Tiny Brains is due out on Steam, PSN and XBLA this fall, with a launch on PS4 to follow. It's a lot for one brand new studio to handle, but Darveau tells me he has the passion to make it happen – and it has to happen now.
"I really believe that a revolution is coming and that the future will belong to those guys who know how to create new types of experiences," Darveau says. "It was a very difficult choice for me to quit, because I was in a stable position and I was successful, but I felt like if I didn't do this I would miss the train. Something is happening right now, something huge, and it's only the beginning, I'm convinced of that."
And after some time playing it, I think Tiny Brains could be part of "something huge." Tiny Brains features up to four playable characters, all of various rodent varieties: mouse, rabbit, gerbil and mole rat (naked, of course). They've been suped up in a scientist's lab, and each one has a unique power to help the group navigate the treacherous laboratory. The mouse can switch places with objects via teleportation, the rabbit can pull things in, the mole rat pushes them outward and the gerbil can create platforms.
I played as two of these creatures, the gerbil and the mouse, in two different multiplayer modes and with three other people. We had a full couch, and on PS4 each of our controllers lit up to the color corresponding our character – this color-coding wasn't essential to the gameplay, but for a game seven months old, details like this made it memorable at a packed E3.
First up was the gerbil, capable of creating short, blue walls to reach higher platforms, or for other players to push, pull or swap out. On his own, this little guy was a one-trick gerbil, able to reach higher spots, one wall at a time, but not capable of much else once he got there – not that this was a bad thing. Each character was designed to work in tandem with the other powers, and it was often essential to have the mole rat throw a blue platform across gorges, or for the rabbit to pull it back to safety with another rodent on top.
As I played with three strangers, these mechanics emerged naturally, and we were soon screaming out orders and potential puzzle solutions to each other across the Tiny Brains booth.
The gerbil wall was capable of one other feat, it should be noted – it could squish evil baby chickens. Yes, Tiny Brains has evil baby chickens. In one level, the rodents were tasked with protecting an innocent baby bird from waves of malevolent chicks, and playing as the gerbil I found it effective to create a wall and push it against an incoming horde, until they were all crushed against the side of the cage.
It was all very cute, I promise.
Tiny Brains featured a few gameplay options, but the standout level was the ball chase. We had to guide a big red ball through a series of rotating tubes pockmarked with gaps and barriers to roll past. It was simple, but it got the four of us yelling and laughing like old chums in no time. As wall-bearer, it was my job to stop the ball from rolling backward, or to build a blockade along the edges of the holes, so the other players could move it to safety. Each rodent's power had its moment to shine in this game, but one stood out as a clear leader: the teleporting mouse.
The mouse, able to instantly swap places with other objects, had the obvious advantage in Tiny Brains, and especially in the ball stage. When I asked to play as him, my couch-mates warned, "That's a big responsibility." I felt I was ready.
It turned out that I was – though the mouse's power was visibly superior, as it could save the ball at the last possible second from diving down a hole, it still worked alongside the other players' gifts just as the gerbil's did. The mouse was more dramatic, able to move the ball longer distances and sometimes sacrificing himself for The Good Of The Ball, but he was integral in the same way the gerbil was. Each rodent was engaging in different ways, but they played together in the same fashion.
Tiny Brains is Pinky and the Brain in Quantum Conundrum's world. Spearhead is now staffed by a dozen veteran developers with financial support from the Canadian Media Fund, its first game is due out this fall – and it could all be part of something big.