Whoever said that 4-player local multiplayer was dead, didn’t tell the team at Spearhead Games, an independent game studio based in Montreal. Although Tiny Brains features online multiplayer, you’ll get the most out of the game when you are sitting right next to three of your pals – preferably within arms length of each other.
Told through various physics-based puzzle rooms, the story in Tiny Brains features four genetically altered lap animals (a hamster, a mouse, a bat, and a rabbit) combining their newly acquired superpowers to solve puzzles and escape the lab. The large blue hamster has the ability to summon ice blocks and thrust anyone into the air if they are standing on top of the block. The other creatures allow you to push or pull objects as well as swap places with enemies or objects. All four of the powers can be used together to get the power supply (l think it’s a battery) and get it to the socket in order to advance. Having less than four-players, you’ll have to swap characters on-the-fly in order to use the right power in the most opportune moment. Playing through the game the first-time with Joan, it took an extra thought process in order for us to use all four powers split between the two of us.
As you progress through the narrative, lasting no more than a couple hours, the puzzles become more complex, requiring not only the combination of powers, but precise timing. In one puzzle, we had to create an ice block and push the block and my character over a pool of lava, and launch into the air switching characters in the air and using the Bat’s power to swap places with the “key”. Joan, after pushing me across the lava had to swap to the green Rabbit character to “catch” and pull the key to the platform before it fell into the lava. Like us, you’ll be spending plenty of attempts trying to execute your plan, only to have the light blub go off over your head to correct a simple mistake. Dying in the game means nothing as you will instantly respawn. I felt almost guilty sending my lab creatures to their death on purpose in order to respawn on the correct platform – almost.
Breaking up the puzzles are stages that throw waves of evil yellow chicks (chickens) in large quantities at you and a defenseless purple chick. The players goal is to protect the chick, but Spearhead Games keeps it from feeling stale by tossing in environmental hazards requiring you to reposition the chick in order to protect it from falling into lava or being roasted alive from shooting flames. Without four players these stages are overly frustrating, requiring constant restarting and quick swapping between the different characters.
Simplistic and colorful, the visuals are masked by a grainy looking filter covering the entire screen. The frame rate takes a nose dive into the lava on occasion when all four characters are on screen. The worse offender is when collecting the hidden twenty cheese wedges, the game will actually freeze for a few seconds.
After finishing the story mode, you’ll spend all of your time trying to beat the handful of challenges and in the addicting soccer mode. Splitting players up into teams of two, each player has all four of the abilities, as you compete to move a giant ball into the opposing team’s goal. If you are looking for a more cooperative experience, the challenge modes provide the most amount of entertainment, at least the ball challenges do. Expect to be yelling, cheering and laughing with your friends as you try and keep the giant ball from falling through the gaps. The more friends you have the more hectic things get with everyone trying to use their powers to keep the ball moving. The remaining challenges pressure you and your friends to compete for the best score by collecting puzzles the quickest and surviving waves of enemies. Completing the story mode will open up other modes, including limiting lives to only one.
Tiny Brains succeeds in providing a resurrecting to the on-the-couch party genre, which I haven’t enjoyed since the original Mario Party. Although the game is functional with less than four players or when playing online, the experience is completely different. I’m a huge supporter of online multiplayer, but Tiny Brains is the perfect game to spend a weekend playing with friends and family squeezed together in the same room.
Note: The Tiny Brains review was written based on the PS4 version of the game.