Being stuck inside a lab 24/7 isn’t my idea of fun, but if cartoon comedy has taught me anything is that the classic formula of "cat + mouse" never ceases to entertain. and such is the case with MouseCraft.
If you’ve ever played a puzzle game where you need to prepare a stage with a set amount of available tools in order to guide a character safely to their goal, then you’re at the right place. MouseCraft can be an endearing experience for those that seek a casual yet satisfying challenge at solving puzzles. Of course, some of those puzzles will inevitably involve squeezing some grey matter out onto the floor and watching ideas pop up as the game's increasing complexity gets out of hand.
The game field is presented as an elaborate group of interconnected test chambers, each of them being a “level” the player must defeat before moving onto the next one. Each chamber consists of an incomplete labyrinth with a trio of guinea pigs (mice) being observed by a scientist (cat). The goal of each level is to lead at least one mouse to the cheese, simple and to the point. The AI controls a mouse that moves on its own accord, even to their own demise. To keep the mice alive, the player is given tools in the shape of “Tetris” blocks that can be placed around each level to construct a path or block the mice from doing something stupid, like jumping into electrified water pools for example. After we’re out of tutorial-land, the game introduces the separate (but all too important) goal of making your mice pick up scattered Animus Shards, which will count towards the grade you get after each level is complete (More mice on the cheese and more shards gathered means a higher grade). This adds a whole new spectrum of difficulty to the game and makes the experience more varied, as the total shard count is as mandatory as the amount of mice led to the end of each level. Every 20 levels, these two scores are tallied and they must exceed a preset number before the next 20 levels are unlocked. So don’t expect to clear the game without getting at least a few perfect grades!
Every few stages, more tools are added (from dangerous things such as TNT and electric blocks, to wackier ones like jelly blocks!), and our options (and the challenge!) are expanded. To begin with, MouseCraft is kind enough to give us free passes for any level where a new tool or obstacle is introduced, detailing their incidence in our play style. This helps players get used to the vast amount of game mechanics as they are added, one by one, to the repertoire.
Its music could have used a bit more variety. The background accompaniment feels monotonous at best, but it does pick up when in each stage you release the mice. Watching that crazy cat scientist gesticulate with every success or failure adds to the light-hearted tone of the adventure, and it makes you want to help him do his best to safely lead his test subjects to the cheese.
While I’m not one to complain about game difficulty, it would’ve served to include the option to show hints when one is stumped. I realize that the point of a puzzle game is to bash your head against the wall until you get a solution, but later levels include just so many of the accumulated game mechanics (and this is not a game where there’s only ONE valid solution) that vague speculation turns this lighthearted game into a nightmarish nerve-wrecking punishment. It could also be that I’m impatient as hell. Either way, if you’re a fan of puzzles, this is the game for you. But I reiterate: Don’t get fooled by the game’s cartoonish air or its colorful atmosphere.
Like any good puzzle game, MouseCraft tests the wits of its player by gradually increasing its level of difficulty as the story mode advances. With a solid 80 levels to clear (and more if you use the built-in level editor!), can you help Dr. Schrödinger realize his dream of completing his mice-powered contraption?