Back in 2010, developers Press Play released a game called Max and the Magic Marker. The game invited players to draw and create parts of the levels to solve puzzles and complete the game. The sequel to the game has just landed on PC and Xbox360 (after having a bit of time to itself on the Xbox One). I accompany Max on his adventure to see what The Curse of Brotherhood actually is.
Max is a young kid with a typical problem: a bratty younger brother. After arriving home one afternoon, Max finds his brother Felix trashing his room. I know exactly how Max felt here, since I’m sure we’ve all had a sibling playing with OUR stuff. (You only-kids have NO idea what you’re missing.) In a rage, Max consults the Internet to find out how to make a brother disappear, and by some foul magic, Felix gets abducted through a portal into a strange world. This is a common problem with visiting the wrong parts of the Internet. In any event, Max, realizing that a missing brother would most likely REALLY tick his mom off, follows Felix through the portal and heads off on an adventure to save Felix. Along the way, Max gains the power of the magic marker which allows him to manipulate parts of the world, helping him on his quest. The wonderful irony here is that “Felix” is a name meaning “lucky one”. See how well THAT worked out for him.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood will remind older players almost exactly of Heart of Darkness from back in 1998, in that it’s a beautifully cinematic platformer. In fact, the one thing that I’m sure almost everyone who plays it will say is that “it looks and plays like a Pixar film!” And of course, the one thing about cinematic platformer games is that your character will die. A lot. Max’s deaths aren’t as particularly gruesome as Andy’s from Heart of Darkness, but very younger players might still find it a little on the disturbing side. Unlike some other cinematic platformers (*cough* Limbo *cough*), the dying isn’t due to the level designer being a bastard troll and wanting to beat you unfairly. You can actually, with a bit of careful progress, get through the entire game without a single death. Each death feels fair and entirely down to your own ineptitude.
In terms of gameplay, Max is a 2.5D platform puzzle game, and you get both in equal parts. The platforming is fairly standard run-jump-climb-trees-kill-the-occasional-baddie affair. The game’s primary focus is the puzzle end of things, though. The magic marker can manipulate specially-marked sections of the world to create and destroy platform elements such as vines, branches, water, and so forth. Obviously, you don’t start out with a fully armed and operational battle station marker: you have to earn each power as you progress. It’s worth stating again that you can’t choose WHERE to use the marker or how much ink it has for that section, so each place where the marker can be used is an essential part of each puzzle. What you DO have control over is the outcome of the marker’s effect. For example, in a place where you can draw branches, you can make it whatever shape you want, whether straight, zig-zagged, curled up, or anything in between, depending on the amount of ink you have for that particular branch.
A typical puzzle, for example, has you stuck on one ledge, needing to get to the other side of the screen over a seemingly insurmountable gap of yawning space, with nothing but death waiting at the bottom. Through some trial and error, you’ll eventually figure out that you need to grow THAT branch into THIS shape, cut it to make it roll down a branch grown in THIS shape, attach this vine over here to it, cut the vine, and then create the water pathway like SO, such that when you jump off the vine…and so forth. And odds are, you’ll fail quite a bit before the incredibly obvious solution hits you like a brick to the nose. It is great fun trying to figure out, and you’ll feel good about yourself after getting some of the trickier puzzles that you’ll want to brag for days about just how cunning you were. The puzzles start out fairly easy, but toward the end of the game, you’ll be using all of the marker’s powers in a single puzzle. It’s clear that the puzzles are beautifully designed with truly elegant solutions, despite the limitation of where to use the marker. A skilled player will likely finish the game in around 7 to 8 hours, maxing (Ed: Ha. Ha.) out the game, achievements, collectibles and all, at around the 10 hour mark.
Max is a genuinely polished game, with very few of the bugs and niggles you’ll find in other games. There is the occasional instance of minor screen tearing, but nothing serious or too immersion-breaking. Since I played the PC version, I didn’t notice any particular slow down, but your mileage may vary on the 360. It’s definitely a brilliant amount of fun. Some people might find the “trial and error” style gameplay a little annoying, especially when a difficult scene comes along. These bits are usually chase scenes, and are preceded by a short non-interactive segment. Watching the same monster roar at you 15 times just before he eats you 15 times gets a tad wearisome eventually. If you’re playing this game with a controller, the issue is compounded by slightly lower than average control mechanisms. Indeed, playing on the PC I found that for certain puzzles where a quick and steady hand was needed, only the mouse was precise enough for me to drawn the requisite platforms quickly enough. I pity the Xbox players those particular puzzles, for they’ll provide more deaths than necessary.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a beautiful game with a very beautiful story about brotherly duty (and yes, the curse of being a brother). The story doesn’t develop much, but it’s so tightly focused that it’s still artful. The game is packed to the seams with charm that you can’t help but like Max, cheering him on as he scrambles for the next available wooden platform. The game is well checkpointed, too, so you never really need to complete each puzzle multiple times. Replay value is low, although you might go back to very specific levels for the collectibles you missed. All in all, a wonderful experience that left a very pleasurable glow, and that’s precisely what you want in a cinematic video game, isn’t it?
Final Score: 8 brother’s keeper prawns out of 10
Developer: Press Play
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox360, Xbox One
Age Rating: PEGI 12