The Brainies: Furry Balls

As we’ve seen a number of times already at this point, Blaze’s Evercade retro gaming platform is home to a wide variety of obscure titles that many people probably haven’t played — and which certainly haven’t been rereleased many times over the years.

Some great examples can be found on the two Interplay Collection cartridges, which include not only games that are associated with Interplay themselves, but also titles hailing from developers that subsequently ended up under the Interplay umbrella.

Interplay Collection 2, for example, plays host to a rather entertaining puzzle game featuring small, round, furry creatures. Let’s take a closer look at The Brainies, also known in some territories as Tiny Skweeks or The Tinies.

In The Brainies, you take on the role of some sort of omniscient crosshair-wielding entity as you attempt to bring home the titular Brainies — who are, depending on who you talk to online and which release of the game you’re looking at, either Mexican jumping beans, members of whatever species the eponymous Skweek was supposed to be from, the furry Tinies from Kalisto’s Fury of the Furries, or just a bunch of furry balls with arms and legs.

The various name and publisher changes the game has had over the years makes tracking its history a little convoluted, but it appears to have initially released by Titus for Amiga in 1991 under its original title, was subsequently retrofitted to be part of the Skweek series for home computers for its European release by Loriciel, then eventually ended up with a port to Super NES where it was once again known as The Brainies and published by Titus.

If you’re wondering where Interplay comes into all this, Titus acquired Interplay in 2001, but went bankrupt in 2005, at which point Interplay acquired most of their properties but almost went bankrupt themselves as a result of Titus’ outstanding debts that they found themselves lumbered with. Turbulent times, to be sure. But I digress.

Brainies is a puzzle game with a simple concept. Each level features coloured Brainies, and you need to guide them to “docks” that match their colours before a rather tight time limit expires. You can’t directly control a Brainy (Brainie?) but instead can select them and tell them to move in a particular direction. They will then walk in that direction until they hit something, at which point they will stop.

As you progress through the game’s 101 stages, various new features start to reveal themselves over time. You’ll discover helpful pickups that increase the available time or provide extra points, but also run into “no entry” signs, which act as solid blocks; arrows which force a Brainy to change the direction in which they are moving; bumpers which reverse a Brainy’s direction; bombs that kill Brainies; and Jokers that allow you to safely bypass bombs.

The puzzles themselves aren’t horrendously complicated in the early game, but the main challenge factor comes from the very tight time limits. When you begin a level, you’re given a top-down overview and the timer immediately starts ticking; whenever you’re ready, you can switch to a quasi-3D view to start ordering the Brainies around, but in many cases you’ll need to be very quick about it! You can pause the game to view the map without penalty, but doing so causes all the Brainies to disappear from the screen so you’ll need to rely on your memory if you want to use this function to help you figure out a good strategy.

The difficulty does ramp up considerably in the later stages, but the available time you’re given to solve the more complex puzzles increases considerably, so it’s only really in the first half of the game that you’ll really need to rush — unless you’re going for a high score, of course, since your score is almost entirely based on time remaining at the end of a stage.

You’re given three continues when you start a new game, and your score doesn’t reset when you retry a stage, so you can treat the game as a score-chasing experience if you choose to; it’s not really about that, though. It’s more about working your way through the puzzles on offer, trying to figure out increasingly complex solutions and eventually make it to the end to prove your mastery. To that end, there’s a password system that allows you to start partway through the game; strangely, new passwords are only issued every 5 levels, though, so if you run out of continues on level 32 the password you’re provided with will only take you back to level 30. Alternatively, of course, if you’re playing on Evercade you can simply use the save state feature to pick up where you left off at any time. Ah, modern conveniences!

The Brainies is an enjoyable puzzler, that could have done with just a little more in-game explanation about what things do. There’s a helpful control tutorial at the beginning of the game, but it would have been nice to see descriptions of new items the first time they appear in the game, since otherwise you find yourself having to work out what they do through trial and error — which can sometimes lead to a wasted continue. It’s also a bit harsh that on some occasions, helpful items are placed in positions that are actually impossible to get to.

Probably the most glaring issue doesn’t raise its head until the latter half of the game, when the bombs start appearing. Lose a Brainy to a bomb and you can’t beat the level, but you don’t immediately go to the continue screen; nope, instead you have to wait for the timer to count all the way down. And by the time bombs start appearing, those timers can last for quite a while. You can mitigate this issue on Evercade with the use of save states at the start of a dangerous-looking level, but it’s a flaw that is very much present in the original home computer and SNES releases of the game.

All in all, The Brainies is another fine example of the interesting and largely unknown curiosities that make up the bulk of the Evercade’s launch library. There’s a compelling, addictive quality to it that will keep you engaged for quite a while, and the tight time limits in the early stages add an interesting arcade-style stress angle to the whole experience.

The short levels make it ideal for handheld play, and both the password system and save states on Evercade mean you can gradually work your way through the puzzles over the long term — or if you’re feeling particularly masochistic, go from the very beginning and see if you can get all the way to the end with a high score.

Just watch out for the surprise waiting for you at the finale…

More about The Brainies
More about Evercade 07: Interplay Collection 2
More about Evercade

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