Head for the cheese.
MouseCraft is a puzzle game featuring an array of stages in which the player is tasked with leading a group of mice across a 2D landscape to the cheese that awaits. In the middle lie various hazards, traps and enemies just waiting to take down this little caravan of rodents. To prevent this from happening, the player must place blocks – tetrominos, no less – in such a way as to allow the mice to traverse each level safely. The story, such as it is, involves a crazy cat scientist named Schrödinger who is conducting experiments involving cheese in order to create a machine powered by the movement of mice. MouseCraft features eighty levels to challenge the player, the completion of which aids Schrödinger’s grand experiment in mice-fuelled technology.
It is apt that MouseCraft sells itself as Lemmings meets Tetris, because upon launching the game for the first time it is immediately evident that this is a completely accurate description. And it’s really, really cool. The premise of the game is brilliant in its simplicity – the player grabs bricks from the top of the screen, placing them on the game ‘board’ below in such a way as to help the mice avoid trouble. The mouse button is used to click on and drag bricks to where the player wants to place them; these can also be rotated using either the mouse or the space bar. The mice can only jump up one block, so bricks must be appropriately placed in order to allow the mice to get across the screen.
Similarly, mice can only fall from a height of three blocks without perishing, so the player must be careful not to let the creatures plummet to their deaths whilst wandering across a level. Jelly bricks, which become available as the player progresses through the story, can be used to soften a fall of more than three blocks, preventing the mice from dying if they fall from a great height.
The mice start out each stage safely contained in a wheel before the player chooses to release them into the environment. The mice are then free to plod along towards the cheese that waits at the end of the stage, or meet a grisly death at the hands of whichever hazard the player might not have adequately accounted for. The speed of the game play can be increased when the player is confident that the level is safe for the mice to cross, and is happy to sit back and watch them scurry to their meal. Given that levels grow in length and complexity as the story mode progresses, this is a useful tool. As the stages become more challenging the element of trial and error comes into play.
Travelling at their standard pace the mice of MouseCraft hardly move at light speed, so I certainly welcomed the ability to move things along at certain points rather than sit around impatiently waiting for my mice to meander over each and every obstacle in their path. As well as the ability to fast-forward, the player is also able to utilise an active pause ability, which freezes time in order to calmly place bricks whilst navigating a particular level.
Completing levels unlocks Anima shards, crystals which hold great value on the Planet Coheisa – the world in which MouseCraft is set. Collecting shards helps to fund Schrödinger’s experiment so it can be continued. Mice can collect shards; collecting all the shards in a level contributes towards getting a perfect score. This involves placing blocks in certain positions that enable the mice to interact with shards as they cross the screen, rather than merely reaching the cheese as easily as possible. I quickly discovered that sometimes I needed to release my mice into the level before placing all the blocks on the board, as they may reach an obstruction and need to double back in order to collect a shard.
On the block.
There are a variety of additional elements that come into play throughout MouseCraft. Brick bombs don’t harm the mice, but do come in handy destroying, as the name implies, bricks. Like shards, bombs can be collected from the level by funnelling mice towards them. Water obstacles also impede the progress of mice towards their cheese: while the mice can stay underwater for ten seconds before running out of oxygen, and water obstacles cushion a fall like jelly bricks do, water also slows down the movement of mice. As such, bricks must be stacked in order to prevent the mice from drowning. Crumbling bricks are more fragile – this brick will fall to pieces the second time a mouse crosses it. Exploding bricks arm themselves when touched by a rodent, detonating three seconds later. The blast from these bricks destroys everything within a one-block range.
Enemies come in the form of Ratoids, the result of Schrödinger’s experiment to make mechanical mice. Ratoids behave just like mice, but the player must endeavour to keep their mice away from these enemies, as any interaction results in immediate death for mice of the non-mechanical variety. Bricks can be used to either navigate around Ratoids, or dropped on them to crush them. Similarly, bombs can be used to destroy bricks and, if timed correctly, cause other bricks to fall and crush any Ratoids wandering around beneath a stack, adding another layer of strategy to the game.
You’ll be coming back for more.
While the game represents itself as a mash-up between Tetris and Lemmings, it does lack the frantic pace of the former. I found that a lot of the strategy required to beat a particular stage can be thought through and implemented before I even released my mice, reducing the necessity for quick, on-the-spot decision-making as a given stage unfolds.
The restart button is useful as the levels become both lengthier and more challenging, and as the different variables – such as bombs, Ratoids and jelly blocks – come in to play. However, MouseCraft remains a game that adopts a more leisurely pace than either Lemmings or, in particular, Tetris, which is perhaps its major drawback – simply because it doesn’t measure up to the fast-paced, figure-it-out as you go nature of those two legendary titles. Yet, while the strategy is predicated on figuring things out in advance, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, quite a few of MouseCraft’s later levels left me flummoxed as I tried over and over again to figure out how to pick up all the shards whilst getting each of my mice out unscathed. The game is both challenging and fun without being frenetic – just don’t expect the pace to ratchet up when delving deeper into the game.
This one criticism certainly didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of MouseCraft. This is a game that offers a great deal for both the casual and more devoted player, with puzzles that cater to both short bursts of gaming and a deeper long-term investment. Adding a further layer of appeal, MouseCraft’s visuals are also great. The presentation is smooth and colourful, and the animations are a treat. I found the attractive visuals to be immediately engaging – the game is pretty in a simple way, offering a clean, bright surface that is bolstered by its addictive game play. It looks good, but what I particularly liked about MouseCraft’s visual style is that it’s not over the top.
There aren’t any distractions, or fancy bells and whistles. Instead, the presentation perfectly complements the game play, meaning one doesn’t distract from the other – which, in my opinion, is part of what makes MouseCraft one of the more interesting, exciting and challenging puzzle games I’ve played in recent years. It provides both a genuine sense of satisfaction when finally mastering a particularly tricky level and the classic ‘just one more go’ addictiveness that kept me coming back for more. Having battled some of the game’s more exasperating stages I’ll conclude with a simple statement: MouseCraft is a really good puzzle game.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PC.