Tiny Brains (PS4) Review
Ben Sheene / Dec 9th, 2013 No Comments
Over time, gaming has grown into an increasingly social experience. Co-op shooters and MMOs have elevated traditional one or two player affairs beyond the couch and into the online world. Gamers can now connect to a distant friend or an anonymous stranger to fight evil hordes or solve puzzles. The prominence of live streaming and “Let’s Play” videos show another trend in social gaming. In fact, Sony and Microsoft believe in these types of services so much that they’ve integrated them into their new consoles. For those who want to be social and play online, the PS4 and Xbox One are somewhat limited in variety at the moment. Action titles and shooters are at the forefront of multiplayer experiences. Tiny Brains hopes to change that. Spearhead Games has crafted a co-op puzzler that aims to capture a new generation of social gamers. But does it live up to the challenge?
In Tiny Brains, players control one of four rodents who are trapped in a laboratory. After being experimented upon by an eccentric scientist, each of the four rodents now has a unique psychic power. Using these powers and the assistance of a pink chick, the four “tiny brains” must escape the scientist’s puzzle-filled lab. It’s a standard premise that feels like it could have been ripped from an episode of Pinky and the Brain or another Saturday morning cartoon.
Tiny Brain’s story is full of cute characters and silly dialogue, a game that never takes itself too seriously. Because of that, the setting and the gameplay all mesh well as a package. A thin plot is just a way to frame a game where players are going to be using crazy powers to solve puzzles. Because of that the experience finds itself lacking, not in charm but in length. Coming in at around three or four hours for most players, the main campaign is short. Though it ensures that players won’t get tired of it, the game feels like it is over before it even begins. A longer campaign would have added even more puzzles. One point of argument, however, is that the length of the campaign makes it easier for multiple people to sit through in one session, similar to Journey‘s approach to co-op.
Gameplay & Multiplayer
Force push, force pull, swapping item locations, and creating ice blocks out of thin air – those are the four powers players have when controlling the tiny rodents during their escape. Using these powers in conjunction with each other to solve puzzles is the true meat of Tiny Brains. The initial stages of the game make for a good introduction to each power. The goal of most puzzles is to get an electrical cube into a hole that will activate the exit. Complications arise when the cube is on the other side of the room between the player and a bottomless pit, trapped behind a wall or just too high up. As a general puzzle game, Tiny Brains is never too simple or too baffling. With the right amount of thought, players will have plenty of “Aha!” moments and feel rewarded when figuring out the solution. Other sections of the game have the rodents defending their chicken friend from attackers or getting a ball to the end of a corridor filled with obstacles. Those moments in the game can be fun but are actually implemented better outside the story in the form of challenges.
Having Tiny Brains as a four player co-op game elevates gameplay and the overall fun factor. When Portal 2 did it with two players, it felt like a natural extension of the single player. Here, the game lives and breathes multiplayer. It’s a thing of beauty watching three or four players solving puzzles together. If the group is stuck then someone is bound to start barking solutions over a headset or frantically using the DualShock 4’s touchpad to draw a line to the solution. Whether with friends on the couch or online, Tiny Brains feels more like a party game with the addition of several players. Working together is not only fun but ridiculous if a situation boils over into anarchy. A focus on multiplayer also means that solo players will have a somewhat less enjoyable time.
Spearhead crafted an experience for multiple players but they don’t completely leave loners in the dust. Difficulty is slightly adjusted for one player and time slows down to allow for quick switching of powers. Still, there are moments where a puzzle seems unsolvable without at least a second player present. Those chicken defense and ball challenges are actually the most difficult sections to complete solo. With just one player, resources are spread too thin and gameplay becomes a mad scramble to force push everything where it needs to go. It’s also in these sections where some of the powers feel more important than the others, a problem which Spearhead admirably avoided for most of the game. One unfortunate thing about the construction of puzzles is that they are primarily constricted to one room. This is meant as a service to the laboratory environment but doesn’t give them room to stretch and be expansive problems that players must work together to solve.
[adsense250itp]To extend the life of the rather quick campaign, several challenges and modes are added to the end-game. A single player challenge brings in a new tiny brain equipped with all four powers and one life to complete the campaign. A cute version of soccer is a good way to kill some time where a friendly-fire enabled co-op mode is just hilarious to watch. Challenges work great with the drop-in/drop-out co-op as players can pick one and get right into the action. Ball challenges where players must get the ball as far as possible are procedurally generated and are always different and chaotic. Combat rooms are good but might only be for people who enjoyed them in the campaign. Even if it remains the same at its core, Tiny Brains promises fresh challenge with leaderboards and the possibility of playing with new friends.
Graphics & Sound
The PS4 is currently home to some beautiful games with incredible graphical wizardry. Tiny Brains makes no effort to place itself among those triple-A games. A cartoon-like presentation instead makes the tiny brains both adorable and uniquely odd. Everything in the game is bright and full of color. A couple cool touches such as a darkened area lit by a green radioactive ball are definitely memorable. Despite all that, the game does have glitches. Characters sometimes have a tendency to get stuck after they die from falling in a bottomless pit. One time a tiny brain fell in a section where lava was rising and became stuck, dying over and over until the lava had reached its apex. It might not ruin the experience but it can grind the game to a momentary halt.
A surprising amount of charm can be derived when hearing the tiny brains and chickens squeak and make noises. The mad scientist’s thickly-accented performance is funny and threatening in the most adorable way. Like the story itself, the audio never takes itself too seriously and music fluctuates between catchy tunes and exaggerated hype music to inspire players during challenges.
Tiny Brains is the epitome of a social game. And for a console generation where being social is a new focus, there isn’t a better match. Without a doubt, solo players are not going to have as much fun as four friends or strangers getting together and shouting at the screen, working their way through the various challenges. It feels a lot like Wii Sports did when it first came out, a game you just need to play with others. Maybe it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the shiny, new technology but it certainly has its finger on the pulse of one aspect of gaming. The short campaign begs to be extended and hopefully that will come in the form of updates and DLC. As it stands, players wanting to have silly amounts of fun with others will get their time and money’s worth out of Tiny Brains.
For more on Tiny Brains, be sure to check out our interview with Spearhead Games Co-Founder, Malik Boukhira.
tags: ps4 , review , spearhead games , tiny brains