Originally scheduled for release in January 2014 right up until the day they decided to add it to the Xbox One marketplace just before Christmas, Max The Curse of Brotherhood is a nice little surprise but sadly not something which will have the units flying off the shelves - think of it as a stocking filler for platformer fans.
The sequel to Max & The Magic Marker (a 2010 WiiWare downloadable title that didn’t do so well and was then ported to everything except the Xbox) this adventure sees Max heading headlong into a weird and wonderful world in an attempt to save his brother from the big ghastly beast that just upped and grabbed him. The story is thin and poorly explained but whilst that can often be a hindrance here it doesn’t really make a great deal of difference. Not too far into the adventure you are presented with a magic marker that can enable Max to create and delete certain items like trees, dirt and water in specific highlighted areas - what is experienced from this point on is a puzzle game with light platforming and unfortunately for all its good intentions and relatively creative puzzles, Max will drive you to rage due to the ropey controls.
Looks-wise Max pushes all the right buttons, sure it isn’t ‘next gen’ or whatever the hell that is supposed to be but the art style looks fantastic - cute, colourful and brimming with life, each varying world is unique and lovingly crafted, with a light-hearted feel to proceedings it is very easy to see why this title may attract the younger audience. As mentioned earlier the story is entirely throwaway, a simple means to an end if you will. Max’s brother gets kidnapped by some rather oafish looking fellow from another realm, dimension - pick one - and Max has to venture into this unknown place to find him and free him. Aside from meeting your guide and obtaining the magic marker there isn’t much more to it than that, that said there doesn’t really need to be, events are set in motion and away you go, pen in hand.
Moving us on rather swiftly, much like the game’s narrative, to the magic marker. Your one and only weapon if it can be called that, in this colourful romp through ever changing environments, often containing one or two nasty monsters and absolutely always including a puzzle to solve. The marker is used to draw simple things like pillars of dirt, or branches from trees in specific areas in a given region and you approach each new setting slowly and methodically, marker in hand. Create a branch, link it with a swinging vine and neatly jump, then swing over angry monster guards clammering to take you down in one hit.
Punctuating each puzzle is some absolutely exhilarating scripted platforming scenes - these scenes whilst ‘on rails’ aren’t easy and timing is all important, for some they may prove quite annoying but for others they provide a rush which very neatly takes you away from the slow, methodical way in which the puzzles must be approached. These moments often show off further the art work, beautifully marrying the rich colours with large scale destruction and providing some of the game’s stand out moments - they are tricky for sure but a joy to play.
Unfortunately these moments come too infrequently and the majority of your time will be creatively drawing the various elements in an attempt to complete the puzzle and push on. Now this is where the game both excels and to a degree falters. The puzzles themselves range from the simple straightforward enough moving of dirt and escalate to the setting up and chaining of all the various elements to get from point a to point b. Difficult at times, requiring precision later on but never too hard, the actual puzzles are a wonderful mix of the silly and the wickedly creative, sadly, and it’s a crying shame, the controls let the side down.
It’s clear to see from the beginning that this game is the sequel to a motion controlled game and not one that has it roots nestled with the joypad. As a result it always feels like you should be using something like a Wii controller or a touch screen to interact with the marker and the environment. Everything feels loose and as you progress you are required to be precise with your creations or certain death awaits - the platforming mechanics along with the drag item mechanic don’t do a huge amount to compensate for these failings also, making a fair bit of time with Max frustrating rather than outright fun.
Max is an odd one in this respect - seemingly a genuine attempt at a kid friendly game but some of the puzzles, particularly later on aren’t even adult friendly let alone for young children as a result of the controls. Add to this the endless re-drawing and you end up with a game that often flaunts the puzzle’s solution in your face but doesn’t give you the means to solve it quickly and easily. This inevitably leads to rage as you took seconds to actually figure out the puzzle but twenty minutes trying to execute, it’s a puzzle game, surely your work is done?! Sadly not, performing the acts to solve the puzzle is for the most part a lot harder than the brain work that went into solving the puzzle in the first place, so you find yourself trying to beat the controls, rather than puzzles.
Max The Curse of Brotherhood is a mixed bag. It looks fantastic, it can be fun, even exhilarating plus some of the puzzles are totally wicked (in a good way). Sadly though it is unable to be anymore than something reasonably priced to play on your Xbox One over Christmas if you have completed your Xbox One back catalogue from launch day. Platforming/puzzle nuts will easily overlook the issues and the difficulty that these present, and if you are one of them, Max will satisfy.