Tetris is one of the most famous puzzle videogames ever created, and the great Lemmings is right up there too. Combine elements of those two classics with just a dash of The Incredible Machine and some big ideas for the future and you end up with MouseCraft, a cute head-scratcher about a feline mad scientist and his team of experimental mice.
Crunching Koalas, the most-excellently-named developer of MouseCraft, is a new studio, but two of its founders, Konrad Olesiewicz and Maciej Biedrzycki, are actually old hands at the business of making games. Before helping launch Crunching Koalas they co-founded Codeminion, the studio behind games including Stoneloops! of Jurassica and Ancient Quest of Saqqarah. Together with three relative newcomers, Tom Tomaszewski, Lukasz Juszczyk and Kris Lesiecki, they've now set out to make games that are a little different than the usual "casual" fare.
"The prime idea for our studio was to make crossover games - titles that will appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers," Tomaszewski explained. "We took some elements from Tetris and Lemmings - two games that are recognized by both audiences - added some casual and hardcore mechanics, mixed it with some crazy ideas of our artists and designed the game so it would be user friendly, but also not annoying for a skilled gamer."
The result is MouseCraft, a game that challenges you to guide three cute little mice - not blind, but not particularly bright, either - from one side of a two-dimensional course to the other. You do so by placing bricks that bear a striking resemblance to "tetrominoes" - Tetris blocks - to allow them to safely traverse high climbs and long falls. Along the way, you can improve your score and your odds of success by picking up blue crystals and "destruction tokens" that let you remove inconveniently-located blocks, and you'll also graduate from conventional bricks to bouncy ones that allow your mice to survive great falls, "soft" bricks that quickly crumble after they're placed, and various others. It's a simple concept that’s easier to play than to explain, but getting the mice out safely - especially with all the pickups collected - becomes very challenging, very quickly.
There are two game modes, the slow, thoughtful Puzzle mode and the faster (but still relatively sedate) Arcade mode that forces you to lead your mice to freedom with a randomized mix of bricks, plus a level editor for those who get their kicks out of making others suffer. It's not the most eye-candy-laden game ever - it is a puzzler, after all - but it nonetheless has a great visual style and the music is excellent too. And while the alpha/beta version currently available is already impressive, Tomaszewski said the final game will offer a lot more.
"We are aiming at 100 levels in the Puzzle mode and 50 levels in the Arcade mode, and there will be some fresh locations and new kinds of Tetromino bricks. We are also thinking about adding some simple enemies so players can make more use out of electric and explosive bricks," he said. "Additionally, there are some plans for a mini game and an online level sharing system, but these are still things we are not sure about."
Crunching Koalas is also taking an innovative approach at selling the game. People can download and play the preview version to see what they think of it and then, assuming they're suitably impressed, pre-pay whatever they want for the final release - as low as $1. "We actually prefer to call it a 'Give-What-You-Feel' model, because we think 'giving' is a better term for spending money on a game in today's world," Tomaszewski said. "We figure that when making games that mix a lot of different mechanics and styles, people should be able to pay only for the ingredients they really like - they should be able to define the value of the game according to their preferences. Some found the game less enjoyable, so they got it for two or three dollars, and some were absolutely amused by our recipe and gave us a lot more than expected!"
The free MouseCraft preview edition (alpha, beta, whatever) can be had at mouse-craft.com, and if you like what you see you can also vote for the game on Steam Greenlight. If you're a fan of puzzle games, I suspect you'll like what you see very much.