“Ok, buddy you’re going on a see-food diet. If you see food, eat it!”
There was a time in the late 1990’s when the brightly colored 3D platformer was king. In a post-Super Mario 64 world, characters like Billy Hatcher, Gex, Rayman, Jak and Ratchet had players navigating through vibrant environments while using a variety of techniques to dispatch foes. Over time, popularity for the genre waned as the game market diversified and consoles became more powerful. With an array of role playing games and first-person shooters, fewer players sought diversion in the platformer.
Twisted Pixel’s The Maw seems lifted right out of that glorious time period. As the game opens, our other-worldy protagonist, Frank, is imprisoned aboard a flying vessel. Within these confines, our hero spots a friendly blob-like creature with a single eye-ball and sharp teeth. Moments later, the craft crashes into the ground, sending the unlikely duo into the rugged environment.
“Look, Maw, one-hand!“
Players control Frank with the left analog stick, with the right stick adjusts the game’s camera. A push of the “X” button creates an electronic leash that guides The Maw along. While Frank is rather delicate and has a lack of direct attacks, Maw’s vivacious appetite is the source for much of the enemy interaction. Most levels have enemies which will mutate Maw when consumed. Digesting these creatures gives the purple blob additional techniques that range from fire-breathing to the ability to perform gravity-defying leaps. Frank can also leash some environmental obstacles and other small extra-terrestrials, which can be slammed or thrown Olympic-hammer style. By combining Frank and Maw’s abilities, the game presents a sequence of short puzzles for the player to traverse.
Herein lay The Maw’s greatest fault; the game’s linear puzzles are quite simple and offer little incentive for a second playthough. Enemy attacks only stun players, while areas pertinent to solutions are marked with a large question mark, eliminating most analytical challenge. Because of this, Maw seems partially well suited to pre-teens, although adults will still have an enjoyable romp with the title. We would have loved if the game offered a more arcade-like approach, where players could revisit levels in a more open-ended fashion. The Maw’s other snag is the occasional detection issue- the leash button was occasionally unresponsive on creatures a few steps away from Frank. Additionally, swinging objects to destroy obstacles revealed an occasional hit detection snag.
“Do these smoking shoulder pads make me look more menacing?”
The Maw displays a level of graphical sophistication unusual for most downloadable titles. Each of the game’s characters are lovingly rendered, and recall the design of Pixar’s Monsters Inc. We especially enjoyed seeing Maw grow into an enormous eating machine, which dwarfs Frank. Enemy characters are skillfully and creatively designed, from lava monsters to rock turtles. The game’s environments are well drawn, and the game is short enough to that level fatigue doesn’t show.
Overall, The Maw is one of the best Xbox Live Arcade titles to be released in recent memory. The game offers an enjoyable, relaxed quest that heralds back to a time when the 3D platfomer thrived. With a high level of graphical polish and a very reasonable ten dollar entry fee, Twisted Pixel’s effort deserves a place on every 360 owner’s hard drive.