Developer: Press Play
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: December 20, 2013
Max & the Magic Marker was an interesting digitally distributed title when it launched in 2010. Unfortunately, it didn“t seem to draw too much attention at the time. Still, developer Press Play decided to move forward with a new Max game.
Initially announced for Xbox 360, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is now one of the few digital-only titles on the Xbox One so far (that 360 release was pushed into 2014, by the way). Is this title worth picking up or should Xbox One owners wait for something else?
Well, let“s delve into all that Max: The Curse of Brotherhood presents. The story setup is mostly simple. Max has a younger brother named Felix who he despises with a passion. He“s an annoying, excitable, bookish kid and drives Max up the wall with his simple existence. So Max does what any bratty older sibling would do and looks up a way to make the little boy disappear - and it works! Felix is pulled into an alternate dimension by some horrible monster and Max, realizing his awful choice, goes in after him. From there, the game proceeds as a puzzle platformer.
Everything takes place on a 2.5D plane, meaning everything is â€œflatâ€ and sidescrolling, but the world itself is comprised of 3D objects. With that oddly technical description out of the way, we can discuss the meat of gameplay. Max platforms as you might expect across dangerous cliffs, swings across vines, and the like. He can“t ever attack directly, but there“s never a need to. Instead, Max uses his magic marker powers to fight or aid in platforming. The marker can draw objects into the world such as vines, tree branches, and earthy platforms. Sounds cool, right?
Unfortunately, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood stops short of more free range drawing-based games. You can only ever use the marker at specified locations. This means there are not a possible infinite amount of puzzle solutions, but mostly just ones that the developers devised. It“s easy to tell where something can be drawn because the area will glow. And it is just the specific area, not a large possible range of drawing locations. Length of objects is also restricted per puzzle, as is what can actually be drawn there. The game always chooses for you the exact thing required.
Somehow this still doesn“t mean every puzzle is easy peasy. What you do have control over is how to draw objects. For example, there might be a spot to draw a tree branch fairly high up. In order to be able to reach it, you have to draw it more like a â€œladderâ€ so Max can pull himself up. There are multiple times when figuring out exactly how to draw an object takes a bit of time. Still, puzzle game fans will not have a very hard time with them. So, does that mean Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is targeted at children?
It sure seems like it. First, there“s the storyline which likely would appeal and feel relatable to many. Then there are the visuals which are incredibly bright and colorful. Even though this isn“t the normal world, the stages aren“t particularly inspiring though. It“s weird that the supposed fantasy location is soâ€¦ dull. But things sure are colorful! Funnily, it“s the colors that help make this look like an Xbox One game over anything else. The previous generation did love to stick to darker tones for a long while, though, so maybe that“s why. In any case, with a fantasy location and gameplay that is very restrictive, it seems like the perfect game for a younger age group.
Except it seems far too frustrating to be a fitting title. For example, there are moments where the monster will chase you. The action packed scenes should be fairly forgiving but they“re not. Instead, you basically have to do everything in the exact way that was planned for, and not dawdle in the least. Even mis-jumping just a tiny amount will spell certain doom for Max. Repeating these scenes again and again is a trial of patience, especially when you would easily complete them if there was just a larger buffer between success and failure times.
Similarly, there is the entire drawing mechanic that can cause issues at times. You might expect that pulling out the marker would pause the game. It doesn“t. This leads to situations where you must draw something but a baddie is in pursuit. If the game would just freeze (or slow down) while drawing it would be no issue to raise up a platform and get away. But since it doesn“t you“re stuck hoping that you“ll maneuver the marker to the hotspot in time and draw your object. Also, if you draw something partially and let go of the button, you can“t continue drawing on it. Instead, the whole thing must be deleted first. Basically, there“s a lot of frustration with making sure you get something drawn right and quickly the first time.
The whole game isn“t one of quick-thinking, as there are many puzzles that give you all the time you need. But those â€œexcitingâ€ moments quickly soured the experience. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood isn“t a glitchy mess, and that“s a plus (as sad as it is to have to consider it one these days). But instead of being a fantastic journey through an alternate realm, it stands as very average. Pair that with the less-than-ideal marker mechanics and you“re left with a game that simply fails to impress.
+ Storyline that many children (and adults with siblings) can relate to
+ Bright visuals that look like they were designed for Xbox One all along
- Gameplay doesn“t work out well when in action sequences
- Little room for creativity with magic marker mechanic
Overall Score: 4.0 (out of 10)
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood could have shined as a lone beacon on the Xbox One storefront but squandered its opportunity with middling gameplay and uninspired worlds.
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review