Once in a long while a miniature piece of perfection comes along that makes you wonder why you would ever need a game that makes you play for more than two or three minutes at a time. 1,000 Tiny Claws is not that game. But it is a neat little beat ‘em up that’s part Super Smash Bros. with a bit of Turtles in Time thrown in.
The PlayStation exclusive from Mediatonic is available as part of the “Minis” series — games that are playable on both the PlayStation 3 console and PlayStation Portable handheld.
You control Rana, the first mate of a sky-pirate ship that utilizes a bird bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Twitter mascot as a hood ornament. Rana wields a sword she pulled out of a cursed pedestal that released the titular 1,000 claws, a horde of apocalyptic insects hell-bent on destroying anything and everything in sight.
The objective of the game is to clear the platforms Rana inhabits of any bug that dare make its way on. Rana earns points for every enemy she dispatches with bronze, silver and gold medals awarded for different benchmark scores.
As your character is injured, the heart in the top-right corner of the screen gradually loses the steel case in which it’s enshrined. Once Rana’s heart is fully exposed, even the weakest enemies can send her flying off-screen.
The game is played in an overhead view. You use the X button to attack the creatures as they pursue you on floating platforms. The bugs get tougher as you progress through the game’s five worlds, each of which contains four levels and a boss encounter. With each successful hit, both Rana and her victims are flung farther across the screen.
Rana’s range of motion is somewhat limited. She can only move and strike in the four cardinal directions, which poses a bit of a problem when the screen is swarming with enemies and you’ve got nowhere to turn. There’s a dodge function — the tutorial tells you it’s the O button but both R1 and L1 work and are much more intuitive — but it’s handier in early stages as the latter parts of the game make sure you’re just as likely to dodge into an attack as you are safety.
Tapping the directional pad in any one direction allows Rana to sprint to or from danger. Pressing the attack button at the end of a sprint triggers a homerun hit that can send multiple enemies flying away.
The game does a fair enough job of easing you into the first few missions. Bugs start in two basic varieties: blue and green. The blue bugs attack Rana with their pincers and the green ones carry apples that restore Rana’s health once the enemies are dispatched and the fruit retrieved.
As Rana and her crew make their way through the game’s five worlds the game introduces bugs with powers like fire and ice to mix things up.
As you dispatch enemies, a score multiplier accumulates in the top-left corner of the screen. The counter goes up to 10, but loses a single level any time Rana takes a hit. Each successful attack also fills Rana’s rage meter in the bottom left. When the meter is full, Rana can unleash an attack that can encompass up to one-quarter of the screen by holding the square button.
The special attack merely disposes of enemies in one hit, but doesn’t add to the score multiplier, so it’s best to unleash Rana’s fury when it’s at maximum.
Boss fights bring some much-needed variety to the mix. Unfortunately, the game is limited to three such encounters in total: Two of the worlds end in a royal rumble-style barrage of bugs.
Story-wise, 1,000 Tiny Claws doesn’t offer much besides witty banter between Rana and her shipmates. The dialogue is text-based, but characters mutter gibberish that would make the “derka-derkas” of Team America sound like Latin. The narrative doesn’t go beyond giving the player a “you made this mess now it’s up to you to clean it up” kind of mission, which suits the game just fine.
While the gibberish is cute and a bit funny at first, once the third or fourth cutscene comes around, you’ll start to reach for the volume control. The script is funny enough, but the weird grunts and squawks start to wear on you after awhile. Tiny Claws occasionally spits lines that will make you chuckle if you’re a fan of The Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean films, but fall a bit flat otherwise.
From the earliest moments of the game, Mediatonic seems to channel The Decemberists for bits and pieces of the soundtrack. It’s easy enough to imagine yourself among pirates — the score utilizes plenty of wind and keyboard instruments with fast-paced drums placed intermittently to give things a sense of urgency. Every world provides a different tune to beat bugs to, but after the second level of each world I’d play The Mariner’s Revenge Song loudly on my laptop because it just felt … right. Oh, yeah: 1,000 Tiny Claws doesn’t allow you to select music from your PS3 hard drive to run in the background while you play.
Visually, the game isn’t anything to write home about — even though I kind of am. Hi, mom! I played it on my 32” HDTV, but it’s also supposed to play on a PSP, so I cut it some slack here. The character animations are nice and fluid, but don’t stand out in any way. Cutscenes between worlds are sometimes choppy, but they get the point across. Rana’s crotchety old leader, Captain Bluebell, is a particular delight, but is best taken in small doses.
Once players finish the campaign, which can take anywhere between two to three hours, two new modes open up. The challenge mode offers players a choice between six different game types. There’s the standard time attack, a quota mode and rematches with each of the game’s bosses. One particularly infuriating mode, called “One Touch,” dares players to survive a siege of bugs without taking a single hit. “Striker” mode asks players to send bugs flying between two makeshift goal posts, but the game’s mechanics are so straightforward they make the task either incredibly simple or just plain infuriating; there’s no middle ground.
The other mode that’s unlocked after the campaign, “Survival,” is just what you’d expect it to be: Enemies appear on Rana’s platform and it’s up to you to survive as long as possible. The game presents players with trophies for completing certain tasks, both in the campaign and in challenge and survival modes, but all of these are located entirely within your save game file. None of the trophies show up in your PlayStation Network profile.
While 1,000 Tiny Claws offers a fair bit of content for the $3.49 you pay for it (£1.99 and €2.49 in the game’s other markets), the simplistic controls don’t allow for much flair in your experience. Later levels get a bit aggravating when your range of motion is limited and there are times when it seems as though the quickest reflexes in the world won’t save you from an enemy attack. If I gave a bug the opportunity to begin an attack animation, I knew that’d be a detriment to my score multiplier.
The game becomes repetitive, with boss fights offering the only respite from the waves of tiny and mid-sized bugs that plague you otherwise. It’s also frustrating that even though your enemies gain new abilities throughout the game’s five worlds, Rana’s arsenal and moveset is stagnant throughout the experience. An item drop here or there or an extra move or two would have added some much-needed depth to what is otherwise an average game.
1,000 Tiny Claws won’t change your life. But it’s not supposed to. This game is a fun little distraction that you can play for two or three minutes at a time without worrying that it’s taking over your life. Mediatonic takes a model that works well on mobile devices and brings it to two PlayStation platforms in a satisfying way. Unfortunately, simple gameplay and repetitive level design keep this game from the greatness it’s capable of. Still, players shouldn’t dismiss the title altogether. It’s worth checking out for the $3.49 you’ll spend on it and a sequel with movement in eight directions and an expanded moveset would merit a higher score.