previews\ Nov 3, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Tiny Brains Preview: Super Mario 3D World for the PS4 crowd


I know what some of you are thinking: “Here we go again, another one of THESE games.”

Tiny Brains is yet another result of an AAA development exodus. A team consisting of former designers behind Assassin’s Creed and Dead Space 3 came together to form Spearhead Games, and in about a year they had a cute, puzzle-oriented indie game to show for it. You might think you’ve seen this before, but time has shown that when smart people move to indie games, the results are worth playing.

Tiny Brains is a 4-player co-op puzzle game in which four lab animals work together to complete a string of brain teasers. It’s a cutesy, quaint premise. Indie puzzle games are a dime a dozen, but it’s all about that co-op and how each character’s power interacts with the others.

Tiny Brains

The Tiny Brains' powers are create, teleport, vortex, and force. You use create to make an ice block that can be a platform, or hold an object (like a rolling ball) in place. You use teleport to swap positions with an object in the environment. Lastly, you use vortex or force to pull or push objects, respectively. With four players, each player has access to only one character and ability, so they have to work together to succeed.

Almost immediately, the interactions between the powers reveal themselves in fascinating ways. To cross a large gap, for example, one player could create an ice block, a second player could hop on top, and a third could use force push to shoot the block and the player across the gap. In one instance, my group needed our teleport player to get back to our side of a large gap, so we dropped an ice block -- which counted as an object they could swap with -- and they used it to return to the other side. In more difficult puzzles, each player has a role that they must execute in quick succession, but there almost always seemed to be more than one approach.

Between the puzzles themselves and the potential interactions between players, the game is full of satisfying “a-ha!” moments akin to Portal 2 multiplayer, but much more chaotic. Tiny Brains’ brand of puzzle solving isn’t always precise and elegant, something that lends it an air of New Super Mario Bros. or Mario 3D World-esque madness.

Tiny Brains

Tiny Brains may feature online co-op, but it’s a party game at heart. You’ll want to create that vibe on a couch with your friends if you can. Even though I was playing the game with people I’d only met a few minutes before, we were laughing, cursing, and high-fiving as if we’d been playing games together for years. That said, the game features online co-op and you can even play by yourself if you want, switching between each power on the fly. The only trick is that, with less players each individual player has more to do, so the game’s difficulty increases quite a bit if you play by yourself.

In addition to the Tiny Brains’ story mode, there are individual challenges that aim for infinite replay value. In one mode we played, we had to navigate an increasingly perilous rotating cylinder while keeping a giant sphere in play. The goal is to get as far as you can, and the environment is procedurally generated. Not only is the environment different every time, but the game supports leaderboards so you can compete for the top spot.

On top of cooperative play, Tiny Brains also features a competitive mode called Tiny Soccer. In this mode, all players have access to all the powers in the game, and you can use them against each other. Beyond that, there are two goals, two teams, one ball, and the highest scoring team wins. This mode was a great example of Tiny Brains’ value as a party game (and a painfully good reason to buy more controllers). Throughout our match we figured out new ways to combine powers and gain an edge -- we teleported the ball away before a goal, shot ice at opponents to knock them off course, and other tricky combos.

Tiny Brains will be heading to PS3, PS4, and PC on November 15th for $20. That’s a bit on the higher end when it comes to downloadable titles like this, but those comparisons to Portal co-op and Mario multiplayer don’t come lightly. At worst, Tiny Brains will offer you one long night of hilarious and memorable co-op fun with some friends. At best, it’s shaping up to be a game you’ll come back to again and again.

Enjoy random thoughts about the latest games, the Sega Saturn, or the occasional movie review? Follow me @JoeDonuts!

About The Author
Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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