Few of gaming's pleasures can match the magic of sharing the sofa with a friend and swapping strategies, or insults, as you conquer a game together. Malik Boukhira, co-founder of Spearhead Games, remembers this well, and after years spent working on Assassin's Creed II, Dead Space 3, and other single-player-focused adventures, he has decided to put his talents to work creating a cooperative game for the next generation. The result is Tiny Brains: a four-player cooperative puzzle game starring four superpowered lab rodents, and a lot of evil chickens.
As Boukhira described it, the experience of playing Tiny Brains can vary wildly, depending on whether you're alone or with up to three other people. On the solo end of the spectrum, you have access to all four characters and can hop between them at will. The challenge rests solely on your shoulders to deduce the solution to a puzzle and execute that solution flawlessly--or keep trying until you do. In Boukhira's opinion, playing solo creates more of a traditional puzzle game experience.
Puzzle gives way to party as more minds are added to the mix. I played in a group of four and found it easy to coordinate with my teammates and combine our powers together in sequence. It helped that most of the puzzles took place in a confined space, which let everyone involved keep track of what everyone else was doing. This was especially important when we were attempting to move, say, a battery over a vat of acid and needed to know whom to blame when it landed in the drink.
"For us, the single-screen cooperative play was very important because we wanted people to see each other and each other's actions in order to communicate and solve the puzzles together," said Boukhira. "That was one of the first things we started working on: get the four guys on the same screen."
It was Spearhead's intention to give each character a power that was easy to understand, but could be used--or combined with others--in many different ways. The hope is that even if you're playing with a group of friends who aren't all eSports champions, everyone could still have a good time. "The depth of the game comes from mastering the mechanics. We played through the first stage together in about a half hour, but Simon [Spearhead's other co-founder] can solve it in about 10 minutes, by himself."
Once you feel confident in your mastery of rodent-based superpowers, you can try your hand at the game's challenge modes. The one my group played sounded simple enough: see how far we could push a ball through a rotating, hazard-filled tube. This quickly devolved into a string of last-second saves as we continually had to sacrifice ourselves to stop the ball from rolling into the many bottomless pits. Thankfully, the blessing of infinite lives is a superpower everyone shares.
Depending on whether you're playing alone or with friends--either online or on the sofa--Tiny Brains will feel a little different. In Boukhira's opinion, if this game brings you and your friends together to enjoy a little gaming time together, then it will have done its job. Tiny Brains is scheduled for release on November 15 for PlayStation 4, as well as on PlayStation 3 and PC later in the month.