Tiny Brains may have most misleading name of any game in recent memory. Sure, it’s catchy, and clearly made for sequel-izing (Tinier Brains, Tiny Brains II: More Brainier…), but the fact remains that this downloadable, physics-based puzzling platformer for the PlayStation 4 requires you to have something better than a tiny brain if you want any hope of succeeding.
Made by Spearhead Games in Montreal, Canada — a new studio whose staff previously worked on a bunch of Dead Space, Assassin’s Creed 3, and Army Of Two sequels — and published by the good people at 505 Games, Tiny Brains has you controlling four laboratory animals who each have a distinct power. Dax, who may be a flying squirrel (it’s hard to tell), can push things; a rabbit named Stew can pull objects; Pad is a rat or white mouse who can use teleportation to swap places with things; while Golden is a Mr. Freeze-like hamster who can make small blocks of ice that he can explode. The latter of which is actually more handy that it might sound, since if you’re trying to get on top of something and your little legs won’t let you jump high enough, you can just make a block of ice, stand on it, and then explode since, instead of killing you, this will shoot you up into the air.
Together, the four furballs have to figure out how to get out of whatever room you’re in. And this is where your big brain comes in, because while the answers are obvious early on, they get increasingly obtuse as the game goes on.
Consider one room you visit early on. To get out, you have to place a square peg into a square hole. Except that the square peg is in a recessed area, and this recessed area is on the other side of a chasm filled with large grinding gears. So what do you do? You get the lil’ guys to work together until one is on the other side of the chasm and then…well, that’s enough of a hint for now.
There is, however, a little more to this than just figuring out how to escape whatever room you’re trapped in. There are also times when your guys are beset upon by baby chicks. Not to worry, though, since you can just jump on their heads like you’re a plump Italian stereotype and they’re turtles with weak shells. You can also use Dax’s pushiness to either bowl them over with one of Golden’s ice blocks, or knock them off a ledge into one of those aforementioned gear pits.
Either way, what they lack in strength the chicks more than make up for in numbers, which is why you’ll probably not die because of the chick in front of you, but from the three or four swarming behind you.
Then there are times when you have to use your skills to protect a pink baby chicken in what may be the most adorable rip-off of Gears Of War 2’s “Horde” mode yet. Though this is also where things get really tricky because not only do tons of yellow baby chicks come out you at the same time, but because pinky has no survival instinct, she just stands there. Like an idiot. Who was born yesterday and okay, now I get it.
Needless to say, things get a lot more complicated and difficult when our heroes escape the controlled environment that was the lab.
As clever as Tiny Brains may be, though, not all of the decisions made on its behalf were smart ones. For starters, the cartoony music is aggravatingly bad, even after just a few minutes. Thankfully, you can turn it off.
Visually, the game isn’t anything to write home about, as it has a blocky look that makes it look more like a PlayStation 3 game than PlayStation 4. (Hence why I’m unsure if Dax is a flying squirrel or a chipmunk wearing a coat like he’s a flasher.)
In fact, the only thing about Tiny Brains on the PlayStation 4 that is uniquely PS4-ish is that you can use the touch pad to place and move an arrow on the screen. Unfortunately, the arrow is just for show, like if you’re playing co-op and want to “show” someone were to make a block of ice. It doesn’t have any other function. You can’t, for instance, use it in conjunction with Pad’s teleport or Dax’s pushing to move an object to a specific spot. Unfortunately.
And speaking of co-op, while Tiny Brains is clearly made for four people to play together, you can play with less, or even on your own, since you can easily switch between characters on the fly. Time even slows down to a crawl when you do.
That said, trying to play this on your own is really, really tough. Even the simplest of tasks, such as getting a ball through a maze, can be tricky, especially since many of the mazes don’t have guard rails or anything else that would prevent the ball, or you for that matter, from falling into the abyss.
Even with these issues, though, Tiny Brains is still a compelling and challenging game for those who like the acrobatics of a platformer and the problem solving of a puzzle game. So long as your brain is big enough.