Tiny Brains is a great PS4 co-op experience that’s far too short for the price (review)

Above: A screenshot of Tiny Brains (2013, PS4)

Image Credit: Sony / Triple Point PR

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The feeling of being an experiment running through a maze is a familiar one for puzzle gamers. Being cast as a test subject fits the nature of the genre, one that essentially scuttles the player from walled-off room to walled-off room to flip switches and progress. Spearhead Games’ Tiny Brains — a bargain priced download available on PS4 December 3rd, with a launch on PC in mid-December and PS3 early next year — takes the notion to the logical next step, casting gamers as a collection of colorful creatures with enhanced mental abilities before depositing them in a puzzle-platforming gauntlet. While swapping between abilities is a blast, particularly with three other players, the short campaign and tacked-on unlockables make this an expensive experiment.

What You’ll Like

A screenshot of Tiny Brains (2013, PS4)

Above: Combining teleporting and telekinesis never gets old.

Image Credit: Sony / Triple Point PR

Your powers are a lot of fun to mess around with

Whatever went on in the experiments that led to the four playable critters in Tiny Brains was worth it. The spread of creature abilities feels limited at first, but the design of the puzzle and challenge rooms healthily encourages mixing between them in the hunt for solutions. A bat that can push objects away, a rabbit that can pull things toward it, a hamster that can create ice platforms, and a rat that can instantly trade places with an object or creature all serve a distinct and necessary purpose towards finding your way to the next room. Flinging creatures across the room on ice blocks and successfully teleporting a battery through a barred fence lends a definite feeling of satisfaction, no matter how many times you perform the action.

The story campaign can be played with anywhere between 1-4 players, and a tap of the R2 button swaps out any missing creatures in the group. The game’s structure is lenient enough to occasionally allow for multiple solutions depending on the amount of creatures in-play. Some of these solutions feel like cheating, bypassing certain buttons or steps in the more telegraphed puzzle-solving process, but it’s not enough to diminish the enjoyment factor. Playing solo comes with a particularly hectic feel, swapping rapidly between creatures in the later stages is the closest the game gets to being a significant challenge for anyone above the game’s E10+ age range.

Gameplay variety keeps the pace constant

While your objective is ultimately to either push a button or insert a battery into a socket, Tiny Brains makes the most of the journey towards the goal. Chapters are divided into three challenge categories: a one-screen puzzle room with a button to push and/or battery to insert, guiding a ball through collapsing floor tiles and twisting bridges, and defending a little pink chicken from enemies. The pattern doesn’t change from chapter to chapter, but the challenges definitely do have a tangible, rising scale to their complexity. New components like machine presses that block certain moves in a puzzle room or tiles that are lit on fire during defense challenges are consistently introduced and seamlessly build on top of existing structure.

Challenge rooms are a nice reward for finishing the story

Challenge rooms are quick, amusing diversions.

Above: Challenge rooms are quick, amusing diversions.

Image Credit: Sony / Triple Point PR

Beating Tiny Brains’ story campaign and finding enough cheese wedge collectibles unlocks a handful of new features, including a small collection of additional challenges. Separated into individual puzzle, ball, or combat rooms, these diversions are enjoyable little snacks that can be indulged in short, largely repeatable bursts. Most can be finished in minutes or less, and immediately feed time and enemy death count to the leaderboards. The total amount of unlocked content doesn’t have a lot to contribute to extended replay value, but enough challenges have an addictive, “one more go!” vibe to justify at least a few more tries to that higher score threshold.

Tiny Soccer is chaotic bliss

Tiny Soccer, a multiplayer 2-on-2 mini-game of goal swapping with all powers available to every player, is by far the most fun to be had with the game as a whole. Each session is more of a mosh pit of friendly fire and rapid telekinesis than a straightforward march to the goal, but the monitoring of each player’s energy meter insures against a lot of constant ability spamming. Cancelling out your opponent’s progress with a well-timed teleport across the field is a ridiculously addictive play. The ball did get stuck in the environment during one of our matches, effectively ending it prematurely, but the sessions are short enough where a quick restart is an agreeable solution.

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