Review: Tiny Brains (PS4)

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Title: Tiny Brains
Format: PlayStation Network Download (PS4/PS3 Cross-Buy) (2.1 GB)
Release Date: December 3, 2013
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Spearhead Games
Original MSRP: $19.99 (PS4/PS3 Cross-Buy)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Tiny Brains is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. It is a Cross-Buy title.
The PlayStation 4 version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Let the Indie Games begin! Apart from launch titles Resogun and Contrast which came free to everyone with PS Plus, which was everyone for at least 30 days, Tiny Brains represents the first example of Sony’s new, energetic commitment to the indie game scene.

Gameplay:
As far as single-player goes for what is primarily an up-to-four-person multiplayer game, Tiny Brains manages to keep the controls sensible, simple and easy to manage.

There is a brief tutorial which introduces the player to each character and the special powers bestowed upon them in some lab by some wacky, albeit slightly sadistic, scientist. They are Dax, a purple bat with force push power; Stew, the green rabbit with pull power; Minsc, the blue hamster who can create a block of ice out of thin air and then blow it up to propel any character into the air; and finally Pad, the red-eyed mouse who can teleport to switch places with objects in the environment. The light bar on the controller changes color to match the colors represented by the rodent currently in play.

Tiny Brains - Campaign_07

And oh yeah, you can use a PS Vita as a controller if you don’t have enough Dual Shock 4’s hanging around.

Playing alone, one uses R1 and L1 to switch between characters on the fly. Powers are handled with the square button and movement is on the left stick. The camera is fixed.

You have to solve puzzles to advance to each new level. Each level consists of an area with various obstacles like a block in a cage you have to move over a precipice and into a target or a croquet ball you have to move into a hole at the far and unseen end of a tilting cardboard area with destructible Popsicle stick edges. Don’t even try to do this lazily using only one character. Dax can’t do it all on his own! You’ll need to push, pull and sometimes block-and-hurry-before-the-ice-melts! It’s tricky and challenging but not in an unfair way.

There comes a time, like in the days-of-old, when it is necessary to jump on enemies to kill them. This jumping mechanic is helpful but it’s clear the developers want the players to use their powers in tandem to rid themselves of these enemies. Whether by design or by chance-left-unchecked the jumping offensive is not wholly successful. I won’t spoil anything here but I must mention chicks. Not the “Booth Babe” kind.

Tiny Brains - Campaign_04

Know this, once you begin a game you can only get drop-in help from someone in your physical location. Brother Farquar can pick-up a controller or a PS Vita to help but you can’t pause play and invite someone in from online. That said, you can choose to host a public game and players may appear suddenly. The only draw-back to that is if you use the PS4 party chat any drop-ins may be silent.

Tiny Brains includes the following modes, Tiny Story, Tiny Challenges, Tiny Soccer and after you’ve completed the Tiny Story you will unlock Tiny Trolls and Tiny Jules.

PRO TIP: If you use the right stick you can see the AOE (Area Of Effect) of your square button special powers!

Visuals:
The game looks alright but there is some tearing which is no deal-breaker. It’s just that for a “next-gen” game on the PS4 screen tearing is almost inexcusable. Clearly the reason for it does not lie in the hardware.

The game’s not 1080p, 60 fps but it looks fine. I wish it were higher resolution with a higher frame rate because with PS4 that’s what we all want now, particularly on simpler games like this one which seem to have plenty of room to run. Does Tiny Brains really demand such great computing that it can’t run high HD graphics and evens runs into issues with screen tearing? It doesn’t have to. It shouldn’t. Perhaps if the game sells well enough they can add another patch to improve the graphics.

Tiny Brains - Campaign_08

Audio:
The music is charming and appropriate. Sound effects are well done. Character vocalizations and the scientist are all whimsically realized.

Online/Multiplayer:
I had the good fortune to play online with Glenn Percival, one of the hosts of the PS Nation podcast. We played over the same section I had played in single player. There is no doubt the game goes more quickly with a friend and some puzzles are easier to figure out when you can split the actions.

Interestingly and as a sign of the “new present”, the in-game chat failed us the busier the game became. During one horde-of-chicks section I couldn’t understand Glenn at all which was a problem since we really needed to coordinate our actions. I jumped out, fired-up the PS4 cross-game chat, invited Glenn and we were able to continue with crystal clear chat and vanquish the foul foes. Hence, my advice to developers is don’t bust your chops adding in-game chat. Use those man-hours to beef up graphics and mechanics. Indie game or not we gamers want to go, “Holy moly! Look at my TV!” or “Did you see how many I squashed?!” instead of “Huh!? Mavis! I cain’t hear ya!” In-game chat seems a redundant use of faculties.

Conclusion:
The single-player experience is challenging without being too frustrating. With so many ways to solve each level, one can pause the game and make a plan or dive in and go nuts. It’s not easy though and with an E10+ ESRB rating, the kids will need comrades either on the couch or online to keep down the frustration factor.

As far as multiplayer goes, Tiny Brains succeeds in bringing people together in a whimsical, sometimes frenetic, co-op experience not yet seen on PS4. I can also see this as part of a fun get-together with everyone playing it as a party game without being forced to sing or dance…or dust off the Wii.  And remember that everyone can log-in as a guest and get their own Trophies, Yo!

Score:
7.5

Written by Keith Dunn-Fernández

Keith Dunn-Fernández

An actor/director and more lucratively an Administrative Assistant at a small paper company in NYC, Keith loves his games. And he loves to write. And he is a bit of a sarcasmo.

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  • I’ve just stumbled across this review, thanks Keith! The game is part of a February Sale on the EU Store and I am tempted to pick it up. Come payday, I will now! Anyone know how many hours the single player is please?

  • Makai

    The graphics aren’t as great as they should be because the PS4 version is probably a bad port.

    Which I don’t mind, since it’s free with the purchase of a PS3 version.