Tiny Brains preview: science party

Lab animals have come a long way since the days of mice running through mazes for cheese. Tiny Brains, the upcoming puzzle game from 505 Games and indie developer Spearhead Games, is a four-player co-op game that emphasizes the virtues of teamwork with four perfectly adorable mutated lab creatures.

The game begins with a masked mad scientist introducing players to the four titular Tiny Brains: Dax the bat, with the ability to push objects forward with a sonic scream; Stew the rabbit, with the power to telekinetically pull objects towards him; Minsc the hamster, who can create ice blocks out of thin air; and Pad the mouse, who can swap places with objects. The scientist wishes to test their teamwork abilities... for science, of course.

The four lab animals must work in tandem while sharing a single screen, whether it's a single player alternately controlling all four characters or as a four-player co-op experience. I got to check out the latter experience, with many of the puzzles relying on proper use of each character's powers through the shoulder triggers. For example, one room had a ball locked away behind a metal grate that needed to be placed on a far-away switch. To reach the ball, Minsc had to create an ice block for Pad to ride, while Dax gave it a push with his sonic scream. While Stew retrieved the ball, Stew could safely bring the ball towards him with his own powers. Many puzzles allow for teams to experiment with trial-and-error approaches without fear of penalty, since characters can quickly respawn after dying. If anything, accidental death by a buzzsaw can be pretty hilarious and help lighten the mood in the room.

To mix things up, the mad scientist quickly introduced the most horrifying of enemies: cute baby chicks! Dispatching enemies is a simple matter of jumping on their heads, though each character can use their powers to also dispose of them. For example, Minsc could crush them with ice blocks, while Dax could push them into a pit. There was also one sequence that involved surviving waves of chicks, which quickly became hairy, especially once larger, mutated chicks wielding staffs were introduced.

Those looking for a change of pace could also get into the Tiny Soccer mode, which is exactly what it sounds like. Four players play two-on-two rounds of soccer, using each character's powers to try and push a soccer ball into the opposing goal. It's a fun twist on a classic game, which can become surprisingly competitive. There's also a Tiny Challenges mode that offers more score-based challenges, like one that tasked my team with keeping a ball in play for the most amount of time. These modes offer some relief from the linear story mode, while also maintaining the party atmosphere that Tiny Brains is aiming for.

As a solo game, Tiny Brains could turn into a frantic game of micromanaging characters and making sure everyone's in the right place. But as a co-op experience, it has the potential to be a tremendous party game. It initially missed the PS4 launch, since Spearhead wanted to add online play, but Tiny Brains will release for PS4, PS3, and PC on November 26.