The suffix -craft has a special place in the hearts of gamers. Some may associate it with Mojang’s sandbox world-builder Minecraft, while others will associate it with classic Blizzard franchises Warcraft and Starcraft. Looking to join that pantheon of greatness is MouseCraft, the debut title from Crunching Koalas. Although it has nothing to do with the aforementioned titles, this rodent-based puzzler does look to become the latest indie smash.
A cross between Lemmings and Tetris, MouseCraft is about guiding a trio of mice from their starting point to a block of delicious cheese. Leading this experiment is a cat scientist named Schrödinger, who is not a scientist who studies cats, but rather a cat who just happens to be a scientist. In addition to the cheese, the mice also need to collect blue crystals scattered about each course. These crystals are given to a mysterious benefactor by Schrödinger in order to purchase additional cheese for continued experimentation. While collecting each crystal isn’t necessary for finishing a level, you do need to have a certain amount in your possession in order to reach all 80 stages.
In order to lead your mice through the course, Schrödinger must place blocks called Tetriminoes down to create a path to the glorious nugget of cheese. You start off with basic wooden blocks, but as the game progresses, jelly blocks that can prevent falling deaths, dynamite blocks that blow up after three seconds and blocks that fall apart after two mice walk over them are just a few of the block types that come into play. As counter-intuitive as they may sound, each one is necessary in order to survive the various hazards that litter each course.
In order to keep the experiments fresh, every so often MouseCraft will introduce a new obstacle for the mice to triumph over. There are mechanical mice which serve as evil doppelgangers to your regular mice, pits of acid and pools of water, all of which are surprisingly hazardous to the health of your subjects. These obstacles help each course feel unique and figuring out how the different block types interact with each one provides an additional layer of depth.
In order to make navigating these hazards a little more bearable, the game also allows you to stop time with the press of a button. Besides providing a breather for when the action gets frantic later on, the ability to stop time allows you to carefully place a brick down, without having to worry about squishing a mouse with it. There is no punishment for doing this over and over again, so it opens up plenty of opportunity for experimentation in each level.
While this may sound like a lot to take in, MouseCraft generally does a good job of explaining everything and letting you get your feet under you before the truly devious puzzles show up. It’s hard for me to put into words just how frustrating these puzzles can be at times though. Perhaps something like “@%#&#!” or some other substitute for a swear would work, but my point remains. It’s made even more frustrating due to the fact that the game doesn’t offer any hints if you find yourself stuck. All you can do is just try, try and try again and hope that dumb luck will carry you through the level.
The visuals in MouseCraft are certainly eye-catching, even if they are a little simplistic at times. The colors are bright and pop off the screen and the mice, although rather simplistic in design, are animated well. I would have liked to see more of Schrödinger, though, as he is rarely used and looks rather unique. Outside of the main cutscenes, he mostly just sticks to the background of each level, watching and reacting to your moves with the same basic animations over and over again.
As fun as MouseCraft is, though, there isn’t a ton of replay value to be had with the title. With only 80 puzzles to solve, there isn’t much to do after making your way through them, except for going back into each one in order to perfect them. The addition of a level creator does add some value, and is fun to mess around with, but the lack of online level sharing on the PlayStation 4 right now is a little confusing. Luckily, PC owners can download customized levels, so the cheese-collecting fun doesn’t have to end so soon.
Although frustrating in parts, MouseCraft is a fun and inventive puzzler that rarely feels unfair. While there are little annoyances here and there, such as the nothing of a storyline and the lack of a ton of replay value, the game is a solid addition to the puzzle pantheon, especially on the PS4, which is currently lacking in the genre. All in all, the game is a gouda investment for prospective owners and certainly won’t make players feel blue anytime soon.
I’m so sorry for those cheesy puns.
This review was based off the PlayStation 4 version of the title, which we were provided with.