Is the pen mightier than the sword?
Like an early gift, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood landed on the Xbox One just before Christmas, and it was a pleasant surprise.Coming as a sequel of sorts to Max & the Magic Marker, The Curse of Brotherhood uses the same gameplay mechanic of drawing lines and shapes to interact with the world, but don’t go expecting any real narrative crossover.
No reference is made to the previous events of the multi-format preceding adventure beyond the central villain’s name, Moustacho, sort of like Evil Dead II is to Evil Dead. It’s a fresh palette with a new art style, new settings and coming on a new console to boot.
The set-up seems lifted wholly from the camp Bowie-starring Jim Henson puppet fest Labyrinth.
Max, irked by his little brother’s presence, recites an incantation he’s found on the internet (modern!) intended to rid the reader of just such a bothersome sibling.
Cue a portal to another dimension opening, instant regret and the beginning of a quest to rescue Max’s little brother from the clutches of Moustacho.
Graphics set to max
The beauty of Curse is that the art style makes anything even vaguely hackneyed appear somehow charismatic. The gorgeous backdrops and cartoonish nature of it all - with suitably distorted body proportions to the human characters - suck you in just as much as the wormhole to another realm did the siblings.
It helps that the game’s a definite looker, Microsoft have clearly backed Press Play to produce in the graphics department. It boasts some fantastic lighting effects - the subterranean level is a highlight - and subtle manipulation of depth of field with a gently sweeping camera and some bokeh, adding up to a very slick Pixar-esque experience. For a downloadable title it’s as far from the lo-fi appeal of much other Arcade fare as it’s possible to get.
The music's also worth a special mention, as it sets the tone perfectly, sitting between the simplicity of a traditional platform backing track and whimsical animated adventure accompaniment.
It helps that the game's a definite looker
The new realm brings with it the usual balance of perils and powers, the latter bestowed upon you by a wise old lady in yet another step down the road of familiar story tropes. A marker in Max’s backpack is imbued with the power to draw objects and shapes from particular anchor points. This is a change from the previous title, as your powers are tethered to highlighted nodes within the environment. This simplifies the options open to you, making it less of a free-flowing experience, but also helps streamline the game towards a more polished end.
Power upThe balance in this puzzle platformer is generally leaning towards the latter element; each section is designed as a challenge to your progression, tasking you with figuring out how to use your powers to reach that next ledge rather than relying on your acrobatic skills. The only necessary platforming skill to master is how to coincide your leap with the swing or even drawing of vines. Handily, whenever the latter occurs mid-section and the situation is perilous the game slows down time in very filmic fashion, easing the difficulty and highlighting these daredevil moments.
As you get further in your quest, the combinations of abilities required increases in each environment. You’ll end up with five powers, allowing you to raise earth pillars, draw branches and vines, direct water jets and finally fling fireballs. The most used linking will see you tie a vine to a branch in order to reach a higher ledge. It isn’t complex, but there are some that’ll slow you down for a few minutes when joining multiple vines and branches, or when cutting and moving the correct shaped ones is necessary.
It’s a very linear 2D (in gameplay terms) affair, but the chance to explore is there thanks to the collectibles. Strange monocular plants that act as Moustacho’s surveillance system need ripping from walls and ceilings, whilst 18 shards of a mysterious amulet litter the realm in hard to reach places. Unfortunately, when the environments take on a more circuitous nature - deviating from standard left to right - and the path to a secret seems too obvious, it’s all too easy to wander in the wrong direction, only to trigger the next cut-scene or set the next checkpoint.
And checkpoints are in abundance, the game is a series of bite-sized puzzle locations linked together, it almost feels like you’re bouncing from one cartoon frame to another such is their encapsulated nature. This works perfectly for a dip in and dip out experience, but the momentum of launching from one puzzle to the next and sheer simplicity help to propel you into longer sessions. It’s just a fun, gorgeous little game.
Keep it simpleYou can see why free-form shape drawing was nixed in favour of objects rising out of select locations. With a Wiimote, touch device or mouse it’s infinitely more accurate and fluid to sketch an outline; the analogue sticks are always second best in this kind of task, as shown by the likes of Okami.
To remedy this, the game offers a mild auto aim that draws your marker towards a magic node, as well as the overall stop-start nature of the game itself. There are moments when split second shape drawing will be required, as in the multiple chase sequences. These are sensibly started straight after a check point as they represent the most likely chance of multiple deaths as you figure out the exact locations objects can be sprung from.
In some ways it’s a shame that it isn’t more taxing, as the graphics and art direction alone should make you want to continue past any potential difficulty spikes, but I’m not sure the physics would hold up to any greater complexity - certain, shall we say, avant garde branch shapes will result in somewhat unpredictable results, meaning it’s best to stick with those outlined in the tutorials - and the jumping’s simplicity is necessary because of the camera movement.
- It's a looker
- Easy to dip in and out of
- Fitting music
- Cinematic flair
- A couple of camera missteps
- Short, with minimal replay value
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Xbox One ReviewMax: The Curse of Brotherhood is a fine looking accessible puzzle platformer, that puts all its eggs in a distinctly Pixar shaped basket. The art direction nails everything that’s great with modern computer animated tales, with only the script lacking the necessary sass.
The shape drawing mechanic is fairly unique, but the major evolution comes in the form of combining objects and powers; solutions are usually simple, but never unsatisfying because of it.
It’s really a trial and error game that eases up on the difficulty in order to allow you to make it first time more often than not, just in case the cinematic flourish is dulled through excessive repetition. And when it looks this good, it’s hard to complain.
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