A curse or a blessing?
Danish video game developer Press Play were acquired by Microsoft back in 2012 after the release of the critically and commercially successful, Max and the Magic Marker, and they promptly returned the favour with the creation of a novel, Windows Phone exclusive puzzler, Tentacles. Now though, they have made the transition onto Microsoft’s latest home console with Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, but is it any good? Well, after completing the game, I believe I am in a position to draw a conclusion to that particular line of enquiry…
With the flimsy pun out of the way, it’s onto the more serious business, and despite its cute exterior, Max is itself a very serious game. Essentially playing out as a colourful and seemingly more family friendly version of the indie smash hit, Limbo, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood has a rather unique gameplay addition that separates it from the rest of the pack, its drawing mechanic. The protagonist, Max, you see, is in possession of a magic marker with which he can add to, and remove objects from, the world around him in order to traverse his danger filled environment, and somehow save his younger brother from the evil that has snatched him. Contrary to several other critical analyses that you may have seen of the game, I can tell you with some certainty that this mechanic actually works very well with the controller, there are no problems with inaccurate drawing to impede one’s progress through the world, though at times the camera may be in a position that seemingly prevents the player from seeing the areas of the level that can be interacted with, but these too are rather swiftly overcome.
The puzzles themselves are relatively easy, giving a nice balance of fun versus frustration that isn’t normally present in a game of this style, and I would hope that this will enhance the appeal of Max to a wider audience typically put off by the likes of Braid and Limbo, because Max: The Curse of Brotherhood certainly deserves it.
The graphics are certainly far from spectacular, but they aren’t really the main attraction here, and whilst they do the job, they lack the style of Limbo, or the charm of Starbreeze’s Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Though in Max’s defence, they are certainly sharp and colourful. The soundtrack is similarly fitting, though unspectacular stuff, generally remaining rather subtle throughout with more bombastic flourishes and crescendos reserved only for times of immediate danger, such as the final boss and the various encounters with his stronger minions that punctuate the normally sedate gameplay.
There are many times throughout the adventure when death would appear to be the only outcome for Max, but at these moments the game typically slows to a crawl, similar to Max Payne’s “Bullet Time”, in order to give the player the time needed to respond to the situation accordingly, and typically injecting some genuine tension into the proceedings. Thankfully though, Press Play have been more than generous with the checkpoint placement in the game, further reducing the frustration of faltering, and that-most players will agree-is a more than welcome addition.
Whilst the puzzles are relatively easy on the whole, there is still immense satisfaction to be derived from besting them, especially as the game progresses and Max’s powers must be combined more and more. Also, on top of completing the story itself, there are numerous collectibles to be discovered that provide the game with a little more replay value, and thankfully, every completed level in the game can be accessed directly, so there is no need to perform a perfect run through first time.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood certainly isn’t perfect though, there were several occasions for me where Max became trapped in, or underneath, objects that I had created, of course, this is a relatively minor flaw thanks to the rather generous checkpoint placement, but the weakest component of the game is reserved for those that reach the end of the journey. The final boss that Max must overcome to complete his story is a pretty horrendous experience, I found myself dying numerous times, and generally, this was due to dodgy collision detection that I simply couldn’t do anything to avoid. And whilst this final confrontation does require the player to use the skills that they have garnered along the way, they are not employed very creatively, resulting in a very disappointing conclusion to what was a fantastic game.
In all, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood has been nothing but a surprise to me, having known little about the developer or their past efforts beforehand, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and highly rewarding romp through an imaginative, Labyrinth inspired fantasy world, and by far one of the best gaming experiences available on either next-gen console thus far. And as if that wasn’t reason enough to buy it, it can be purchased for just £11.99/$14.99, making it an absolute bargain. Recommended.
– James Paton @TheBlackPage
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