing the game, you better make some friends.
The way Tiny Brains works is simple in concept, but difficult in execution. It’s like a combination of Portal and Fusion Frenzy, with the co-op “party game” atmosphere of FF and the “figure out a way through this puzzle to open the door” concept of Portal (minus GlaDOS, of course). You accomplish this by using four superpowered, mutant lab animals.
One character can create ice blocks, which can also launch other characters across gaps in the level. Another two can Push and Pull objects, and the final character can instantly swap places with any object along a flat plane. The objective is to throw a switch to open a door and progress to the next level, either with or without the aid of crates scattered about (depending on the puzzle in question). There are a few other game modes such as a challenge mode and soccer, but the bulk of your experience will probably be spent in the Story and Challenge modes.
The puzzles that make up the bulk of Tiny Brains are clever at first, but then after a while I noticed they were mostly used again and again, just with slight variations to mask the repetition. That’s fine, I understand there are only so many things to think up when making a game like this, but it lessens the replay value and left me thinking “Again…?” way too often.
The monotony of the main Story mode is often broken up by ball rolling sequences or rooms where you have to fight a bunch of chickens (including the odd “protect this character” mission), but even those get recycled a bit too often. Toss in the fact that Tiny Brains’ gameplay is not really suited for combat, and those chicken fighting segments become more of a headache than fun diversion.
As you start getting deeper and deeper into the TB experience, you’ll start to notice that this game REALLY wants you to play with other people. Sure the game changes the puzzles’ difficulty based on how many people are playing, but these changes are small and you’re still often stuck in situations where a second or third pair of hands would really come in handy.
As a single player game, Tiny Brains uses the directional pad to ask you to switch between the four characters when you see fit. Many times, the solutions call for a very quick, mid-air switch of a character while trying to balance the jump, the switch, and the use of one’s ability. It’s not impossible, but it’s also not ideal. It becomes an exercise in repetition (and not in a good way), and more often than not, you’ll be thinking to yourself, “Ugh, if I had ONE more pair of hands…”
Of course, you could just make some friends, because that’s when Tiny Brains really shows its potential. Even adding one extra person makes the experience so much better, because now some of the stress of moving between four characters is alleviated, though without good communication, you’ll often find yourself and your friends trying to swap to the wrong characters at the wrong time. Four people, folks. That’s how you want to play this game. Then you can each be a character and not worry about switching…ever. You can focus simply on the puzzles and when your character is needed.
While local co-op is the ideal way to enjoy Tiny Brains, there is an option to play via online co-op as well. Maybe it’s just my personal preference (I don’t particularly like playing with strangers), but online co-op just isn’t as much fun as having a couple of your buddies sitting around. There’s more of a sense of detachment and the sessions don’t get as heated.
As a game that you pull out at parties, Tiny Brains actually has a fair amount of replay value. Between the Story mode and Challenge mode, there should be plenty there to keep you and your friends busy. Even as a single player game, there’s a bit to see…it’s just less fun that way. It’s too difficult to swap between all four characters, and because you don’t have other people playing with you, you lose a lot of that teamwork that makes this game fun. Also take into account that the PS4 is still young and not everyone will have multiple $60 controllers lying around. The opportunity to play the game as it was intended just does not seem to be there…yet. With a release for the PC and PS3 on the horizon, more people may be able to experience the multiplayer fun that Tiny Brains is capable of delivering.