I like things to be a little bizarre, and while platform puzzle game Tiny Brains may not be utterly insane, it’s certainly a little loose around the edges. I mean that both technically and psychologically (if you’re still with me). Tiny Brains presents a charming, and often fun, gaming experience that actually feels pleasingly different to many of the puzzle titles that have come before it. What it does well, however, is partially squandered by a lack of overall content. Still, this is one of the first games of its sort on PS4, so it’s certainly worth looking into.
The plot is the source of that bizarre element. Tiny Brains sees the players take control of four genetically altered creatures in their bid to escape the clutches of an evil scientist overlord. The whole theme is touched with more than a little degree of silliness, and there are some genuinely amusing bits of dialogue. The scientist’s various cages, traps and experiments are effective narrative devices, as the scientist created them specifically to test the Tiny Brains. There are other elements to the two to three hour story mode, even a little plot twist; for a small PSN game there’s actually a decent (although very little) yarn spun here.
Of course, little story elements aside, this is a platforming puzzle game through and through. The key to Tiny Brains is the special powers that each creature possesses. They’re actually all pretty intuitive and work excellently in combination. They have names, but it’s unlikely you’ll know them as anything other than “the rat who swaps places with objects”, “the bunny who brings things towards him”, “the bat who pushes things away” and “the hamster thing that spawns an ice block”. The puzzles vary between a few certain types, including getting a power cube into a socket, guiding a ball through a level and fighting little chickens (remember that kookyness?).
The puzzles are mostly good; a decent mix between challenging and accomplishable. It’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself properly stuck and there’s enough variety in the levels to keep them interesting throughout. The ball levels are especially fun; attempting to balance the various powers can be a hilarious experience and completing the levels feels brilliantly satisfying. Unfortunately, the main reason the puzzles never become boring is because there’s simply not enough time for this to happen. You’ll be whisked along at a brisk pace and before you know it, it’s already the end of the game. For a puzzle game, a maximum three hour story mode is a very much on the short side. I can’t help but feel as though Spearhead Games could have gotten a bit more out of the mechanics they’ve created.
The story mode is short, undoubtedly, but it can be great fun. Tiny Brains’ headline feature is the implication of co-op play, available both online and offline. While the single-player mode sees that sole individual control all four of the creatures by swapping through them, co-op allows up to four players to take control of the Brains individually. Playing with friends, particularly from the same sofa, adds a great level of replayability to the game. The cooperative elements breathe new life into the game. In some ways, it can be more fun to try to work out the puzzles by yourself, but on the whole, nothing beats playing with your mates. What’s really clever is that none of the levels actually change based on whether you’re playing co-op. Making solo play more challenging, but often more rewarding.
There are other modes to try, quite a friendly amount on the surface. These include challenge maps, which are essentially self-contained puzzles that often task the player with setting time based records. There are also some slightly unusual modes that are unlocked upon completion of the game, like a serviceable football game, which is quite amusing when playing with friends. Differing versions of the story mode are also unlocked, playing as one character who has all the powers but only one life, for instance. As I said, there are a fair few modes to play; but none of them feel very substantial, and are unlikely to hold your attention for very long. Considering the short story mode, it makes for a package somewhat lacking in replayability.
The PlayStation 4 version I played featured surprisingly poor graphics. The overall quality is bad enough alone, add on to this the odd grainy filter that persists throughout play, and it can be a tough game to actually watch in action. The cartoon art style is much better than the graphical quality of the game, but there’s not a whole lot to see. One level implements a neat touch of dark/light balance, but other than this most of the levels take place in familiar lab settings. The sound design fares better; the aforementioned comical dialogue is the highlight, but there are also some good sound effects and music to be found. Nothing special, but enough to stop me playing my own music in the background.
Tiny Brains is also available on both PS3 and PC, and while I didn’t get to try the other versions, they’re supposed to be practically the same regardless of platform. Which shows on PS4 more than anything else, as this is undoubtedly the worst looking game on next-gen that I’ve played. Thankfully, it plays a lot better than it looks. Some clever puzzles are interspersed with more exciting challenges that are interesting when playing both alone and with friends. There’s nothing particularly new on offer here, but it’s a decent platform puzzle game, especially on the software-short PS4.