It is more than just a little bit daunting when any title prides its self on the numerical force of its in game opponents. To know that by pressing start you will soon face the challenge of one thousand petite and vociferous nippers can be a disheartening thought. After a quick bit of primary school maths though, you’ll soon realise that a thousand tiny claws can only be possibly attached to half that number and when in possession of a cursed and massive sword, the insurmountable odds certainly begin to look in your favour. When broken down, the snappy severity of the situation isn’t as scary as it seems, but unfortunately the same can be said about the game. As a whole, it’s an entertaining idea but once dissected it begins to become frayed at the edges.
The third ‘minis’ title from Mediatonic, the UK based development house describe 1000 Tiny Claws as a ‘Sumo-Survival-Smash-Em-Up’. Conceptually the game serves all these descriptions well, but struggles to maintain its unique style in the face of tedium. With a main campaign that last just over 2 hours long, 1000 Tiny Claws shouldn’t be a game that suffers from repetition, but Mediatonic do little over the 25 levels to take advantage of their distinctive combat or environments.
After ‘accidently’ removing a cursed sword from its resting place, a team of flying Pirates start 1000 Tiny Claws with their necks in a noose. However, before the chair is kicked from underneath, the crew are offered an ultimatum to return the sword and hopefully put an end to the curse of bugs that they have unleashed. It’s a simple tale told with a wonderfully comic edge. The pirates speak an amusing garbled nonsense that is marvellously pitched to be just as funny as the script. The visuals match the charming tale as well, with 8 bit styled landscapes and sprites that exude quality and polish.
As Pirate Rena, you travel from floating platform to floating platform, to find your way to Hex Island to put back the sword and save your crew from the drop. However, whilst Rena escorts the accursed weapon home, she might as well put it to good use and remove the tiny critters from each of the islands on her way.
Once combat begins you’ll be transported to environments that lack the sanctity of four walls. This is a precarious situation for both you and your oncoming critter cavalcade. Made up of five ever increasing waves, levels can only be cleared once you send each one of the enemies flying off the platform, which is of course before you meet the same fate. Mechanically, combat works similarly to Super Smash Bros. The more damage you hand out on your enemies the further they fly and the same goes for you. One small hit at the start might see you hopping back one step, but as your heart of steel takes more and more punishment, the smallest strike can leave you helplessly falling into Davy Jone’s Locker. Even on this 2D platform the risk and reward system of attack makes early combat interesting, as you can’t all go on an all out assault without the danger of making yourself exposed to being thrown off the island.
The situation is made more delightfully intriguing when environments start to reduce in space and some even deteriorate in the middle of levels. In the early stages, 1000 Tiny Claws can feel unfair but it manages to remain balanced by making you solely responsible for errors and mistakes. For example, you can replenish your health by hitting rare creatures that carry apples. However, these little blighters often like to cling to the outer edges of levels, meaning that making a rash attack will send the precious health flying off the stage with their green bodies following. Also, the best way to get rid of enemies is to juggle them closer to the edge; however that also puts you closer to death. At times it does feel unjust but because you often put yourself into the vulnerable position, it is hard to complain. In addition to this, the well planned environments and varieties of creatures and early combat is more of a tactical affair than it appears and it is a pleasure to use it all to your advantage. Hitting creatures against rocks, or sweeping the gangway clear with a shove of a box adds to what can at times be an intense game of cat and mouse.
As the game progresses however, what on surface appears as a balanced and reasonable experience slowly becomes infuriating and monotonous. Even though it is the harbinger of the multitude of enemies that you face, the sword you wield is a pitiful weapon. Combat is handled with one button press, and the single combo you can perform is of little use in tight situations. Once you have dispatched a few dozen enemies a powered attack become available and though it’s a relief to sweep multiple enemies aside in one go, as the game moves on your dependency on the special move grows far too great.
What was all seemingly fairly balanced at the beginning becomes out of kilter the more you play. As the game increases difficulty by introducing more enemies to ever decreasing levels, the basic swordplay leaves you at a distinct disadvantage. There are no new combos or skill sets to unlock, which means 1000 Tiny Claws becomes a repetitive slog with multiplying foes and nothing new to challenge them with. The sword which felt impactful to begin with slowly starts to resemble a glorified brush and it’s hard not to think that you are nothing but a steel handled cleaner sweeping the troubles of the island under the carpet.
Feeling underpowered is never satisfying and getting thrown off the level because your sword misses a hit or gets locked in the one and only combo is cheap. Especially when you have to then start the five waves from the beginning.
There are attempts by Mediatonic to make the game a little bit more appealing beyond the two hour campaign. If you can take the challenge then there are time trials to compete and a survival mode as well. Each level is also graded by medals but they feel like minor conclusions to the frustrations of battle. There is though a brilliant Ships Log to unlock as you go through the game. The log is full of glorious visuals, tight scripting and fabulous design, but it just goes to prove that all the effort seems like it has gone into the wrong places.
1000 Tiny Claws is an interesting game and the early combat is entertaining and engrossing. The humour of the piece is also succinct and exceedingly well pitched. It is just a shame that the early signs of life and individuality fade later on in the game and the sharp increase in difficulty mar an early delight. Like custard that develops a skin over time, 1000 Tiny Claws is an experience tainted by its own design.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: PS3 Release Date: 05/10/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of 1000 Tiny Claws for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of three days on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.