Review by Danny Major (@GuyFawkesRetro)
Puzzle gaming really does have a simplistic approach. The main emphasis of a puzzler is to confuse, anger and frustrate the player while somehow, keeping the player wanting to come back for more while keeping the player full of anticipation, believing he or she will beat the game. Presentation allows for some leverage during average gameplay, for example SameGame from Hudson used multiple Nintendo & Hudson game characters while giving you the option of various puzzle games to select from. If however, these Nintendo & Hudson characters did not appear in the games presentation, would it of been a worthwhile experience? Probably not. An average puzzle game backed up by well known gaming characters will sell. So, it seems a balance is needed to keep the player interested. Balance, is something Titus Software just couldn’t get right with The Brainies.
In typical Titus fashion, average is the common dominator here. With such titles as Titus the Fox, Crazy Cars & Virtual Chess on the Nintendo 64, Titus never did have a niche in the market. Of course, diversity should be credited but Titus never managed that ‘smash hit’. Jumping from platform games such as Titus the Fox & the unplayable Knightforce for the Amiga straight into a puzzler for the Super Nintendo is exactly what the French gaming outfit did. While presentation is seemingly attempted here, baffling puzzles and diabolical sound effects are the games downfall. But, this doesn’t tell the whole story, this game is borderline playable.
You take control of some fuzzy critter type things that look like they are from an old early 90’s school book that warns the reader what bacteria looks like if you don’t wash your hands. The objective is to control and guide your ‘Brainie’ through a multitude of obstacles to reach its respective colour. For instance, your Brainie is Red, so you manoeuvre the Brainie over the Red marker. But, it may sound easy, but try guiding another Brainie over to its respective colour from the other side of the screen, at the same time, with a time limit and we have a puzzler game on our hands.
Complex puzzles within games can be both infuriating and rewarding. The Brainies seems to borderline on the verge of ‘insanity’ with its climaxing stages. More obstacles are thrown your way in the form of bombs, strange road signs and even a teleportation device. These all make for fun additions, but franticly push the player into a stream of rage and disbelief only to conclude with the control pad at the other end of the room with the select button missing. The save ‘password’ option is available, but would you actually come back to this? Unless you are a puzzler fan with a great attention span, it’s hard to see this being a plausible option when there’s so many other puzzle games available.
Now then, presentation can make or break any 16bit puzzle game. With depth and style, music and warming SFX, most puzzler’s can be swayed towards average if the gameplay is relatively tedious. Enough on screen animation and a great cluster of SFX can make or break a game in this genre. Unfortunately, a lot of wasted screen space and dull character design will strike a fatal chord with the gamer who likes some visual splendour to go with their puzzler. It’s not that it’s ugly, it’s just not used to its potential. If, say, the game was great looking, players might forgive it’s ridiculous difficulty setting and claim ‘it’s great but hard’. But, it’s not going to hold the players imagination while attempting these puzzles. Tetris, wasn’t the best looking game, but it kept the player tuned in. This was, because at the time, its gameplay was solid, visually basic but charming and its soundtrack was memorable. Tetris accounted for the hardware it was being played on. The Brainies, doesn’t account for the hardware it’s being played on and fails to make full potential of the colour palette and any use of the sound chip. The soundtrack is quite abysmal in some aspects. While the music is good, it’s tedious and repetitive. Trying to overcome a puzzle can be overwhelming when the same music is blasting through the speakers consistently.
Presentation isn’t what makes a great puzzler, it only helps. Gameplay and it’s ability to interact the puzzles with the player makes a great puzzler, but needs to be backed up by an element of half decent visuals, presentation and music. Unfortunately, Titus missed both opportunities to blend both together. The potential is there, but it just doesn’t quite mix, leaving the player under whelmed, frustrated and most likely uninterested.