A cross between Lemmings and Tetris - that's how puzzle game MouseCraft is described by its developers, Crunching Koalas.
Playing the first level, what it's taken from classic puzzlers is clear. In terms of Lemmings, you're getting the A to B nature of the levels and the determination of the little mice to march in one direction until they hit an obstacle. In terms of Tetris you're getting the tetrominos reimagined as building blocks and stepping stones.
The reasoning behind your antics is that you've been tasked with guiding a set of three mice through eighty different levels in order to help a cat scientist named Schrödinger complete his research. The narrative is slight but serves to offer a cursory explanation as to why you're completing puzzles in the first place and why they're being observed by an excited lion wearing a costume deeply indebted to Doc Brown from Back To The Future.
Your goal with each level is to steer the mice successfully from their wheel to a plate of cheese without losing them to robot rats, pools of acid, drowning incidents, falling incidents, accidentally installing a tetromino over the block on which they were standing incidents, explosions or electrocutions.
You only actually need one mouse to survive and reach the cheese board in order to progress to the next level. That generally means moving along isn't hugely problematic. You just try to progress from A to B via as direct a line as you can build. The challenge is in completing rather than just finishing them.
Each level is dotted with a number of crystal shards. It's collecting all of these while keeping those dratted mice alive which requires far more care about where you place your tetrominos. What seems like an excess of blocks when you're fed up and just marching your mice to their destination like an angry schoolteacher trying to make sure as many pupils get back from a school trip as possible suddenly becomes a resource needing precise placement and timing in the face of crystal collection.
The game starts with simple tetrominos and pretty straightforward puzzles. Throughout the eighty storyline levels more tools are added. You'll end up with some tetrominos that are indestructible and others which crumble the more the mice tread on them. Others are explosive or capable of electrocuting your mice if deployed incorrectly. Towards the end of the game you'll get a repositionable block which works as long as you don't, for example, destroy part of it in an acid bath by accident. You'll also get bombs - useful for blowing up temporary obstructions you've created to protect your rodent charges or for causing other tetrominos to drop down as you blow up the supporting blocks.
The addition of these new blocks comes is accompanied by new obstacles. The indestructible blocks are the only ones which can survive the acid pools, for example. But the difficulty curve of the game suggests perhaps slightly fewer of these extras could have worked better. For me the difficulty seemed to peak towards the end of world three. After that it seemed to slide back down a few notches. It was especially noticeable with the inclusion of the repositionable blocks - what had previously been a finite resource in need of careful management was suddenly an infinite option provided you could keep it intact.
Visually, it's a cartoony and bright experience. The mice are cute enough, although devoid of personality, just marching back and forth (I didn't feel any guilty pangs when killing them as part of experimental layouts). The main quibble I have on the visual front involves the pause screen. While a level is in progress you can pause it to assess block placement or set up your next move but activating pause greys out the screen making it far harder to assess the puzzlescape and harder to see which obstacles and types of blocks are in play.
Once you're done with the main storyline there's also a decent level editor intended to let the community create and share their own puzzles. At the moment the sharing system is a little unwieldy, taking the form of a dropbox to which levels can be submitted and then downloaded by others, although the team is working on adding Steam Workshop support.
MouseCraft adapts its classic gaming influences into something coherent and enjoyable although it struggles to convey a sense of personality. The game itself is a short one but is far lengthened by a player who has an interest in completing the puzzles rather than just marking them as 'done'. Community-created levels obviously also have the potential to boost the game content in new ways although Workshop integration will be key here. A robust puzzler then, but one ultimately lacking in charisma.
Expect to pay: £10/$15
Release: Out now
Developer: Crunching Koalas
A robust puzzler whose colourful visuals can't mask a lack of personality.