With this MouseCraft comes to an end and with the coffee in hand it seem appropriate to try to sum up my own thoughts on the game. It was pretty good, it delivered exactly what I was after when I started it a slowly escalating series of puzzles that occasionally would stump me for a while but never was so difficult that I needed to go online and search for a guide. No one mechanic really outstays its welcome and it manages to introduce new elements and tools at a fairly steady pace.
The biggest misstep for me has to be the movement system. Block placement and obstacles all on a clearly defined grid, but mice and ratoids are fundamentally smaller than any of these grid pieces. This is not in itself a problem, but the transition between each of those pieces is surprisingly ambiguous, it can be hard to know if a block you are about to place will instantly crush a mouse, miraculously have it crawl out of the block unharmed or miraculously crawl into the block and be crushed. It really needs to either make it clear the mouse will be crushed in the last situation or actually have the mouse or ratoid see the block coming as skitter back slightly.
That movement problem is only exacerbated by the moving block, which conceptually is the most powerful of the blocks, especially when combined with the ability to pause the game and move blocks around, but because of the animation problems you are just as likely to accidentally crush the little mice as you are to deploy a block just in time to whisk them away to safety.
MouseCraft also features a pretty good little level editor, but unfortunately no way to share or download levels which really limits the utility of it. Overall I was really pleased with my time with MouseCraft and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a competent puzzle game to occupy themselves for a few hours.
I messed up my time management a little this time which means we have a pretty short episode today as we get to play with the final toy in MouseCraft the Moving Block. Moving Blocks can be picked up and put back down after they have been deployed making them incredibly powerful at the cost of making timing much more important to the solution. It is nice to have and it lets them create some pretty good puzzles but unfortunately the timing system in MouseCraft just isn’t good enough to support this concept very well.
It all comes down to how block collision and animations work. In MouseCraft if a block is placed while a mouse is moving between squares generally the mouse is able to continue to move inside of the new piece before being registered as crushed. It feels awkward and has always been a little frustrating, because this means you can lose a mouse you think you are blocking, but generally you aren’t placing down blocks that frequently as the level plays out and the mice move around. This is inherently broken my Moving blocks because for them to be useful or interesting you need to have them picked up and moved around.
You could mitigate this problem somewhat by not allowing a new block to be placed in a square a mouse is travelling to and of course detecting any crushing by falling blocks the same way, but this then makes the timing even more finicky because you will have to be faster to place the block at the right time. I think if you paired it with a more fine-grained time control it would work better. If I could step back seconds not just block placements then many of these timing problems would be fixable with a couple of button presses rather than having to restart the entire puzzle.
As we move into the final section of the game the designers are almost obligated to use as many block and obstacles as they can in each of the puzzles we come across, we are in the home stretch and they need to demonstrate that we can use all of the tools they have provided us and on the whole I think they are doing a pretty good job. Unfortunately looking back on this I often seem to forget a very simple concept, everything in the level is intended to be used, even temporary obstacles. I keep killing the very Ratoids I should be using to help solve these puzzles. You can see me do it almost reflexively as the puzzle solving process takes place, just being processed as an obstacle element to be removed rather than a potential tool to solve the overall problem. I need to spend more time seeing the entire puzzle at once rather than a series of smaller objectives.
It can be kind of embarrassing watching yourself solve a puzzle and miss the solution repeatedly, especially when you know it stems from a broken assumption so you can see yourself struggle and ignore the actual solution for far far too long. Fortunately it isn’t embarrassing enough to stop me from releasing these episodes. It is also kind of interesting to see me find some solutions that are slightly harder to execute than what seems to be the obvious solution, this is especially true in level 55, where I choose to use a block vertically when it really would be better used horizontally.
I quite like the block destruction aspect of the new acid obstacle this section introduces, I just kind of wish it led to more timed puzzles, where a stack slowly drops down due to a thin pool of acid. That said I am not sure that the game will really cope well with a proper timing based puzzle, especially given that time starts as soon as the level loads, it would have to be triggered by a bomb.
We are into the back half of MouseCraft now, but of course each level individual level is taking longer. Even the initial tutorial levels after each new tool is introduced are not complete slam dunks anymore.
I think the key reason I get stuck on any given puzzle isn’t comprehension so much as just not seeing one aspect of the puzzle. I guess what I like most is the feeling of the entire puzzle clicking into place. Even if sometimes it can take an embarrassingly long time for that to occur.
The electro blocks we see here are an interesting obstacle block. It seems kind of strange to sometimes be asked to place a block that I cannot directly use. Even explosives are useful for clearing out other obstacles, but electric blocks are only useful for building indirect support and for killing Ratoids. It narrows down their purpose in any given level at least.
Now we have explosives, this can only end well. I like how the timer on them basically guarantees that if you haven’t separated your mice the third one will always be caught by the explosion, it combos pretty well with explosive bricks or using blocks and bombs to split the party.
I am continuing to have a great time with this, MouseCraft seems to be pretty good at generating that “I figured this out” feeling, even when I don’t actually see the entire solution before I hit that play button. I think the tetronimos really help there, it allows the level to signpost some of the block placements because there is an semi-obvious hole to place them into. It means that while I occasionally get stuck and spend a long time on a puzzle I always feel like the clues were there all along and I just missed missed them.
I was having enough fun with MouseCraft last time that I decided to keep going. So far it has been a fairly well made puzzle game, it has the pacing of tools and puzzle complexity to keep me engaged and playing.
Predictably Section 2’s puzzles are taking longer than the first’s sections, I wonder how long the later sections will take me.
Of the new toys revealed so far I am enjoying the crumbling block the most, you are unable to directly control the mice release rate and it is great to have a tool to easily split mice between two different paths through the level.
After Kumoon last week I was after another puzzle experience and at some stage I got my hands on MouseCraft by Crunching Koalas, a studio which despite the name, is based in Poland. MouseCraft sees you controlling a some kind of bizarre scientist cat who is running experiments involving Mice, Cheese and Tetronimos. There is a story that vague justifies why our science-cat wants to get these mice safely to the cheese but I have to admit I haven’t paid that much attention to it, there is some kind of a mysterious sponsor and crystals but really these crystals just serve as bonus objectives for any given level.
When I grabbed MouseCraft I was hoping for was a well paced puzzle game, a game which delivers puzzles of slowly increasing complexity; both in the amount of steps and attempts needed to solve a puzzle and the tools available to solve it. I wanted the later puzzles to be clearly related to the early puzzles but contain a new mechanics and tools and take much more time and mental effort to resolve. This was something Kumoon really lacked, the early puzzles and the later puzzles were basically the same, there weren’t new block types or shot types, they just took longer. MouseCraft on the other hand has already introduce block bombs, mecha-rats, crystals and jelly blocks in the first set of levels and the difficulty has progressed from puzzles that could be by just leaping in to puzzles that take a little thought and often a few attempts to iron out the complications. I am pretty pleased with it so far and you can expect to see more MouseCraft next week.