I’m going to level with you. I hate mice and everything about them, from their ridiculous tails to the speed at which they move. I’d even go to say I have a phobia of them, and I wouldn’t mourn if they and their rat cousins disappeared from the Earth tomorrow. So it’s a bit odd that I raised my hand to review MouseCraft, but I did it because my liking of puzzle games outweighed the mouse hatred.
MouseCraft started as an early access game on Steam, with Curve Studios helping Crunching Koalas to bring the game to PlayStation consoles, making it a cross-buy and cross-save title in the process. As mentioned, it’s a puzzle title where you have to help three mice get across a stage by using a variety of tetromino blocks – which is why Crunching Koalas say it’s a cross between Lemmings and Tetris – all while Schrödinger the scientist cat looks on and takes notes.
Schrödinger is doing these experiments to gain blue shards, which are very valuable in his world, to help fund more experiments of his. The story is pretty simple but the presence of Schrödinger as he watches on is a great addition. You see, he stands in the background and will react to how you play the game, from applause to collapsing in despair. It’s a nice touch and a sense of depth to the pleasantly colourful and vibrant visuals.
The gameplay itself is pretty simple to control, with the added bonus on Vita that you can use both the buttons and the touchscreen. When using the screen you use one finger to drag and drop the blocks, while using another to rotate it. On the main consoles this movement is done by using the analogue sticks to move, and the L1 & R1 buttons to rotate.
You also have the option of unlimited rewinds, so even if you make a mistake, or in the rare instance that dropping a block killed a mouse that didn’t appear to be in the drop zone, it was easily undone thanks to the undo feature though. You can just tap the circle button to undo and another solution to the puzzle.
MouseCraft is all about trial, error, and planning. Every unsuccessful attempt at creating a path makes you think about other possibilities to help the mice get across to the end. You don’t have to get all three of the mice across to advance to the next level but if you want those gold stars then you’re going to have to, and it becomes a major challenge the further you get. The mice aren’t the only thing you have to concern yourself about saving, as blue shards are needed to unlock later stages. If you don’t have the right amount of shards you will have to go back to earlier levels to retrieve them in order to continue.
One way you’re challenged in MouseCraft is by having to edit the path by dropping blocks once the mice are free to wander. In certain levels they’ll go one way when you need them to go the other, but thankfully you can quickly pause the action to introduce a new block to send them the other way or let them get to another part of the stage. While the early levels don’t really play with this mechanic, you will have had to learn this trick by the halfway point.
Mechanical rodents, a failed experiment of Schrödinger, roam some of the levels and will kill your mice with just one touch, so you either avoid, destroy or trap them. As you progress further you’ll come across blocks like the explosive block and the electric block, both of which can also kill your mice, but in some instances you’ll have these blocks in your inventory to use in a way that will help complete levels – hopefully without killing your mice. The exploding block, for example, has a three second timer which activates when a mouse touches it, so it is good for demolition jobs to remove obstacles.
Other obstacles include water, which mice can drown in if they don’t reemerge within ten seconds, and acid which kills instantly. These obstacles are added at a steady pace to keep MouseCraft fresh, while steadily raising the difficulty. There were a couple of points where I became stuck for a while, unable to figure out the solution, but in these cases I would either go back and try to gold star a previous level or just try to sit and ponder. This may frustrate some players but I found it to be a decent mental challenge, like tackling a rather tough crossword.
In addition to the included levels, there is also a level editor for you to play with, where you can create your own levels and experiment. The fly in the ointment here is that you can’t share these for others to download and enjoy your creation.
MouseCraft is a game that manages to take inspiration from two classic titles and create something fun. The fact that I became obsessed with making sure every mouse made it through the obstacle course tells you how addictive this game can be. Of the 80 levels included, there are a few that can stop you in your tracks and put you off from returning, but that minor flaw aside, MouseCraft is a great game that puzzle fans should take a look at.
Versions tested: PS4, PS3, PS Vita