Tiny Brains can either strengthen or destroy friendships. Grab three of your closest friends and hop into its puzzle-driven story mode, and soon you’ll be cheering, high-fiving, and reminiscing about the time your pal Steve swallowed a goldfish whole. Then load up a separate game mode titled Tiny Soccer, split your team of four into two teams of two, and dig in for some good ol’ fashioned competition. Suddenly Steve won’t be such a cool guy, because that shithead just slam dunked your goal post. Forget the stupid goldfish story, all you’ll want to do is go home and furiously write in your diary about how you hope he steps in a mud puddle and ruins his favorite pair of pants. But you won’t leave to do it until you play Tiny Brains’ addictive challenge modes for another hour or two, because this co-op puzzler is an incredible experience with a few friends in tow.
Playing with others is a must if you want to get the most out of Tiny Brains. You’ll control one of four genetically modified lab creatures, each equipped with a superpower: the ability to summon ice blocks, push or pull stuff, and swap places with objects or enemies. Only by working together and combining their powers can you hope to overcome the story’s physics-based puzzles, or the challenge modes’ obstacles.
All of their abilities are extremely useful, though some are more enjoyable to play than others. The ice block-summoning hamster, for instance, is great at stopping rolling objects from falling into a pit, or building a platform for his teammates to jump on. But his role is often far more passive than that of the mouse, who uses teleportation to sentence battalions of evil chickens to death via meat grinder/drowning/burning alive. Best case scenario, you’ll have one player on each duty at all times. The less people you have playing, the more you have to swap between powers on a single character, making the puzzles and challenges significantly more difficult (or less so, if Steve is particularly fond of being a dick).
The story mode has a Pinky and the Brain vibe to it, as you and your lab rat friends have to use their powers to solve puzzles and escape captivity. It’s full of goofy, charming moments–protecting an innocent pink chick from her brainwashed yellow brethren is nerve-racking fun–and the puzzles offer a nice variety of challenge. You’ll learn the ropes of using your character’s ability on simple introductory obstacles, while some of the later ones will have you and your friends calling each other idiots because none of you can figure out how to free a caged battery cell and move it into a nearby socke–ohhhh that’s how you do it.
Eureka moments are plenty common, but expect to run into some minor frustrations. A subtle, grainy visual filter occasionally becomes obtrusive, as do random frame rate dips. There’s also the fact that the story mode frustratingly concludes almost exactly at the two hour mark. My friends and I were finally feeling invested; the puzzles were ramping up in difficulty, forcing us to come up with some creative solutions to continue on–and then BAM, credits. It was a shockingly jarring end that came right as the story mode hit its stride, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed at its premature conclusion.
Still, the story puzzles, while fun in their own right, also do a great job of preparing you for Tiny Brains’ excellent challenge modes. These are where you’ll be spending the bulk of your time, as nearly every single one of the half-dozen or so will provide hours of entertainment. Most revolve around using your team’s powers to move a giant ball through an obstacle course without letting it fall into a bottomless pit. Again, this is where the magic of local multiplayer really shines. With friends at your side, the room is guaranteed to erupt in laughter when someone inevitably goofs and hurls the ball toward oblivion; similarly, you’ll cheer in triumph when Steve finally pulls through for once and makes a clutch grab right as the ball teeters over the edge of a pit. And once you close in on a leaderboard record, your hearts will pound so hard that you’ll suffer collective heart attacks and your families will rejoice at the group deal they’ll get on burial plots.
Additional puzzle and combat challenges add some variety to the mix, tasking you with solving increasingly difficult puzzles or defending a target from waves of enemies. On the whole, though, their appeal isn’t quite as alluring as the ball challenges. Then there’s the aforementioned soccer mode, where each player has all four abilities to knock a giant ball into the opposing team’s goal–it’s an absolute blast. All said, there’s about 10 different modes here, of varying lengths and difficulties. And while fun for an evening or four, you’ll reach a point where these one-note challenges run their course, leaving Tiny Brains’ long-term value questionable.
Tiny Brains an excellent downloadable package and an even better multiplayer game. Few other titles manage to capture the magic of on-the-couch multiplayer quite as effectively. Its bizarre yet charming premise and the clever design of its puzzles and challenge modes are certain to keep you giggling for hours, even if you’ll see all the content available in four or less. But, despite its few caveats, you’ll keep coming back, if only for a time, to land higher scores, to share some more laughs, and finally prove to Steve that your brain is bigger than his.
This game was reviewed on PS4.