I have always been a massive fan of the Xbox Marketplace, so expectedly, I was looking forward to using the digital games store on the new Xbox One. Thus, once I had settled into the new system and trialled my disc-based games, I was eager to find what digital-delights I might find upon entering the store. Needless to say, I was surprised to find a miserable 3 games available for purchase, and as such, I would often boot up the Xbox One to check again and again; ultimately, to be left disappointed and growing impatient. However, the day finally came, something was finally added to the store. I rejoiced at the sight of a charming side-scrolling game by the name of Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, which immediately grabbed my attention, and subsequently, my credit card details.
For those unaware, this isn’t Max’s first adventure as it’s a follow up to the Max and the Magic Marker, which was released in 2010 and developed by ‘Press Play’, who are now under the umbrella of Microsoft Studios. To surmise, this unique and fun platformer is an entertaining experience with inventive puzzles and the clever inclusion on Max’s weapon of choice, the Magic Marker. The sequel begins in an everyday suburban home, in which Max is frustrated by his brother Felix antics. In a ploy to get rid of Felix, he web searches how to dispose of his brother, and innocently sends him away through an unknown portal into the clutches of a monstrous beast.
Quick to realise his blunder, Max follows fast into the mysterious world to embark on a quest to retrieve his brother from the evil grasps of the villain Mustacho. Believing Max is alone in this twisted journey, he eventually stumbles into a wise old woman who grants his ordinary pen marker with magical abilities to help him on his adventure. Narratively speaking, it’s the classic ‘save the person in distresses’ template, which has worked wonders for the Mario franchise, and while it’s not an inventive approach, it’s simple to follow, especially for young players.
The core gameplay in Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is typical of any 2D platformer, but rendered within a 3D environment. Max is fairly basic in his monourvability with the ability to move left and right or jump, to advance through the stage. However, what sets this game apart from others is his most important tool, “the magic marker”, which helps him to solve puzzles and advance further into the game. Throughout the stages, his marker will gain five magical abilities, which add new skills into the mix of problem solving, as well as additional challenges.
As you play the game, stages will feature coloured guides throughout each level to inform you of what you can create, whilst giving you the freedom of shape and sometimes length with the drawing. Holding the trigger button activates the marker, while using the analog stick to draw earth platforms, vines, branches, water tunnels and fireballs to help Max throughout the journey. It’s an interesting feature that gives this longstanding genre a new dynamic, and subsequently, gives you a certain feeling of creativity when playing, which often proves satisfying.
Exploration is also an important element within the game as there are lots of collectable to be found within each of the stages, including 75 eye stalks to destroy and 18 broken amulet pieces to obtain. Each item is usually cleverly hidden, and often at times high up in on the map, which adds another layer of puzzle solving to the equation. Essentially, it’s an enjoyable bonus which gives you another reason to revisit these beautifully crafted stages, which is quite fortunate as the game is surprisingly short and a little too easy to complete.
The visual design for this game is simply stunning, to the point where it almost feels as if you were watching an animated film at times. From the character design and top notch animation, to the impressive lighting and gorgeous environments that grace all levels of the game, the presentation for the entire game is surprisingly spectacular. There are moments of panning camera shots that emphasises the lush and sometimes muggy landscapes of the world Max has stepped into. Most notable are the ginormous monster chase sequences as the camera follows wildly while Max has to make a speedy escape with well-timed, executable manoeuvers. In my opinion Max: The Curse of Brotherhood probably has the best looking visuals of any side-scroller I’ve played to date, which is a big call I know, but the simple appeal of interacting with what feels like a Pixar film is undeniable!
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is both a surprising and charming game, with a unique twist on the platforming genre. While it’s a simple tale, the game is packed full of wonderful moments and provides you a sense of achievement when drawing yourself out of problematic situations. The combination of challenging puzzles and fun visuals reminiscent of a Pixar film makes this action filled title an enjoyable experience for any fan of the genre.