Transformice is one of those games which shouldn’t be as fun as it is. It almost feels like the developers are cheating: they provide a mostly blank canvas and then run off while the players generate their own fun by screwing it up all to hell. The basic procedure: You take on the role of a mouse. You and a couple dozen other mice (controlled by other actual humans) are thrown into a sidescrolling room with a piece of cheese. There is a momentary pause while a sense of dreadful inevitably sinks in, and then carnage. Think of it as Lemmings: The RPG, or as a groundbreaking first example of the Black Friday Walmart Stampede Simulator.
It won’t take long to get the hang of the simple controls and slightly buggy physics, and the shop where you can spend your cheese on hats and other accessories will keep you hooked until you awake with a jolt and realize you’ve lost several hours of the day to a fuguelike nightmare of scrabbling feet and the intoxicating scent of blood mingled with cheese.
But then the game will throw you a curveball by making you the “shaman” for a round. As the priestly leader of the tribe, you will gain the ability to manifest all manner of divine objects out of thin air. I think it’s an offshoot of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, except with more beachballs and anvils. The shaman is supposed to use his powers for the good of his people, constructing a path to shepherd his fold to cheese and victory. Alas, this doesn’t always work out in practice.
You will quickly become familiar with the various styles of anti-shamanry. Among them are:
1. The Untrained Acolyte: Immediately falls off the stage, sits there and does nothing, or drops useless boxes everywhere. You can offer encouragement in the form of verbal abuse.
2. The Suicide Cult Leader: Attempts to kill all of his followers regardless of their dissenting opinions on the finer points of theological interpretation. If there’s a second shaman on the map, you can rally around him for protection. Actually, scratch that—you should probably get as far away from the “good” shaman as possible, because he’s going to be the first to die.
3. The Prophet of the Anvil God: Spends the entire round attaching rotating anvils to each other. There is absolutely nothing you can do to save yourself when this happens. We’re talking Lovecraftian Great Old One business here.
Oh, and yeah, I guess you occasionally see competent shamans who successfully lead everyone to safety. You’ll sometimes even be treated to some impressive and creative solutions to the stages—moving elevators, walking platform snakes, rotating windmills—but these end in tragedy more often than not. This isn’t always the shaman’s fault, since the very mice he is trying to save are usually tearing apart the contraptions constructed for their benefit. If you hate escort missions, especially ones in which you have to escort the equivalent of two dozen brain-damaged suicidal toddlers, you’re probably going to hate being the shaman.
But shamaning happens infrequently: most of the time you’ll be free to enjoy the mindless comfort of melting into the cheese-hungry herd. The more I play, the more I wonder if Transformice is really an elaborate social experiment and the developers are secretly collecting data from behind a mirrored window. When I first started, I hung back while everyone else rushed forward: weighting down seesaws to prevent everyone from dropping into the abyss, wedging myself under gates to hold them open, etc. But the game seems to exert a corrupting influence. Now I just move with all the rest, toppling teeter-totters, overturning half completed constructions, and stomping on the heads of my cohorts as they attempt to leap across chasms. It’s only a matter of time before Transformice makes its way into the psychology textbooks alongside the Milgram Experiment and the foul works of Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who I remain convinced is some kind of evil wizard.
The developers are still cranking out regular updates, including new outfits, new stages, new objects, and a catastrophic and short-lived experiment with portals which I missed and only know about from the chatbox babblings of those who were unfortunate enough to witness it. If you’re ready and willing to join the swarm, the unofficial manual is available here to get you started. Enjoy your cheese, but try not to lose too much of your humanity.