E3 2013 Preview: PS4 indie Tiny Brains came out of nowhere and totally rules

Spearhead Games is not a normal company. Their (sort of appropriately) tiny booth was tucked away in a corner of the convention floor near some minor vendors, and was manned by the developers themselves, all standing around in lab coats, and practically sparking with manic enthusiasm. So why would these three AAA powerhouses walk away from franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Dead Space, and Army of Two to make a co-op action puzzler about freakishly mutated lab animals?

Because it’s freakin’ awesome. That’s why. Maybe the best game I played all day. Certainly the most pleasant surprise.

Turns out, they all left their old jobs because they shared a vision: making something legitimately fun, that gamers and non-gamers can play together, and where co-op doesn’t just mean four players trying to do the exact same thing at the same exact time. Tiny Brains already achieves this with flair, and the game hadn’t even started development six months ago.

Players are given the choice between one of four hilariously “modded” lab animals: a blue hamster that creates blocks out of thin air, a purple bat with a Jedi-esque force push, a green rabbit with a force pull, and a cute little red-eyed mouse that can teleport by switching places with other items in the test chamber. And yes, I say test chamber with a bit of a wink here because the game does indeed take some cues from Portal, in that the game has you solve puzzle after puzzle simply to see if you can.

However, it’s the co-op gameplay that really separates this game from the pack. Because everyone has a different power, you literally can’t solve most of the puzzles without your friends. The game requires player interaction, encouraging players to talk to each other, and point things out, and co-ordinate maneuvers together. It’s absolutely bliss, and after just five minutes of playing, I found myself hopping up and down in my seat, laughing and yelling with total strangers.

Building out from this wonderful base, the game promises extremely difficult challenge levels that exist outside the story for advanced players to flex their physics muscles, one of which is an endless tube of square panels that rotates faster and faster as the Tiny Brains navigate a giant ball around missing squares. All the game rewards you with is a high score, and yet even that one game mode is enough entertainment for countless evenings of drinking and screaming with your pals.

As a final cherry on the top of this already delightful sundae, the build I played was running on a PS4 dev kit, and indeed, the game is already confirmed for launch on both the PS4 and the PS3. Added features for the PS4 version include colored lights on the controller that correspond to which Tiny Brain you’re playing as, and the ability to point at certain areas of the screen by moving your thumb across the central touchpad.

Tiny Brains is an absolute treat, and I hope it serves as an extremely effective “gateway drug” for those not yet privy to the glory of independent gaming done right.