Rattyvity Lab ambushed us. We were in the mood for a quick completion; a game that would take us up to bedtime with 1000G safely in our pyjama pockets. We didn’t want to think much – just notch up another finished game so that we could review it in the morning.
We were wrong on every conceivable count. We finally came to bed at 1am in the morning, bloodshot-eyed and with 2000G, not 1000G. And we felt like we’d just wrestled the minotaur and emerged from the labyrinth. Rattyvity Lab is not ‘a quick completion’, and it’s definitely not easy. It’s a wolf in rat’s clothing.
Let’s start with that 2000G. As it turns out, Rattyvity Lab is part of a burgeoning movement to sneakily add 1000G to a game’s achievement list after it launches, presumably to get round Microsoft quality control. It was something we noticed with ReactorX 2, only days after it first came out. Nothing gets added – no DLC or additional levels – it’s just a Gamerscore padding that makes the title more attractive to achievement hounds. So, there you go: if that’s your thing, this is an achievement wellspring.
The game itself is pretty hard to explain, and – even having completed it – we’re not one-hundred percent sure that we’ve fully understood its intricacies. Okay: you are a rat. As that rat, you can stand on blocks that are scattered about a puzzle room, and juice it up. That block is now sparkling with some kind of magical rat piss, but it’s only one half of the action. You need two blocks to do anything in Rattyvity Lab.
So you wander over to a second block and rat-piss on it too. Now, those blocks have formed a bond. That bond brings them physically together, like you’ve connected them with a Just Cause bungee cord. How they come together is dependent on the properties of the blocks, and this is where it gets oh-so complicated, and is the main reason why our head finally hit the pillow at about 1am.
A blank block will fly freely to its compatriot. An N block, though, will stay stock-still, so an N block connected to a blank block will propel the blank one over to the N. A J block, presumably representing the word ‘Jump’, is a blank block, but with the added benefit of working like a trampoline. And an arrow block is a gravity block. It stays locked in place much like an N block, but when another block hits it, the gravity of the entire room shifts in the direction of the arrow. There’s a small amount of time before the bungee cord makes the two blocks connect, so you can position yourself in the level for that gravity switcharoo.
This is the first niggle of Rattyvity Lab. While there aren’t a huge number of blocks, they’re kind of hard to read. Rattyvity Lab likes to stick letters on blocks rather than something more visual (springboards on the springboard block, for example), which would have made the first scan of a level so much more immediate. Instead, you are mentally cross-referencing each block with an inner glossary. It can make a level exhausting, as there are blocks, blocks everywhere, but you keep having to remember what the hell they do.
That would probably be enough for a puzzle game, but the rat of Rattyvity Lab can also chuck its rat-piss at blocks that are further away. You can pick up cheese to fill up some kind of cheese meter, and that determines how many piss-shots you have. Suddenly, some extra parameters are in play. You can stand on blocks while firing at another, propelling yourself in the air or being in precisely the right point for a gravity switch. And you can push the blocks too, which adds yet another parameter. Don’t like where the block is placed? Well, shift it up, connect the block with another, and see what happens.
It’s all rather unique. We definitely give brownie points to Rattyvity Lab for feeling very little like anything on the market right now. There’s a bit of Portal here, a Sokuban block-pusher there. In many ways it implodes and explodes your brain on the same rota that Portal did: you have to think in ways that your brain hasn’t ever thought. And that hurts, but is hugely satisfying. Playing this in the early-morning is not wise.
It rarely goes too far with the intricacy of its puzzles. With a knowing nod to how new, complicated and full of permutations it is, it tends to confine its levels to within a game screen and only a few blocks. There’s the burning sense that, sure, you can’t solve the puzzle right now, but there are few enough possible solutions that you might stumble on it eventually. Trial and error can win the day.
But we still have a hang-up with Rattyvity Lab, and that’s physics. We’ve got a bit of a personal bugbear with introducing physics-based mechanics to puzzle games (unless you’re Valve, and then everything is so watertight that they get a pass). Because puzzles are precise. You need a guarantee that the action you are about to perform will act in a certain way. As soon as you add randomness, the block behaves differently this time than it did last time, and that feels terrible. You are at the whim of the puzzling gods.
Rattyvity be like that sometimes. We were stuck on a level where – as we eventually worked out – you had to stand below two blocks as they came together, so they landed on your snout and you could push them up vertically. First of all, that’s a cruel solution to any puzzle (we’ve never had to act like a block ourselves before – in fact, we thought you died if blocks fell on you), and second of all that means physics is stirred in. Every time we tried to stack the block vertically, we would overcompensate and roll it onto the floor. We were tinkering with a physics engine that wasn’t built to be tinkered with, and we got more than a little frustrated.
Blocks are meant to fire at other blocks, but get nicked on platforms. They don’t connect as they should. You are meant to stand on some blocks as they move to another, and it’s a dice-roll whether it will let you stay on. There are fuzzy, rat-hair-edges to the puzzles that we don’t quite like.
The physics and legibility of a level become a problem when solutions can be pretty damn devious. Rattyvity Lab pushes at the edges of what you think is possible within its ruleset, creating level after level that had us clawing at the skin on our faces.
Now, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is dependent on you. Because if you can absorb the physics-related issues, and you can get to grips with what each block means and does, then Rattyvity Lab is an extremely clever game. It’s not as easy as that cute rat protagonist might lead you to believe. Rattyvity Lab is an utter scumbag, but you have to admire its occasional genius.
You can buy Rattyvity Lab from the Xbox Store