Tiny Brains Review: Putting (Evil) Brains Together

Building a good party game is tough, because just about anytime you put four players together on the same couch, one of them is going to be terrible.

It seems to be a natural law of video gaming, and especially with the widespread adoption of online gameplay, it’s not often that you’ll find a solid game to play with a group of people who aren’t necessarily up to speed on the latest iteration of Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed. Tiny Brains is one such game, and through some elegant design, it manages to be both deep and accessible at the same time.

Despite being a party game at heart, developer Spearhead Games has done a pretty phenomenal job of creating a four-player puzzle experience that works with any combination of participants — or even alone. Smart gameplay, tough challenges and fun game modes add a lot of diversity to a relatively simple concept of using telepathy to move objects around 3-D levels.

Tiny Brains
Platform: Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC, Playstation 3
Developer: Spearhead Games
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: Dec. 3, 2013
MSRP: $19.99
Available: Playstation Network, Steam

Tiny Brains is intended to be a four-player co-op experience, in which each player takes on the role of a single mutated lab animal as the group runs through a series of test chambers, similar to what you might experience in the Aperture Science labs of Portal. Each room is a puzzle that players need to solve by working together to press buttons, move over obstacles, and manipulate objects. To do that, each player has one special power, like the ability to pull objects with telepathy or push them the same way. Another character can instantly swap places with an object, effectively teleporting it to his or her location; the fourth can create blocks useful for reaching higher locations or to use as moving platforms.

Each player’s power is mostly none too useful on its own, but within the first few test chambers of Tiny Brains’ Story mode, you’ll be expected to work together. It’s in that tandem cooperation that the game begins to really shine: the powers are simple enough that they’re easily understood, but the game starts to plumb the depths of its own mechanics by giving players the opportunity to mix them in creative ways. Sometimes solutions are straightforward, but other times, players may well work out ingenious puzzle solutions that the developers might not have intended, like going over obstacles with the Force Pull ability instead of around them with Force Push.

And there’s no shortage of obstacles to deal with. Tiny Brains includes a story mode of four chapters, and the first time through they’ll likely take a coordinated team around 20 minutes to complete. But it’s hard to break down Tiny Brains by playtime, because better players will move faster than unfamiliar players, and all the levels can be replayed for speedier runs to climb up the leaderboard.

Story mode itself works as a great introduction to the game and a fairly humorous romp through its darkly cartoonish world. The lab animals, beset by sadistic experiments from their clean suit-wearing super scientist creator, wind up busting out and getting into all kinds of trouble. Chaos ensues. The whole thing is fun and the humor works for both adults and children, and story mode is a solidly safe way to experience the game without too much trouble, while still being challenged throughout. (This is largely thanks to death being completely meaningless, and sometimes even a useful puzzle-solving tactic — anyone character who dies respawns a few seconds later in safety.)

Tiny Brains includes a whole lot more content than just its story mode, although it could benefit from a little more diversity. There are numerous additional takes on what you can do with the powers, and plenty of ways you can play the game. The game features five total modes in all, and each brings an interesting variant to the base gameplay.

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