Tiny Brains Preview: Party of One

Tiny Brains may well be the premiere game for Playstation 4 owners to grab this holiday season when looking for something to play with a variety of non-gamer types.

The four-player, mostly cooperative puzzler is all about guiding four superpowered lab rats through a series of levels. Each animal has a special power good for manipulating objects: one can do the equivalent of Force Push; another can Force Pull; still another can create ice blocks for reaching higher elevations and the like; and the last can teleport by instantly switching places with a movable objects.

From what I saw at E3 2013, the power of Tiny Brains is in its ability to keep its gameplay simple enough that it’s approachable for even fairly new players. With each character only having one job, just about anyone can accurately execute on their powers. Where the gameplay gets deep and strategic is in using those powers together — since each character augments the abilities of the other, working together as a team gets complex.

I had a chance to preview more of Tiny Games at 505 Studios earlier this month, where I tried some fresh content ahead of the game’s release on Playstation 4 on Dec. 3. Mostly, though, I was concerned about how the game would handle without a crew of three friends of varying gamer skill levels — so I took it on alone.

Your Powers Combined

Playing Tiny Brains’ five-chapter story campaign alone is an interesting animal. With more players, the game requires teamwork and coordination; alone, it still requires a fair amount of coordination, but it’s kept in your mind as you juggle each of the powers of the characters, all mapped to one controller.

The game makes this possible by giving you the ability to use the D-Pad to quickly switch between each of the four characters. As you solve a puzzle that require scaling a block and pulling an object, for example, you can execute those moves easily by switching between the two necessary characters. It’s a bit of a more conventional puzzle game experience — you have a set of powers, and flipping between them is fast and intuitive.

Tiny Brains also meets you halfway on a lot of the more difficult puzzles. Late in Chapter 1, for example, there’s a puzzle that requires one player to create a block, another to stand on it and the third to throw it out over a gap. The player on the block, using the teleport character, can then snag a ball from around a corner, putting it in range of the other characters. The fourth player, using the pull ability, can then grab the ball and complete the puzzle.

Alone, this puzzle is executed in a similar way, and coordinated players will be able to manage most of the strategy in a similar way, or find new solutions to the same problem. But the game is tweaked slightly to make things a bit less daunting, adding a bit of extra flooring to the gap so that the puzzle remains challenging for a single player, but doesn’t go over the edge to become frustrating. It seems developer Spearhead Games has tweaked a number of puzzles in this way to accommodate a single player, or smaller teams.

In fact, if you’ve got fewer than four players, the game does a pretty good job of adapting to the situation in the same way. Any player can switch to one of the unfilled roles whenever necessary.

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