Tiny Brains review: One night stand
Tiny Brains is too little of a good thing.
Short, but not sweet enough, it introduces a premise, adds one or two more layers of depth, and then calls it a day. The extent of a “brain teaser” in this game is more likely to come from a four-player party atmosphere than the game itself. Drink and stay up too late and you might have some trouble, but you’re more likely to finish the game before you even get a buzz going.
Tiny Brains is billed as a 4-player co-op puzzle experience, and it’s an exponentially better game when you play it that way. Start subtracting players and the fun goes with it. The game features four characters with physics-based super powers like force pull, push, teleport, and create. Combining these powers is the key to solving puzzles, but when you have less than four players everyone else has to pick up the slack by switching between powers. On your own this becomes a chore rather than a challenge.
For those who are stuck by themselves, Tiny Brains allows you to play all the content in the game, and even includes a super-punishing version of the story mode that’s single-player only. Honestly, though, Tiny Brains’ gameplay simply doesn’t lend itself to single player. The fun of the game is in working together to solve puzzles, but trying to be in several places at once, swapping powers by cycling through the characters manually, just isn’t very fun.
This would all be fine if there was a full-fledged, four-player co-op experience to be had, but it never gets there. The experience of working together with friends is genuinely great...while it lasts. Tiny Brains four levels can be blasted through in about two hours. If a game can accomplish its goals in two hours then that’s great, but honestly this one never develops its full potential.
Puzzles involve tricks and teamwork -- like having one player create a block, another jump on top, and a third pushing the block safely across a gap. Between the unique puzzles, players will also have to roll a ball through an obstacle course, protect a baby chick from waves of enemies, and other hazards. These sections are repeated with more difficulty as the game goes on, and they make up the foundation of the game’s challenge mode, where players take on endless versions of the same concept with leaderboard support.
The “A-ha!” moments of Tiny Brains come quick -- a little too quick after a certain point. It makes you feel smart in that satisfying, Portal-esque way, but it barely ever stumps you. The result is congratulatory puzzle solving that feels a bit unearned. If there was a second half of the game with increasingly-difficult puzzles to solve, we might be talking about a must-play with the caveat that you bring friends. Unfortunately, even with friends, the game falls short.
It’s not to say Tiny Brains doesn’t have anything to offer, but outside of a single evening of fun there isn’t anything to sink your teeth into. Anecdotally, I had a genuine blast, laughing with and griefing my friends through a solid few hours, two playthroughs of the game, and some Tiny Soccer -- a two-on-two soccer gametype where all players have all the powers. Beyond that, though, I had little desire to return to it, single player, multiplayer, or otherwise.
There are some strange decisions related to online play as well. While this is a couch co-op game at heart, it’s unfortunate that the developers excluded online support from two of the game’s modes. Had I attempted my “single evening of fun” with Tiny Brains online, it would have been half as long.
The foundation for a great puzzle game is here, but it isn’t built up enough. I appreciate the core design a lot -- puzzles always seem to offer multiple solutions and lend themselves to the chaotic mess of four players, but there simply isn’t enough of them. That the game falls back on certain concepts again and again and never truly hits a satisfying level of challenge is baffling, because what is there is very well-designed.
If a price tag doesn’t bother you, and you have four controllers and friends, AND you don’t mind a game that you’ll never want to touch after a solid evening of fun, then Tiny Brains is still a worthy recommendation. That’s a lot of caveats, though, and when there are games like Super Mario 3D World offering similar chaotic fun with hours of additional gameplay and challenge, Tiny Brains doesn’t make the grade.
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