Monday, June 12, 2006

Tiny Worlds Review

Tiny Worlds, developed by Ladia Group and published by Alawar Entertainment.
The Good: Lots of levels, easy to learn
The Not So Good: Can be difficult, must repeat the last puzzle you beat, some puzzles don’t allow time to plan, more strategic options could be available
What say you? A decent Lemmings-like puzzle game: 5/8

The great struggle between wolves and sheep has been well documented, from The Boy Who Cried Wolf to The E! True Hollywood Story. Predator/prey relationships are the basis of a balanced ecosystem, but try telling that to the developers of Tiny Worlds, a game where you are actually expected to assist helpless, furry creatures like sheep, chicks, and puppies escape their hunger-crazed overlords. Tiny Worlds is a puzzle game in the same vein as Lemmings, a classic and well-known puzzle game. Unlike that game, the control scheme in Tiny Worlds is very simple, consisting only of placing arrows to guide the various animals around the map.

Tiny Worlds is presented from an overhead 2-D view and consists of a simple maze-like board with cartoon mockups of animals and obstacles. The game’s design is very simple, which, while not “wowing” the user with great effects or detailed textures, makes playing the game straightforward. You’ll never have to worry about camera angles or objects obscuring your view. The game misses some special effects that are utilized in other games, but overall Tiny Worlds doesn’t need them to enhance the gameplay. The sound is along the same lines: very basic music to slightly accentuate the action that’s taking place on the screen.

Tiny Worlds features 250 levels in five game worlds, which features five different sets of animals you must guide or avoid; these changes are purely cosmetic, as the game plays the same in all the game worlds. The goal is simple: guide your creatures from their initial placement to the goal. You do this by placing arrows around the map (which can be rotated) to guide them in a specific direction. Each puzzle limits the number of arrows that can be placed on the map at one time, so there are some tense moments placing and removing arrows while the creatures march around the map. Your creatures will automatically walk forward until they hit a wall, and then will turn and continue walking. Not only do the arrows guide your animals, but they also guide the predator creatures, so you need to use some finagling to make sure the two groups never interact. Complicating things are the layouts of the maps (very maze-like), bottomless pits (a good place to send enemy animals), and various obstacles designed to make your life more difficult. Although the game has extremely simple controls, Tiny Worlds is not an easy game. In fact, a lot of the levels are quite difficult, especially when the animals are moving initially and you don’t have time to plan ahead before the predator creatures eat them up and end the level. The only difference between the difficulty levels is the amount of time you have to complete the level, and since a lot of the levels (especially the later ones) require you to start placing arrows immediately, time really doesn’t become a factor. Sometimes overt simplicity is not a good thing (see Sky Puppy); I wish there were more strategic options present in the game (like the various instructions in Lemmings) to allow for more varied solutions. As it stands, there is typically one way to solve each puzzle, and this arbitrary limitation makes finding the solution that much more frustrating. In addition, if you exit the game, Tiny Worlds requires you to repeat the last puzzle you beat and then move on to the next level. Why this is I have no idea.

Tiny Worlds is a simple concept that results in a fairly average game. The mechanics are easy to learn and family-friendly, but there are some limitations in the game that make it less than desirable. I do like the number of levels present in the game, but they tend to run together and may get boring after a while. The lack of options when playing the game (other than placing arrows and timing it correctly) coupled with the difficulty of the levels makes playing maps over again if you exit the game annoying. Tiny Worlds is not a bad game, there are just some curious decisions in the design that makes it more frustrating than necessary. I think Tiny Worlds suffers from being too simple, and thus eliminates some replay value for adult users. Since all you do is place arrows, this tends to get repetitive after a couple of levels, and there aren’t any new additions to keep your interest in the game. There is probably an audience that will enjoy this game, but most people will find it lacking in strategic depth, monotonous, and ultimately too difficult to be enjoyable.