Cheddar GorgeIf you were ever a sucker for Lemmings or whet your gaming whistle on Christmas morning eagerly unpacking Tetris, then Mousecraft's core conceit of suicidal rodents crossed with neatly-stacked blocks will do you proud. This is a cross-buy PS3/PS4/Vita game that wears its historic puzzler inspiration proudly on its sleeve, and when we’re talking about combining two of the greatest games of all time, that’s not such a bad approach to take.
The setup and style is akin to a Nickelodeon cartoon. A scientist cat named Schrödinger needs to fund his cheese-based experiments with the collection of a series of blue shards scattered liberally across 80 bite-sized puzzle levels. Your job is to guide a team of three mice across each stage to collect his shiny loot, traversing obstacles, avoiding mechanised rats, water and various other hazards along the way.
In a neat analogue between the game and this reviewer, simply reaching a plate of cheese unharmed constitutes the ultimate goal.
Caerphilly goes itThings begin slowly enough. In true Lemmings form, the mice wander from left-to-right until they either die or hit a wall greater than their height, at which point they’ll reverse direction and march back along the same path. Each level comes with a selection of tetromino shapes that can be dropped into the terrain to provide a route around obstacles or intentionally reverse the mice to pick up an out-of-the-way shard, with the only requirement being that at least one of them gets to the cheddar.
The game ramps up in complexity slowly, providing tutorials for all the major concepts as it goes. Early stages solely revolve around creating simple pathways for your mice, while an element of timing is gradually introduced with the pause button. As an example, you might want to split your team so that one mouse heads upwards to pick up a shard whilst the others head on a separate pathway towards another piece, so you’ll need to wait until two of them wander far enough before pausing, dropping down a new pathway and allowing the third mouse to wander upwards. Simple!
It doesn't stay that way for long. New types of tetromino block are dropped into the mix sporadically at each tier of puzzles, and every one ramps up the complexity and forces you to think differently about the environment. An explanatory couple of levels work through their basic mechanics, and then the following 7-8 stages are almost exclusively designed around manipulating your new toys to best effect.
That ebb and flow of difficulty and drip-feed of new content is crucial to Mousecraft’s ability to sustain attention over its 6-7 hours of play time, and the development team at Crunching Koala continually pulls the rug from beneath your feet with interesting new ideas.
Forever provoloneUltimately, the best levels in Mousecraft make use of all the tools at your disposal. Block-dissolving pools of acid can be used as a timer with which to drop suspended pathways, crumbling blocks can be walked on twice before they fall away to nothing, while electric blocks make water hazardous until they’re blown up with either a collectible bomb or a touch-activated explosive tetromino piece. Steel blocks will happily sit in acid unharmed, pink jelly blocks provide a cushion for mice to fall from greater heights, while a specially-marked tetromino allows you to pick it up and move it around the level as many times as you like.
It can be tough to grasp exactly where everything should go, but quite unlike Lemmings, the block-based nature of each stage and finite number of pieces means that a solution is always within grasp, even if it means occasionally resorting to trial and error. With even the largest of puzzles taking up around two screens of terrain, the maximum amount of time it took to solve even the most devious layout was around twenty to thirty minutes. Others can be breezed through in seconds, and while the solutions are frequently devilishly designed, “hallelujah!” moments of player reinforcement come thick and fast.
With a little practice it’s not too difficult to hit the gold medal in each of Mousecraft’s challenges, and once those have been blitzed, the level editor beckons potential designers into its welcoming arms. Crafting your own puzzles is quick and painless thanks to an intuitive layout of tools and controls mapped neatly to the Dualshock 4 or touch-screen on the Vita, and thinking within the grid-based boundaries of each stage is a satisfying brain workout.
Unfortunately, there’s little you can do with your creations after bringing them into the world. There are no sharing options or downloading features to be found, so your stuck with the content on your console. If you’ve a group of housemates or a partner willing to trade creations then Mousecraft’s creation suite could have a suitably short set of legs, but I’d be surprised to see many players commit any serious time to its charms.
- Gentle puzzles
- Satisfying solutions
- Variation throughout
- Cross-buy and cloud saves
- No sharing facility
- A few difficulty spikes
- Throwaway story
Mousecraft PS4 ReviewOn the whole, Mousecraft is a puzzler that scampers neatly along that line between simplicity and challenge without taking too many falls. You feel great when a solution finally clicks into place, and although several of the gem pieces seem almost impossible to reach, your (lack of) progress is always buoyed by the knowledge that any potential solution is contained within a mere handful of tetromino pieces.
Although there are 80 levels to beat and further gold medals to achieve in each, I suspect the solution to the majority of Mousecraft’s conundrums will yield for many players without the need to browse Youtube or GameFAQs. That’s not a bad thing, and for me at least, the small-scale brain exercises were pitched at just the right level to make for a compelling experience. The steady drip-feed of new pieces simply carried it through.
If nothing else, Mousecraft adds further weight to the theory that anything is better with cheese, and that's a maxim to live by.
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