In a lab on Planet Cohesia, the crazy cat scientist Schrödinger is hard at work on his latest experiment. This famous cat in on the verge of a breakthrough, but he’s quickly running out of the one resource needed to make everything work: cheese. Fortunately, a generous and mysterious benefactor shows up to fund the continuation of the project, and therefore Schrödinger’s experiment involving mice, cheese, and a steady flow of tetrominoes can proceed.
This sets up the world of MouseCraft, a fantastic puzzle-based game that is both challenging and delightful in spite of its deceptively simple appearance. It is a game, which at first glance, is easy to write off as a mash-up of Lemmings and Tetris, and while it does borrow elements from both of those games, the experience created in MouseCraft is wholly different than either.
The objective of each puzzle is to guide a group of mice across a series of obstacles to a plate of cheese. The mice move across the screen following a few simple rules, such as they will only climb up one block high and if they fall more than three, they will die. And while you only need to get one mouse to the cheese to advance to the next stage, you’re rewarded if you’re able to make them all survive. So you take the tetromino pieces provided and figure out where they need to be placed so that the mice can reach their destination.
Sounds simple enough, and at first it is. Then more elements are added to the game which make things trickier. First you’re introduced to “anima shards” which are crystals scattered throughout the level that you will need to collect. You won’t need to collect them all, but you will need to get quite a few if you want to advance in the game. Then new twists are added every few stages to make things even more complicated. It doesn’t take long before you’re trying to figure out how to navigate around exploding boxes, deadly robotic rats, and pools of water which will drown your mice in seconds.
It becomes a game of trial and error. You can study the stage for as long as you want, plotting how you’re going to approach it. Do you place your pieces right away, or do you have to wait for the mice to pass a certain point before a piece needs to be placed? Maybe use a bomb to blow up a tetromino that’s in your way? Each stage is different, and they get incrementally more complicated as the game progresses. And while some stages can seem rather simple if your goal is to just get one mouse to the end, it gets mind boggling difficult sometimes when trying to figure out how to get all three across and collect all the crystal shards at the same time.
Fortunately, in addition to an abundance of time you’re also given the ability to undo any move you make. If you discover that your tetromino is in the wrong place, a quick press of the Circle button undoes the last thing you did and allows you to try again. Press it again, and you undo the move you made previous to that one. There are no penalties for taking your time nor for making mistakes along the way. Here, it’s only the end result that matters.
You can also use the Square button to speed the action up if you’re sure you’ve figured it out already. Or, if you prefer, the touchscreen can control everything as well, but I found it much easier and responsive to use the physical controls. It becomes much more difficult to precisely place a block when your finger is covering half the screen.
And while all this is playing out, Schrödinger is always watching behind a pane of glass. In fact, MouseCraft is one of the few games where what is happening in the background is often times more beautiful and fun to watch than the foreground. It’s never distracting but just a nice added touch.
Also in the background is the game’s music, which is neither amazing nor awful. It’s always difficult to talk up a game’s sound design when the main focus of play is around puzzles, and MouseCraft is no different. The music is pleasant and gives a sense of urgency to the puzzle, but if you play it with the speakers muted you won’t be missing out on much.
A nice added feature that the game provides is a level editor, so after you’ve completed the 80 stages in the Story mode (or at any time actually), you can go in and create your own. It gives you all the tools that you’ll need to recreate any of the stages or to make something completely new and outrageous.
Sadly, one of the game’s biggest flaws is that while you can create any kind of level you want, you can only save 16 of them at time, and then you have no way of sharing them. This makes the level creator a little less appealing because other players cannot experience your creations, and you cannot experience theirs. Adding a way for players to share their levels would greatly enhance the appeal of this feature.
MouseCraft is a surprisingly fun and challenging puzzle game that works great on the Vita. It is also a cross-buy title with the PS3/PS4 and your saves can transfer across platforms. The well thought out levels and head-scratching difficulty come together to create an experience that will both make you smile as well as pound your head against the wall. I highly recommend it.