Developed By: Crunching Koalas
Published By: Crunching Koalas
Category: Puzzle, Strategy
Release Date: 02.27.20
Mousecraft for the Nintendo Switch is not about building a better mouse trap; I actually don’t know what it’s about. Dr. Schroedinger, a cat scientist, has run out of cheese to run his experiments. I have no idea what the point of his experiments are; he’s just dropping blocks into obstacle courses to get mice to the cheese. Luckily, shards of anima crystals that the good doctor can sell keep popping into his experiments so he can keep them going… whatever the point of the damn things is. There’s also no explanation as to why he can’t grab the anima crystals himself instead of waiting for the mice to collect it… I am definitely overthinking things.
The goal of each level is to get as many mice as possible from the starting line to the cheese platform at the end of the level. Your mice can climb up one block and fall up to three blocks without dying. To start with, you only have standard Tetris-shape blocks to place in order to forge a path to your goal, but as the game progresses you get access to new abilities. Eventually you get access to bombs, which allow you to blow up one block without hurting your mice; if they fall as a result of the explosion, however, they can still die. You’ll also encounter new hazards like robotic rats and water pits which can kill your mice. You’ll also encounter new blocks, such as jelly blocks that let you survive larger falls and time bomb blocks that explode three seconds after you touch them.
The more obstacles that get introduced, the harder the game gets, which is as it should be. At the beginning, the strategy is fairly straightforward; it pretty much has to be, considering all you can do at the start is place blocks. As you get into more advanced stages, you’ll have to think of ways to split your mice up so they don’t get caught in exploding block blasts or account for crumbling blocks. You can stop time and unplace blocks whenever you want, all the way back to resetting the level if you’ve made a mistake. The concept is pretty solid at its core, but it can wear thin fairly quickly for one big reason.
Because you can freeze and go back in time whenever you want, the game lacks the urgency of a Tetris or Lemmings, its two biggest influences. The pace is half of what makes those games so addictive; you don’t notice the repetitive nature of the games as much because there simply isn’t time to. In Mousecraft, you have all the time in the world to notice that you’re just doing the same thing over and over again, and therefore you can really feel the tedium of repetition, especially if you’re stuck on a certain puzzle. The flip side of this, however, is that if you do hit a particularly troubling puzzle, you can actually think it through all the way, whereas if you’re under the gun from a timer or something like that it can be more frustrating to have to sit through so many losses while you’re trying to work out a strategy. So while the game can get repetitively boring, it was seldom frustrating.
For an indie puzzle game from a small studio, Mousecraft’s 3D graphics are pretty good. You’re not going to mistake it for the latest AAA studio release, but you don’t have to go that far for an attractive visual style. The models are cartoony and well-animated, which adds some much-needed personality to the game. Watching the doctor as he monitors the progress of each experiment can be fascinating in its own right as he bobs and weaves around the map, counting off the mice and crystals collected. The music is pretty forgettable, unfortunately; it’s a thoughtful but bland soundtrack of quiet sounds that are clearly not meant to grab any attention away from the gameplay.
Overall I liked Mousecraft but I have a hard time recommending it to a wider audience than puzzle fans. The story is paper thin, but it’s also not really the focus; regardless, there’s really no narrative experience to supplement the gameplay. The graphics are presentable but not flashy enough to be a draw on their own and the music is instantly forgettable. The puzzles themselves are satisfying in small chunks, but the lack of variety sets in quickly. New obstacles and/or blocks are introduced at a fairly regular rate, which helps shake things up, but the basic gameplay loop and pace lacks enough urgency to really draw players in. That leaves a game that’s fun for a while, but isn’t really conducive to binge gaming.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.