We’re a little late with this review and that’s because you need to get a group of players together for this charming little puzzle game. Melbits World is a PlayLink title which means that while the action all happens on the PS4, the players control it via mobile phones (via an app that is available from the Android and iOS app stores). We’re big fans of the Jackbox titles here and so we know full well how effective phone-based play can be in a party game situation but unlike the mini-games that that series offers, this is a very much a videogame (rather than a quiz or a take on a board game) and so you can’t really stream it to players over Twitch because of the delay.
So, we assembled some of the boys and fired up Melbits World and were quite surprised by it. The game has a cutesy kawaii aesthetic which makes you think it is a kid’s game, especially when you see the cute little Melbits, the stars of the show. You don’t play as them though. Instead you’ll be trying to stop them from walking blindly into danger, much like in the seminal ’90s puzzle game Lemmings. However, unlike that game this isn’t presented in 2D but rather a smart, isometric view.
As each level starts, the first Melbit will walk out and along a pre-defined path, no matter what obstacles, traps and enemies may be in the way. Each player is given a control panel on their phones with buttons, sliders and rotation controls that move certain platforms, springs and tubes and they must activate them at the right time to make sure the Melbits can proceed. Buttons might raise and drop blocks that act as elevators, the sliders can be used to force down springs that can be released to launch Melbits into the air and the rotational controls can be applied to spinning platforms or rotating cylinders that have paths and gaps on them and must be turned in order to create a safe path.
It all feels incredibly natural to control though and you’ll soon get the gist of what is going on. What makes this a good party game is that you only control certain aspects of what is happening on the screen and so each game quickly descends into one guy figuring out what you all need to do and the rest yelling frantic instructions at each other. Think Space Team on iOS/Android, Snipperclips on the Switch and the Overcooked games and you’ll get the idea.
Initially it all seems pretty simple but as the game progresses, the levels get a little trickier each time and the game goes from being a silly but fun party game to something more cerebral and frustrating but equally something more rewarding. Additional items can be picked up if you can figure out how to get off of the beaten path and this also adds a little more challenge to the game.
We had a blast playing the game initially but eventually the complexity of the levels made it a little less fun for a party game session and 36 levels might be a few too many to convince friends to persist with, even over multiple gameplay sessions. Additionally, while the game controls well for the most part, anything involving rotation seemed to really be a problem for all our phones and did lead to some lost Melbits along the way.
However, the overall feeling was that the PlayLink technology works surprisingly well and does add to the silliness and fun of the whole experience. If this was just a standard local co-op game with DualShock controls, it might be lost in amongst all the other couch multiplayer games out there. Does that mean that we’re falling for the same illusion that we all did when PSVR came out and anything using it suddenly seemed amazing? Maybe.
What helps is the game’s cheery and cute presentation. The visuals are clean and simple with the isometric viewpoint giving you a great view of the action but Melbits World is also full of charm while the sound is as daft and chirpy as you’d expect from a game that looks like this. We can easily imagine more games coming out that feature Melbits in the future too.
So obviously your decision on whether or not to pick this up really will focus on if you want a co-op game with no single player options and if you’ve got the right group of friends to play the game with. Cost might be a factor as the game does cost £15.99 which is a tad high. While the game’s look will clearly draw in younger players, the puzzle-solving might actually be a bit too much for them and older gamers may well be more interested in other titles in your collection but if you can hit the sweet spot, Melbits World’s cute aesthetic, clever gameplay and novel controls can easily be a big hit the next time you’ve got a room full of gamers with you.
+ Lovely visual style
+ Novel controls
+ Fun and frustrating in the right measure
- Might be a bit too taxing for younger players
- A tad samey
- No single-player functionality
- A little expensive