Tiny Brains is not a game designed to stretch the PS4 in any way, and yet it earns its place in the new console’s early line-up because of its attention to local co-op. It’s the kind of game that you download out of curiosity, or because of an interesting demo, but that you find you don’t want to turn off – provided, that is, you play it with friends.
The story concerns four cute little rodents who have been experimented on by a mad scientist intent on developing the perfect weapon. Initially trapped in the laboratory, the four are forced to work together to overcome deadly challenges and taxing puzzles. They each have a different power to help them succeed, such as the ability to conjure blocks of ice to reach high ledges, or the ability to attract and repel objects, or instantly swap places with them. Working out how and when to use each power, both to solve puzzles and defeat enemies, is half the fun.
Alone, you switch between them either with the D-pad or the triggers, and your DualShock 4 will change its light to the corresponding colour for no reason other than that it can. Playing alone, however, is not the way to unlock Tiny Brain’s potential. Sometimes you’ll need to switch very quickly between rodents in order to solve some of the puzzles, and it’s not always easy to remember which direction is which when you’re rushing. The campaign is also far too short, barely scratching the two and a half hour mark, which means hitting the campaign alone can be less than satisfying. Thankfully, there is more to Tiny Brains than a short solo game.
Entering the same puzzle rooms with friends sitting beside you alters things considerably, especially if you have a full house with one player controlling each rodent. Laughs are guaranteed as you struggle to push an oversized ball around a crumbling maze, or defend a cute little pink chick from a wave-based onslaught. You’ve also got the added advantage of the Challenges which, when tackled in couch co-op, represent Tiny Brains at its best.
You might be doing something as mundane as pushing a ball as far as you can along a rotating, disintegrating walkway, but with friends it’s great fun, and you’ll shout and laugh more than you expect as you repeatedly save the ball by the skin of your teeth – of course, failures are always more fun when you can dead-arm the person next to you for messing up, too.
Other modes, like soccer and wave combat, bring variety to the table and go some way to alleviating the disappointment of the short campaign. The only real problem is that Tiny Brains can be a little too simple, and really won’t provide much of a challenge to a group over the age of 11. It’s inventive enough; it’s just that the combined powers of the titular test subjects are maybe a little too complete. While playing solo, it creates a strange imbalance at times, when you can easily see the solution to a puzzle but struggle to action it because of the cumbersome character switching.
Graphically there’s little to set the Bunsen burners ablaze, and the grainy, security-cam quality is kind of double-edged in that it’s great for the atmosphere, but renders the HD somewhat redundant. There’s also not much variety in the environments, as there really isn’t time to squeeze differing areas into the package. The music is also horribly repetitive, though this is counterbalanced by the great voiceover work that adds a charmingly sinister reagent to the formula.
VERDICT: Tiny Brains may not appear to the most sophisticated game for a next-gen console, but it just about does enough to earn its place in the early stages of the PS4’s life-cycle. It may be too short, but it attempts to make up for that with a decent variety of extra modes and a very well implemented group dynamic. A decent little puzzler with a good sense of humour and, more importantly, a sense of its own identity, Tiny Brains is worth picking up and blasting through over a weekend or two, but without friends you’ll only be getting half the package.
DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.
Review code provided by publisher.