One of 2010’s more triumphant puzzlers was Max & The Magic Marker, a title which seamlessly merged traditional platforming with Crayon Physics’ drawing mechanics. As developer Press Play’s inaugural title, it was a prodigious debut- garnering an award in the Independent Games Festival and gradually producing a following as the game proliferated across a variety of platforms. Originally released as a WiiWare download, the title was subsequently ported to the PlayStation 3, iOS devices, as well as PCs, and Windows 7 Phones. Evidently, the title earned positive attention in Redmond, with Microsoft acquiring the studio and publishing the studio’s successive releases.
Follow-up Max: The Curse of the Brotherhood utilizes the power of the Xbox One to generate a substantially immersive game world. Forgoing its predecessor’s hand-drawn aesthetic, the title delivers a darker, more detailed 2.5D backdrop, while reworking The Magic Marker’s on-screen sketching elements. Previously, players drew shapes in an effort to create bridges, pedestals or objects which allowed Max to navigate each environment. With The Curse of the Brotherhood, gamers can create five types of objects: stony platforms, two types of traversable flora, fireballs, and jets of water. The fundamental difference is that you are no longer allowed to create objects anywhere. Now, the game’s eponymous hero uses pre-established, color-coded nodes to initiate objects.
Initially, the change seems stifling, as Max & The Magic Marker permitted a variety of solutions to many of its conundrums. Brotherhood’s preliminary stages can be tedious, with players progressing through areas which act as interactive tutorials, and a bit later, exploiting environmental-altering abilities to move and trap slow-moving monsters. The plodding pace is further emphasized by the lack of any direct combat. Occasionally, Max will encounter watchful enemy eyeballs that need to be plucked, but these sequences are little more than a button press followed by a recurring cinematic.
About ninety minutes into Brotherhood’s journey, the developer’s decisions become clearer. Puzzles become thornier, often involving a combination of the five core capabilities. As progress entails setting vines ablaze or creating a series of geysers that catapult players across perilous gorges, the game begins to excel- with players likely finding themselves engrossed by the title’s dilemmas. Although the unanticipated menace can bring harm to our hero, Brotherhood provides a liberal quantity of checkpoints, ensuring player ire is seldom raised by obligatory backtracking.
However, frustration can occur due to The Curse of the Brotherhood’s control scheme. Moving Max around each lethal locale feels reasonably responsive. Given that he’s a young boy, it’s understandable that his jumping distance is restrained. Fortunately, the stalwart lad has the ability to pull himself on ledges, which proves to be particularly advantageous during the title’s engaging platforming sequences. Undoubtedly, these sections proves to be Brotherhood’s best bits- with gripping set pieces which send players hurtling over deathly drops and scampering over a succession of towers that are dropping in domino-like fashion.
But creating environmental objects doesn’t work as cleanly, requiring players to use the analog stick to draw lines and basic shapes. Too often, it’s easy to make a water fountain that launches Max at the wrong trajectory or a platform that’s just out of the protagonist’s reach. While these issues are forgivable during the game’s preliminary stages, as players’ persevere during the seven hour campaign, life-saving structures need to be made on the fly. Failing these tests because of control imprecision tend to sully Brotherhood’s otherwise copious charms. Naturally, the game’s final battle tests the players’ proficiency with Max’s repertoire- but frequent deaths caused by input inaccuracy tend to mar this conclusion.
Both visually and aurally, The Curse of the Brotherhood habitually shines. During gameplay, utilization of the Unity engine allows the title to move at a lithe sixty frame-per-second, although in-game cinematics sporadically chug along. Undeniably, character models are well rendered and animated, giving life to the pompadoured protagonist and antagonist Mustacho’s army of minions. Although the game’s overarching plot is simplistic, Brotherhood shrewdly develops Max during gameplay, the character issues up warnings and one-liners. The game’s score adeptly emphasizes each milieu which setting the cadence during excited action sequences.
While Max: The Curse of the Brotherhood is an indisputably solid puzzle/platformer, the game makes an uneasy fit on the Xbox One. Using the right analog stick to sketch shapes often lacks the mandatory amount of precision. As such, it’s puzzling why developer Press Play didn’t offer either SmartGlass or Kinect support- both of Microsoft’s input methods could have improved on the existing input method. As such, Brotherhood is a game worth experience, but the best recommendation might be to wait until the title is ported to a platform with touchscreen capability.
Max: The Curse of the Brotherhood was played on the Xbox One with review code provided by the publisher.