A report on the Xbox Live Games with Gold titles available for November 2014.
Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood Review: Drawing Creative New Lines In The Platforming Genre
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer with a fairly heavy emphasis on problem solving, and is the first game from Danish Developer Press Play since being purchased by Microsoft in 2012. The game opens with Max, the lead character, returning home from school to find his brother, Felix, in his room and destroying his toys. Looking for a means to get rid of the menace, Max resorts to the Internet, where he finds an incantation to try on his brother. Upon reading it, a portal opens and a massive hand snatches Felix and pulls him through. Reluctantly, Max follows, leading to a short introductory level, where Max finds out from an old lady that Mustacho, an evil wizard, plans to use Felix in a ritual to regain his youth and power. She then puts her remaining magic into Max’s Marker and the adventure truly begins.
The game is the spiritual successor/reboot of 2010’s Max & the Magic Marker, and has Max once again in control of a magical marker which he utilizes to solve problems and traverse his environment. However, where Max had the freedom to draw and create as he pleased in Max & the Magic Marker, Max’s drawing ability is limited to different power nodes that are strategically placed throughout the levels. These nodes start out as a way for you to raise earthen platforms to get by hazards, but as you progress through the game, you will unlock other powers, such as creating branches, vines, water jets, and fireballs, each with their own special set of nodes. To activate the nodes and draw forth your power, you will have to hold the right trigger, move the marker over the node, and hold the A button while you draw the element to your desired shape, direction, or size. Should you make a mistake, you can instead use the X button to rub the creation out of existence.
Throughout the game, it is required that the player further combine these powers in order to solve increasingly difficult challenges that arise. For instance, you might attach a vine to a branch, and then cut it off from the original node to create a swinging vine to launch you across a chasm. This can be a daunting task from time to time, as it might not be immediately apparent what shape you may need for a branch, or in which direction you might need to go with a vine. I found myself conducting a lot of trial and error, but luckily the harder puzzle scenarios are kept separate from scenarios with enemies, allowing you to take your time if need be. The only frustration with the system came with the branch ability, as at times the game required a level of precision that seemed unintuitive and bogged down some of the puzzles. However, when everything is working well, it can provide some thrilling moments of gameplay.
Along the way, Max will encounter several of Mustacho’s minions, as well as an array of dangerous creatures that try to do Max harm. For the majority of the game, Max has no means to attack and one hit from these minions will defeat him, so instead you must utilize the powers at your disposal to outwit and out maneuver them. This can be done in a variety of ways, and often a bit of creativity is required. Mustacho’s pet monster, who had grabbed Felix through the portal, often provides the most exciting sequences in the game. In these sequences, the player must run as fast as they can, utilizing the earthen platforms, vines and other powers to escape. The power usage is fairly straight forward, so these events become more about the player’s speed than any particular proficiency in using the powers. While it makes for exciting gameplay that keeps you on your toes, I did notice an issue with these sequences. If you fail one of these sequences, the game will often restart at the point where the chase begins, rather than a point just before the chase. As a result of starting in a stationary position, rather than on the run, you often lose a step or two, which can prove to be vital. This resulted in a number of cheap deaths if I did not hold the stick to start moving before the action reappeared on the screen. It would have been much better had they provided a buffer between the restart point and the beginning of these sequences, as it takes a bit away from what is otherwise one of the strongest parts of the game.
Though the gameplay was great overall, my favorite thing about this game was the art style employed and how it complimented the gameplay so well. The character models and animations melds together new age 3D computer modeling and old-school claymation that work really well with the character designs and environments. Everything in this game is beautiful, and with the exception of Mustacho’s lair (which is supposed to be rather dark and gloomy), nearly every level is filled with bright and vibrant colors. I only wish that the score for the game had been as great, as the majority of the music in the game is entirely forgettable.
Finally, there is not much to do outside of the core gameplay. The game does feature two sets of collectibles. The first is a set of eyes that grow at the end of vines that can be found throughout every level, with 75 in all. These are meant to be the eyes of Mustacho, and collecting them (ripping them from wherever they are placed) helps to blind Mustacho, though they have no effect on the ending of the game. If you do not collect them all in one go, you can always return to each level and collect those that you missed without needing to recollect any. The other collectibles are pieces of a talisman for the old lady, which are supposed to provide her more power, but ultimately I never saw a difference in how the game played after collecting them all, either. In the end, they both appear to have simply been added as a means to provide a bit more gameplay beyond the few hours it will take to play through the game, as well as some fairly straight forward achievements (which this game is great for).
Overall, Max: the Curse of Brotherhood is a fun and at times challenging platformer with an emphasis on puzzle solving through its unique draw feature. It is very light on combat, and requires the player to outsmart enemies for the majority of the game, rather than brutalize them. This aspect combined with its unique art style make it great for a younger audience and platforming game enthusiasts, while the straight forward nature of its achievements will likely make it a popular game amongst the achievement hunting crowd. Though the game does not have a lot of replayability, at $15, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is worth the experience.
Nice work on the review, followed you from GameInformer as DaProphet. This site and your writing definitely has a new follower. I haven't purchased this game yet, but my boy really wants it. It seemed like it got bashed a little hard for such minor problems.
Excellent review. I gave it a 7/10 roughly, but I definitely agree on most everything you've said here. A promising title with some neat gimmicks and interesting moments.