MouseCraft Review: Classic Puzzle Elements, Smartly Combined

A good puzzle game pisses you off.

Ideally, it’s the kind of game that makes you late to dinner because a solution is eluding you and you refuse to believe you’re this dumb. A good puzzle game gets you frustrated not with the game, but yourself, because you know the solution is right there if only you’d could just get your brain to see it.

By this measure, MouseCraft is a good puzzle game. Its deceptively simple premise — what if you had to create paths for Lemmings-style suicidal mice using Tetris-style “tetromino” blocks — gets complex in a hurry, with more and more additions altering the starting point of “make stairs with blocks.” Some blocks explode, some fall victim to dissolving acid, some can be moved, some act as cushion for falling mice.

Throughout MouseCraft’s 80 different puzzles, there’s always the nagging call to try again, to find the perfect intended solution rather than the mouse-sacrificing easy one. Even still, solutions are rarely, if ever, obvious, and the strength of the game comes from its capability of finding good ways to stump players even with its relatively simple set of tools.

MouseCraft
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 3, Playstation 4, PS Vita
Developer: Crunching Koalas
Publisher: Crunching Koalas
Release Date: July 8, 2014
MSRP: $14.99
Available: GoG.com, Steam

As mentioned, the campaign mode of MouseCraft packs tens of side-scrolling levels for players to work through, each populated with three mice who you want to guide to a platform housing cheese somewhere across the level. Invariably, there are obstacles — the mice are dumb and can easily fall to their deaths, drown in water hazards, get crushed under placed blocks or get killed by roving robots. It’s your job to provide a safe path, and each level provides you with a few blocks with which to do so.

The puzzles of each map require players to add blocks at key locations to bridge gaps or create stairs, so MouseCraft is not quite so haphazard about the paths you’re creating as the “Craft” title might suggest. You’re also limited in your solutions by what’s provided — you have to make do with what blocks you’re given in each circumstance.

Also scattered across the maps are more optional objectives that bring up your de facto score for each. To get the best solution to each puzzle, you need to not only get mice to the end, you need to guide them over floating crystals positioned around the area, as well. You’ll often need to create paths on the fly, after your mice have passed certain spot or turned around. MouseCraft gives you the ability to pause time whenever you want, so you can carefully place blocks to circumvent mice on the move and redirect or protect them.

The time freeze mechanic is also one of MouseCraft’s more frustrating elements, however. The mice generally stay pretty close together, and if a mouse has started to move into a space that you want to occupy with a brick, you can accidentally kill it — and that counts for when mice jump up or down ledges. If the jump animation had already started, a mouse is dead even if he’s leaping into a space he couldn’t physically occupy. Luckily, you get unlimited undos as well, so a screwed-up drop or killed mouse is pretty easily rectified.

Most of the puzzles in MouseCraft are well-built and clever, and so while players will run up against plenty of moments of botched timing in which it seems like mice should live but didn’t, the game never makes these stumbling blocks into annoying metaphorical walls. And MouseCraft is always at its most rewarding when you finally figure out the perfect configuration and timing of blocks to solve a puzzle at its top level. None of the stages are so hard that they’ll stop a reasonably experienced player for long, but some do get pretty challenging.

MouseCraft also includes a pretty robust level-builder in addition to its pre-made levels, allowing players to create puzzles of their own. The PC version doesn’t support Steamworks yet to make sharing those puzzles perfectly easy, but it’s a bit of functionality that MouseCraft’s developers say they’ll be rolling out in the next few weeks. In the meantime, Crunching Koalas has set up a server that lets Steam and DRM-free customers share the levels they’ve built, and those offerings will be looped into Steam’s framework in the future as well.

Players looking for a solid set of approachable, easy-to-learn and tougher-to-master puzzles will find a lot on offer in MouseCraft, not to mention the unlimited potential of player-built levels to surpass its initial 80 offerings. It’s a puzzle experience that pisses players off in just the right way, and is well-built enough to make you feel smart all the way through.

Pros:

  • Simple premise ramps up in complexity and difficulty over time, testing players’ ability not only to place blocks correctly, but to do so with proper timing throughout each of its levels
  • Pause and undo features make it easy to test solutions or to correct minor errors
  • Eighty different campaign offerings ramp up puzzles and offer varied solutions and challenges throughout
  • Level builder and coming Steamworks support will mean lots of player-built levels to add replay value

Cons:

  • Some minor irritations with animations and timing will mean you’ll make frequent use of that undo button
  • Some puzzles require rampant use of the pause mechanic, which can make them feel plodding, especially when you have to wait for mice or robots to navigate long pathways
  • Setting and premise are somewhat forgettable

Final Score: 80/100


MouseCraft was reviewed using a Steam code provided by Crunching Koalas. GameFront employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.


Phil Hornshaw is senior editor at GameFront. Read more of his work here, and follow him and GameFront on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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