Review: Tiny Brains
Tiny Brains is the PlayStation 4’s first true local and online cooperative puzzle game. It’s also a mixed bag of awesome gameplay design and technical shortcomings. In a nutshell, it’s a ton of fun to play both by oneself and with up to three other people. But without an update to fix the game’s many technical and often frequent bugs, Tiny Brains falls short even after being delayed by nearly three weeks.
In Tiny Brains, you’ll play as one of four mutated lab animals. I simply refer to them by their color because it’s easier during the frenetic action of the ball challenges for example, but they do have names. Purple is Dax with the ability to force push objects. Orange is Stew and he can quickly pull objects close to him even if they are above or below him. Blue is Minsc and his ability is to create an ice block that can be used to access higher platforms. Last but not least, red is the rat who is able to instantly swap places with an object on the same plane.
The story begins with the four super-powered critters solving a series of puzzles created to test their capabilities. A mad scientist is behind the entire creation, locked in his oversized lab and forever wearing a freaky protective suit that later becomes one of his many jokes. The tiny-brained animals thwart his devices, but he finds a way to keep the challenges coming. All the while, a pink chicken is seemingly the prize…for someone.
The controls are simple enough to use, yet complex enough to master. In a game with less than four-players where switching characters is allowed, players can choose to use the d-pad to switch directly to a specific character or toggle through the characters by way of the L1/R1 buttons. Also, both jump and the character’s special ability are mapped to both a face button and a shoulder button. The controls were thoughtfully designed for advanced play-styles while remaining accessible to newcomers out of the gate.
As initial gameplay design goes, Spearhead Games’ first project as a studio couldn’t have been better designed. After all, the main guys behind the project have descended from AAA games such as AC III, Dead Space 3, and Army of Two. They initially created a four-player local co-op puzzle adventure game from the ground up on PlayStation 4, then proceeded to dummy it down for less players. The result is a genius mix of both puzzle and platforming for any number of players.
PRO TIP: With Blue, create and stand on his ice block. Then switch to Purple and force push it across a large gap.
Where with four-players, there appears to be a large gap and several buttons to press before solving the puzzle, with just one player there is a helpful platform in the center and only one button to press. The curved difficulty based on the number of players is refreshing, and its dynamic nature to instantly alter the level whenever a player joins or leaves the game is just smart design. The real challenge comes when your Public or Friends Only game is joined by others. Thankfully, there is no griefing in the standard story adventure, unless your playing in Tiny Trolls mode that allows “Friendly Fire” but I’ll talk about that later.
As for the puzzles themselves, there were honestly about a handful of puzzles that actually stumped me for a second, try a minute. Most of the game was filled with quick yet extremely satisfying puzzles, and it later became a game of how quickly could I complete this entire level. At first, I thought to myself “it’s really too bad the game only took me less than 90 minutes to complete.” While that’s true for a single playthrough of the Story Mode, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
Once the main story is completed, I unlocked several offerings within the Tiny Challenges mode, where the race for top leaderboard rankings will reign the supreme time killer. Within, I found four Ball Challenges which were a lot of fun to play with Chris and the developers at Spearhead Games. There is also a Combat Challenge practically taken directly from a section of the Story Mode where you must fend off waves of enemy chickens.
Then there are the puzzle challenges. Unlocking these will require players to replay the Story Mode to find all the cheese chunks hidden throughout. The puzzle challenges are short puzzles that will have people scrambling to shave off a tenth of a second from their best time to eek out their friend’s best. Outside of challenges, there is also Tiny Soccer, which is a four player game of soccer (or football) where each player is using the unique abilities of the tiny brains to score goals. Unfortunately, this mode is local multiplayer only and does not support online.
Tiny Trolls mode falls right below Tiny Soccer on the Game Modes menu and offers an interesting twist on the game and its characters while still being the same game you’ve already played. Instead of four furry biters as protagonists, you’ll play of four mini humans with a sort of anime look to them. Additionally, friendly fire is on — meaning multiplayer matches will get a bit crazy when trying to pull, push and teleport objects while friendlies are getting in the way.
PRO TIP: With two PSN accounts on the PS4, use a Vita to join a second player into the game locally without the need for an additional DualShock 4.
The ultimate marathon of skill and forethinking is in attempting to obtain the only gold trophy Tiny Brains has on offer, “Intelligence Level: Completionist.” You’re challenged with completing all four chapters in the game in Jules Mode. In Jules Mode, you play as Jules, a red-nosed rat that has all four abilities. This is a single-player only mode, and the kicker is that Jules has only one life. Up to this point, Tiny Brains has only been fun because everyone could die and respawn repeatedly. But Jules Mode is not about fun, it’s the pinnacle of hardcore. At the time of this writing, 0.0% of people have obtained this trophy. That will hopefully change when the game goes mainstream.
Of course, I had to try Tiny Brains out using Remote Play. Maybe it was just a minor concern, but I wondered if I’d be able to use the touch pad controls on the front touch screen of the Vita. It works! And it’s so much better than the screen-less touch pad on the DualShock 4. Of course, there is an even greater learning curve with using the rear touch pad on the Vita to access the L2/R2 buttons, but not necessary since the same controls are also mapped to X and square.
Surprisingly, as repetitive as the music can seem, it’s a really appropriate soundtrack that feels as though it really assists in driving the gameplay forward. The seemingly Russian mad scientist narrating the entire game provides depth to the story while still offering a layer of witty humor, that is if you’re even paying attention to the dialog while puzzle solving with chatty friends. Graphically, Tiny Brains does not impress. Early images may have shown a sharp looking next-gen game, but Spearhead Games decided to put a graphical filter over the entire game that I wish could be toggled off.
I find it important to note the other items that take away from the experience of Tiny Brains. Screen tearing can be very jarring for some, and others a complete show stopper. There is a lot of screen tearing in Tiny Brains, and it seems to lend itself to fits of slow down and framerate dips most often during level transitions. Worse than all, and completely inaccessible by nature, are the frequent and almost guaranteed crashes I’ve experienced while scrolling through the chapters or challenges. There are global leaderboards on this menu that people will want to slow scroll through as I am. These issues need to be resolved soon, and I have faith that they will.
Tiny Brains fits nicely as one of the more replayable games alongside many of the disc-based games I have in my PS4 launch collection currently. Replayability is probably it’s strongest selling point. It’s definitely not the graphics by any stretch of the imagination. With much to unlock, leaderboards to climb, and one of the most difficult, yet seemingly attainable trophies currently on PS4, Tiny Brains should also fit nicely on everyone’s PS4 this holiday season. And soon, on your PS3.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Short yet satisfying 1-4 player local or online campaign
- Story levels dynamically change depending on how many players there are
- Use the touch pad to tell others where to go
- Visual style grew on me
- Inventive characters with really cool powers
- Some challenging puzzles and well hidden cheeses
- Lots to do locally and online in various Challenges
- Lots of leaderboards to climb
What I Dislike:
- Tons of screen tearing and framerate issues (v1.01)
- In-game voice chat was terrible, use Party Chat
- With PlayStation Camera plugged in, no way to toggle voice chat off
- Frequently crashed when scrolling through Challenges