If rats really do have the power to manipulate time, it's no wonder scientists are so keen to experiment on them. In Funky Lab Rat, you play as a cartoon rodent with a knack for freezing and rewinding time whenever his pea-sized heart desires. It's a clever mechanic that reaches far beyond its basic premise, forcing you to solve complex puzzles in a variety of physics-defying ways. The intriguing foundation does a fine job of drawing you into the epic struggle between man and beast, but a number of lingering issues make you feel as if you're trapped in a maze without any cheese. The difficulty is quite high and cumbersome controls make leaping to freedom really tricky. Funky Lab Rat is a decent game that will push your puzzle-solving abilities to the limit, but only if you can stomach its deep-rooted problems.
Escape is never as easy as breaking free from your cage. You play as Diego, a bright-eyed rat who has no interest in playing any games with his syringe-happy captors. But after fleeing from his metal cell, he finds himself in a laboratory that's far more dangerous than he could have imagined. Bottomless pits and deadly platforms stand between him and a life of quiet contemplation, and the only way he can overcome these traps is by exercising his temporal powers. You can cause time to stand still with the push of a button, and from this suspended state, you can move objects around to help you make it out alive. Grab a plank of wood to form a temporary bridge, position a ball under your feet for a handy way to roll across dangerous ground, or place a block to act as a stepping stool. And if you make a mistake, you can rewind to the moment before your troubles occurred, ensuring even tricky jumps can be dealt with after a half-dozen attempts. Rewinds are infinite, but your supply of time stoppers is limited, so you must make wise use of your powers to reach the exit intact.
This is a great concept for a puzzle game, and the stages do a fine job of making you think outside of the box. Funky Lab Rat introduces you to advanced ideas early to prepare you for the more difficult lateral thinking you'll need to do to solve later puzzles. One of the first tricks you learn is freezing in mid-jump, and this maneuver is the impetus for a gaggle of increasingly complex scenarios that force you to view the world from all sorts of different angles. You may have to flip a spring upside down so you can stand on it or construct a wobbly bridge that can only hold your weight for a second before it topples down. There are even situations in which you must build a rudimentary vehicle, and all of these creations adhere to the laws of physics. The game continually presents you with crazy situations, and it takes a good deal of creative thinking to best these devious traps.
Your mind gets a serious workout in Funky Lab Rat, and it's easy to get lost in its intricate trappings when you get into a rhythm. But the other key to success is platforming prowess, and that's the first place that this game stumbles. The controls are basic--Diego can perform a modest leap but has no other acrobatic abilities. His limited move set isn't the problem; rather, it's how imprecisely he moves. Jumping is extremely finicky because the game doesn't have a guiding hand in where you land. There is no sense of suction drawing you to nearby ledges or feeling of friction once you've landed, which makes it far too easy to overshoot your mark. Granted, you can rewind time to try again, but that doesn't make it any more fun. Furthermore, the physics engine makes it difficult to predict where you'll land. You may leap gracefully to a far-off ledge or stumble impotently to your death, and the disparity in your athleticism is demoralizing. There are instances when you'll devise an incredible scenario to solve a punishing puzzle, only to falter repeatedly because that blasted rat won't do what you tell him. With patience, most of the leaps can be executed, but it never feels right.
Within each level, there are a number of pills to collect that open up later stages. Although these seem like optional collectibles early on, it becomes apparent before long that you need to nab as many as you can if you want to make your way deep into the game. The toll for accessing later worlds is high, so make sure you're thorough or you have to revisit past levels until your purse is overflowing with the spoils of success. Funky Lab Rat is a devilishly hard game that relishes in the complexity of physics-based puzzles, and that difficulty is pushed to a seemingly insurmountable plane when you have to worry about collecting pills when merely making it to the exit is a sizable challenge. There may come a point when you don't have enough pills to move forward and can't muster enough even after replaying the previous stages a few times, and that's when Funky Lab Rat crushes your spirit. There is a lot to like in this ingenious puzzle game, but you need to have a knack for time manipulation and a lot of patience to experience all of its delightful content. Difficulty is not inherently bad, but Funky Lab Rat sets the bar too high.
But, then again, no one said being a rat would be easy. It's important to understand that only the most dedicated players will see all of Funky Lab Rat's levels, but that's not a death knell for this imaginative game. Time manipulation has been done before, but the puzzles are so creative that anyone who relishes a good brain stumping will enjoy guiding Diego through these mazes. The puzzles are not the problem in Funky Lab Rat. Controlling the inconsistent leaps of your rodent friend will make you daydream of buying a virtual cat, and the exorbitant price for those later stages is deflating. Funky Lab Rat will make you rage at times, but at least you'll feel like a genius when you come out on top.