MouseCraft Review: charming gameplay with a catch

The puzzle gaming genre is not one that seems to have made huge waves in the console space. One of the most recent attempts at garnering attention for the underrepresented genre is MouseCraft.

In MouseCraft, you are charged with the task of helping Schrodinger, an eccentric, scientific cat, with his rigorous testing of leading mice to cheese. These tests take place in Schrodinger’s laboratory on Planet Cohesia. In order to fund further experiments, you must lead the mice to Anima shards that are scattered around each puzzle. When the first shard is collected, a very brief cutscene is played, where Schrodinger receives a phone call by an opulent individual who will “buy” the shards from him so that he can purchase more cheese for the experiments. Apart from a sentence here and there and a repeated cutscene of a hand sliding over money on a counter for cheese, that is the extent of any form of narrative hook offered by MouseCraft, so don’t expect to receive any enrichment or meaning to come of the tale of Schrodinger the cat. MouseCraft is first and foremost a puzzle game, and a fairly challenging one at that.

On first impressions, MouseCraft is a very charming and whimsical game. It’s a great looking title with a lot of character to it. The style, character models, and overall visuals of the puzzling world are reminiscent of great PlayStation 2 platformers like Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper, which instantly made me feel right at home. Crisp visuals, vibrant colors, and cartoony characters paired with its simple and tasteful music made me excited to jump into MouseCraft. However, as welcoming as its visual greeting was, I felt dissuaded upon seeing the familiar three buttons of “menu,” “restart,” and “continue” appear after finishing the first puzzle that have become almost canonical among mobile games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope.

My dissuasion was alleviated shortly after continuing the puzzles, but it still lingered in my mind that the only reason that this game came to consoles and not to mobile devices was because developer Crunching Koalas opted for 2.5D instead of a fully 2D game, and also be able to charge $14.99 for it. While I am happy they chose the former to create richer environments, I still haven’t found enough justifications to unreservedly recommend someone to pay $15 for a game that’s so similar to many mobile games that are available for only .99 cents–or are even free. I will say, however, that the automatic portable feel of the game felt far better on PlayStation Vita than on PlayStation 3, especially when using the touchscreen.

The puzzles of MouseCraft, as with most puzzle games, become incrementally more difficult as you progress. Meeting the absolute minimum requirements of guiding only one of the three mice to the platform with cheese is extremely simple. The real challenge lies in collecting all the Anima shards as well as guiding all three mice to the end goal without killing or leaving any of them behind. In order to successfully complete a puzzle, you must figure out how to place an assortment of Tetris blocks in a way that will lead the automated mice to the cheese.

The blocks given to you change with every puzzle (80 in total), and sometimes even the substance of the blocks change as well. There are seven different types of blocks that exist in MouseCraft, six of which become unlocked as you progress. Each type of block serves a very distinct purpose in how to complete a puzzle, and this variety serves as being much more than just a gimmick. It is the core means of preventing disinterest in completing the 80 puzzles it has to offer. The inclusion of robotic enemy mice, water pools, and acid pools are also used as a means to generate variety within the puzzles.

Before the mice are released from their rodent wheel onto the map (which you do by pressing Square), you have to plan out your execution of the puzzle by placing or rotating blocks. Even when the mice are released, you are still given the option of pausing the action by pressing a digital button on the touchscreen of the PS Vita, or by pressing the Select button on the PS Vita or the DualShock 3. The reason for being able to start at stop the action at will is because placing a block is a permanent decision. The ability to pause allows you time to decide what to do next, or to place a blocks once the mice have crossed a certain point, or to blow up existing blocks by using bomb pick-ups that mice run into after being released.

Needing to restart a puzzle because of every misplaced block would induce vast amounts of rage, but luckily this is largely avoided because of an “undo” feature that is activated by pressing the Circle button, which takes back your actions in the order in which you did them. This means that if you just placed a block in a bad spot, all you need to do is press Circle and you’re good to go, but if you discover that the first block you placed is in the wrong spot five actions later, you might as well just restart the puzzle to save yourself some time.

A feature I was surprised to see was that MouseCraft also has a level editor that allows you to create and play your own puzzles. The editor itself is quick and easy to use, which would be a great way to perpetuate interest, except that you only have access to the levels that YOU make. Not having the ability to share your created levels with other players effectively renders that level editor to be a pointless addition. Puzzles that you build provide no challenge at all, because you already know how to complete them, so what’s the point in making them? This just seems like a massive oversight, or just a failed attempt to provide interest beyond the core game.

MouseCraft is an extremely solid puzzle game that provides plenty of challenge for completionists like me. It is a visually great game, the style of which seems to call back to the great mascots of PlayStation. The variety in puzzles is interesting enough to want to complete all 80 of them, much of which is due to the preciseness and responsiveness of the games controls. Besides the want to complete puzzles, MouseCraft offers no incentive narratively to push through its 80 levels. Although it features Cross-Buy and Cross-Save functionality, it is best experienced on PlayStation Vita. It simply feels out of place on home consoles and seems like a game that was meant for mobile devices. The game’s level editor is an entirely missed opportunity that doesn’t allow the playing or sharing of created levels between players. MouseCraft is a charming game that delivers great puzzles, but at a price tag of $14.99, it is difficult to say it is worth buying when competitors in the mobile market offer essentially the same experience for free.



The Final Word

MouseCraft digs deep into many PlayStation-esque inspirations with its charming visuals, and it features intriguing puzzles to boot. The level creator feels out of place and the price is rather daunting, but the overall result is a title worth playing.