- Release Date (NA): July 8, 2014
- Publisher: Curve Digital
- Developer: Crunching Koalas
- Genres: Puzzle
- Also For: Computer, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4
Schrödinger is a scientist who enjoys the art of experimentation. He has a knack for designing clever gadgets with a quirky single use that perhaps will not really aid anyone in particular. Schrödinger is also a cat, and like most of his species he enjoys playing with mice. His most recent experiment is the implantation of a simple mouse obstacle course, where the tiny furry creatures must leave their training wheel and venture forth to reach the cheese. While such experiments are usually kind to the creatures involved, Schrödinger must have been designing with his predatory subconscious, for he has implemented sinister pitfalls designed to trap and destroy the helpless little mice. Gauging his various expressions, he enjoys the perilous adventure as much as the end results. Thankfully, the mice are not left to their own. The player acts as the unpredictable experimental factor, by guiding the mice through the obstacles with the placement of tetrominoes. These of course are geometric shapes made up of four squares, made famous by the Soviet tile-matching puzzle game, Tetris™ © ®.
Running The Maze...
If Saturday morning cartoons have taught us anything it is that mice love cheese. It makes perfect sense that if you set them loose across an obstacle course with maze-like elements that they will march blindly to its aroma. If you were going to design this obstacle course, what possible objects would be the most elegant? Our lovely feline scientist has thought long and hard about this and has settled on tetrominoes. These geometric shapes are the perfect solution as they can be stacked into various patterns in an effort to build bridges, staircases, walls, and more. While our captive critters are marching towards their goal, why not give them even more to collect! Scattered throughout each obstacle course are shiny crystalline objects known as Anima Shards. Collecting them is a requirement for advancement and achievement. To add a sinister level of fun to the whole experiment, Schrödinger has designed exploding blocks, acid traps, water pitfalls, mechanical rats, collapsing pathways, and electrified blocks. Used in a variety of ways, they can both help and hurt our small friends.
Obstacle courses are broken up into 4 sections, each containing 20 levels and a varying amount of unlockables. The mice are set free at anytime by pressing the Square button. Once they begin their journey, they walk until interrupted. These interruptions can include hitting a wall which redirects the mice into an opposite direction or a pitfall which may trap or end their movements. The player interacts with the experiment by positioning tetrominoes throughout the environment. They appear at the top of the level and are grouped by type. Tetrominoes are selected by pressing either Left or Right on the directional pad, and then chosen for insertion by pressing the X button. Once on the game board, a grid pattern will emerge that acts as a guide to simplify the placement of tetrominoes. The geometric shapes themselves can be moved around the grid, in all directions, by moving the left analog stick. Additionally, they can be rotated in 90 degree increments to the Left or Right by pressing either the L1 or R2 buttons. Once they have been sufficiently positioned, they are locked in place by pressing the X button. With the acceptation of 1 type of tetrominoes, they can not be repositioned. Instead, the user must press the Circle button to go back 1 move, subsequently resetting everything which has happened up until that point. The game features a time freeze element executed by pressing the Select button. During this period of time everything stops moving while the player is free to position blocks and plan strategies. As the mice will never stop moving once they have been set in motion, this “pause” feature is the only way to successfully complete some of the later levels.
Special unlockables include objects that will both help and hinder the experiment. The bomb, for example, can be used to blow up almost any tetromino. It is executed by pressing the Triangle button, and then selecting the desired shape by moving the directional pad or Analog stick in different directions. Finally, pressing the X button will explode the highlighted geometric shape. The Jelly Brick, another helpful object, provides a soft landing when the mice fall more than 3 units high. Each unlockable object is earned after beating a specific level. The level which follows is always a simplistic tutorial which provides a relaxing moment to become accustomed to the new object.
List of Unlockable Objects:
- Anima Shard - Collectable object. Required to advance to the next set of levels.
- Brick Bomb - Usable object. Can blow up all tetrominoes except for the Indestructible Brick.
- Ratoid - Hindering object. Mechanical rat that stalks each level for unsuspecting mice.
- Jelly Brick - Usable object. Cushions a fall from more than 3 units high.
- Water Obstacle - Hindering object. Slows movements. Mice have 10 seconds worth of air.
- Crumbling Brick - Usable/Hindering object. Completely disappears after walked on for a 2nd time.
- Exploding Brick - Usable/Hindering object. Explodes after 3 seconds and destroys anything within a 1 unit rage.
- Electric Brick - Hindering object. Electrifies anything that touches it, including water.
- Acid Obstacle - Hindering object. Destroys anything that touches it except for the Indestructible Brick.
- Indestructible Brick - Can not be destroyed by anything.
- Moving Brick - Can be repositioned an unlimited number of times.
The various unlockable objects breathe new life into an otherwise simple gaming mechanic. Instead of simply offering bigger levels with more tetrominoes, the unlockable objects provide new challenges that increase in difficultly as the game progresses. Early stages simply offer a brain teaser element as the player must consider the correct path to all Anima Shards that results in each mouse reaching the cheese. Once unlockable objects come into play the levels begin to take on a dynamic element that is the hidden strength of this game. Soon the player must coordinate crumbling tetrominoes with acid pools, and exploding tetrominoes on levels that do not offer Brick Bombs. By the time the last set of levels is reached, the pause button becomes a saving grace. It will allow the player to freeze all movements while they consider how to reposition the Moving Brick in an effort to block, support, drop, or guide our mice to the desired result.
Building and Designing...
The game comes with a fully equipped level editor that will allow any aspiring scientist to design their own creative experiments. While the editor contains every element required to reproduce any level found in the game, it feels tacked on and not well implemented. Object selection is done via a curser, controlled by the directional pad or left analog stick. The curser provides a feeling that the editor was simply ported from a mouse-driven environment and not specifically considered for the PlayStation controllers (PS3, PS4, Vita). The two things required of any level are the starting and ending points. Oddly, these two objects are never placed onto the highlighted space. Instead, they are always dropped into the top left of the design area, which forces the user to drag/drop them to their desired location. Once a level has been finished it can be tested by pressing the Play button. The level then loads and begins to function based on game mechanics. Going back into the editor requires the user to press Start and then select "Return to editor". Very few usable features have been tied into the controller, with the exception of add and delete. All other interactions require a point-n-click interface that is not well suited for the PS3 environment. By this point you may be thinking that these annoyances are not deal breakers, and you would be correct. The mouse cursor, selection issues, and hidden "Return to editor" option are far from the largest complaints. The real issues here are the limited save slots and lack of online level exchange. The game provides 80 levels of increasing difficulty across 4 grouped sets. The editor only allows the user to save a total of 16 levels. If you do happen to really get into the editor, and end up building something truly diabolical, you have no way to share it. While the game features "cloud saving", it fails to take into account that users would love to save, share, and play levels from all over the world. The appeal of this type of game and its mechanics would be the ability to play additional levels. It begs the question, why provide a level editor if you simply are not going to make it fully featured?
Graphics and Sound...
MouseCraft successfully merges cute imagery with a modern design to create a well crafted puzzle experience. Graphically, the game speaks to the portable generation who has been inundated with pick-up-and-play puzzle games. The pseudo-3D depth of game elements is well implemented while providing a finished polish to an otherwise standard puzzle game. The laboratory environments change with each section of puzzles. Their moving objects and lights bring a sense of vibrant realness to the concept. The animated movements of the scientist are entertaining and clever, as he reacts to different things in a way that brings life to his character. The cartoon-like shading of the mice will appeal to all ages as they quickly realize that these tiny cute sprites are worth saving.
The sound of objects and their placement both move and end with a sense of satisfaction. The entire world does not feel alive, only the experiment does, and this is an important factor that strengthens gameplay. Throughout the various level packs are subtle and repetitive sound tracks. These enhance the game play by making you feel relaxed at first and then slightly stressed as the pace picks up to match the release of the mice. Along with the graphics, these tracks were carefully chosen to enhance the entire experience.
There are aspects of the game that have not been so well implemented. The first of which is tetromino selection, something which can become frustrating while trying to play on-the-fly. The geometric shapes are selected with the directional pad, yet moved with the analog stick. This can get confusing when things are happening at a quick pace. At times it is possible to instinctively attempt to move a piece with the directional pad, only to have it select the next tetromino in the lineup. Would it not have made more sense to link selection to the unused L2 and R2 buttons? This way the player would select with the bottom set of shoulder buttons, move with the analog stick, and rotate with the top set of shoulder buttons.
Another selection issue comes in the form of the Brick Bomb. Pressing Triangle highlights a tetromino in red letting the player know which one they are going to blow up. The problem arises when a different block is desired. Sometimes pressing right will take you down, or pressing up will take you left. When they are all grouped together, pressing down will navigate down to the bottom most tetromino, but pressing up will head to the right, and then pressing left will go up before going down again. This can become incredibly frustrating as you mash the directional pad in the hopes the block you want will be selected.
The pause button is a necessary evil that has been implemented as an actual gaming mechanic. The true genius behind this game is the frustrating feeling that comes from trying to manipulate an object before it is too late. When later levels force you to pause, think, and then move, it quickly becomes clear that this mechanic is operating as a cheat. It is possible to successfully beat all levels without utilizing the pause button, and it is this symphony of movements and mechanics that ultimately feels the most satisfying.
Previously pointed out in this review, the level editor fails to satisfactorily add any real sense of depth to the game. It could have offered years of challenges through world-wide level experimentation, it instead simply feels tacked on and forgotten. Supporting only 16 save-slots, its most frustrating feature is an inability to return to the editor in all situations. Pick a saved level to play, and then find that there is absolutely no way to jump into the editor to make changes. The game instead forces the user to return to the level list, where they can then select the editor option. An editor should feel streamlined into the product. It should make it as easy as possible to build and trade levels. Otherwise, what is the purpose of including it?
Beating each level requires that only 1 mouse survives to reach the cheese. This fact, along with the pause button, clearly shows that some of the levels were perhaps too difficult during initial beta testing. I can only assume that the developers attempted to remedy this by implanting these features to appeal to all ages, as reflected by the game’s ratings. Instead I would argue that this game should have been more difficult in an attempt to appeal to achievement hunters.
MouseCraft is a fun twist on the marching mechanic puzzle genre. It offers an interesting take through its use of varying tetromino elements. Level difficulty increases at a pace that feels challenging and satisfactory at the same time. The core game itself is exceptionally fun, yet it can be beaten in just 1 sitting. Most puzzle adapt gamers should be able to unlock all achievements and 100% all collectable Anima Shards in just a few days. Unless you truly enjoyed the experience, there is little to return for. A flawed level editor and repetitive gameplay make it an occasional pick-up-and-play experience at best. Navigational flaws and controller implementation may have hardcore puzzle fans reaching for a mouse-driven copy instead.
- Graphics and sound
- Challenge level
- Fun factor
- Game mechanics
- Varying Tetrominoes (different elements)
- Somewhat short
- Poor level editor implementation
- No user created level trading system
- Replay value limited, related to an ability to memorize