In the months following a console launch, there’s (unfortunately) usually a lull in game releases. Luckily for us, modern consoles now come with online capabilities, meaning a new title is just a download away. And into this wilderness comes Max: The Curse of Brotherhood – a nature-based 2D puzzle/platformer from Press Play, and a sequel (of sorts) to Max & The Magic Marker.
The premise for this installment is simple – Max returns home one day to find his younger brother Felix trashing his toys. Doing what any modern-day child would do, he jumps onto his PC to search for a way to banish Felix from his room. Reading a spell aloud, Max realises his mistake when a portal opens and Felix is kidnapped, and all Max can do is chase after him into another realm. Unfortunately this tale of brotherly love and regret is set up in the prologue only – it certainly feels like an opportunity missed by Press Play by failing to expand on this realisation as Max’s journey progresses.
Max’s quest will take him across a vast desert, forests, a swamp and deep underground. The innocuous marker he has with him will become his greatest (and only) tool to navigate his way through the realms to rescue Felix. With it, Max can harness the elements to create platforms, water streams, vines and fireballs to solve puzzles and progress. This is executed exceptionally well initially – you’re introduced to powers incrementally and aren’t overwhelmed.
To a degree, there are restrictions on the marker’s powers. You can see areas marking where you can draw a specific power, each time with a different amount of energy to use depending on what is required. This may seem overly restrictive, but works for the best later on when puzzles involve multiple powers working together to solve. Those difficult puzzles are also where the game’s biggest strength – and also a deficiency – lies. There’s a great sense of accomplishment you get from clearing such puzzles, but the several minutes before that can be frustrating, repeating various combinations and methods ad nauseam with no help or hints provided at any stage.
The controls themselves are an interesting choice. The previous game utilized gesture-based interfaces (on the Wii and Apple hardware), but this game relies solely on the controller. Unfortunately, whilst that works well for Max’s general movement, it falls down when trying to draw a power precisely using thumbsticks. Unfortunately they seem unable to cope with the precision that’s sometimes required with the marker, eg. drawing right-angle or looping water streams and branches. It also raises an interesting question as to why there was no Kinect or (perhaps the better option) Smartglass integration as an input for the marker – there seems like a real missed opportunity to showcase Smartglass’ capabilities, especially in-game. This is also particularly noticeable in the last few levels, where quick, accurate drawing is essential to moving on, and success won’t come easy. With the thumbsticks to guide the marker, it can be hit-or-miss and thus a little frustrating, but luckily there’s a generous checkpoint system in place throughout the whole game, meaning you’re usually restarting mere seconds before that section.
Visually, the game looks like something fresh out of Disney’s Pixar studios – clean, crisp visuals with that bit of a cartoony edge, though later on levels use shadow well, giving it a Limbo-esque look in parts. The 2D playing field with 3D backgrounds work well, and the landscapes are particularly impressive. Considering this is amongst the first set of games for the Xbox One and comes in at only 2GB in size, it’s great how much Press Play have been able to get in graphically. The soundtrack is good too, with jaunty music and clear character dialogue complementing the gameplay nicely.
It does need to be mentioned that this game is one of the first “download” games on the Xbox One, and unlike Arcade Games on the 360 it has a full 1000 gamerscore to unlock. It’s an overdue (but welcome) change to how download-only games are perceived – they can be just as entertaining and as long as “retail” titles – but when the 360 version is released in the coming months, that version will revert back to 400 gamerscore.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that Max: The Curse of Brotherhood also takes advantage of the Xbox One’s game-recording feature. After particularly tough puzzles or escaping from a “boss” enemy, you’ll see a screen prompt that the footage has been saved – perhaps a novelty for some, but it’s nice to see that Press Play are implementing some of the new facilities the console provides.
Despite the dearth of games at the moment for Xbox One, Max is an enjoyable romp that’ll also have you thinking. Clocking in at around 6-8 hours of playtime and with numerous collectibles along the way, it entertains without overstaying its welcome. Whilst there’s no multiplayer and the genre won’t appeal to all gamers, it’s definitely worth looking into for those who enjoy platformers (or those who simply want a break from the plethora of shooters on the Xbox One).