Max and the Magic Marker was one of my favorite titles for the Windows Phone 7 OS. I enjoyed its simplistic platforming mechanics coupled with a flexible, yet complex puzzle system. When Max: The Curse of Brotherhood was announced back at E3 this year, I was unsure how to feel. While I loved the marker drawing ability on a smartphone touchscreen, I was worried it would not transfer over well to analog sticks. To my surprise, the heavy reliance on free form drawing has been eliminated, and replaced with a vast array of drawing tools that can only be used in predefined sections. Not only does this work, it allows for precise platforming and interesting puzzles.
While Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, is a successor to Max and the Magic Marker in date, it is actually a reimagining of the original game. More of a story is present, and characters have been updated. The tale begins when Max casts a spell on his brother Felix, in the hopes of having him disappear because of his annoying tendencies. When a portal erupts within their house and Felix is stolen by a giant monster, Max must chase after him. The main antagonist from both games, Mustacho, is no longer the giant purple creature, but a decrepit and deformed old man. His minions are not blobs, they are now goblin-like creatures. Despite the humor present in the game, the world is a more somber and desolate take on the original. Even the theme of the first game is made more eerie. It is so reminiscent if the original,but its twisted take sent chills down my spine.
I really found the setting and characters to be interesting in design, but it was unfortunate that the Press Play’s work with the Unity Engine was not as successful. Some beautiful games have come out of Unity, but Max: The Curse of Brotherhood may have been too ambitious. It lacks a level of polish on certain textures, and most visuals look half finished. Also, cutscene animations are really choppy, and I am unable to tell if this is an intentional characteristic, or if something went wrong. Either way, it is fairly annoying to look at.
As for the actual platforming and drawing mechanics, this is where the game truly shines. In the beginning stages, navigating through the world is done primarily through pure platforming with limited puzzle solving. Jumping and directional navigation work perfectly, and it never hindered my experience, even on the more intense portions of the game. There is no real combat mechanic, in fact, enemies are more like dynamic obstacles. But, due to the myriad of drawing tools, I never found myself yearning to fight enemies outright.
There are five drawing tools you learn throughout the game. They are: earth platforms, branches, vines, water, and fire. These elements cannot be placed just anywhere, there are locations that allow you to draw for each tool. While, you may think this is a limiting characteristic, it actually allows for more complex puzzles. Using the analog sticks did not harm my experience, because there are no marker strokes that require you to draw out excessively complex designs.
The five tools also work with each other. For example, you can light a branch on fire to chain a fireball or you can attach a vine to a branch or earth platform. With these combinations, you will be able to navigate huge labyrinths, and defeat or trap enemies. By the end of the game, you will not just be using all of these tools together, you will do it while outrunning various enemies and obstacles.
For a $15 title, there is a lot to do here. The main story will run from 6-7 hours and there are a bunch of collectibles to find. This is also one of the first downloadable games to have 1000 Gamerscore, so achievement hunters will be entertained.
I must admit that I had little faith Max could survive this platform jump, but I was so wrong. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is such a unique and interesting platformer. While the story may be shallow and visuals weird and unfinished, I loved everything else about this title. It is spectacular in scope, sound, mechanics, and conceptual design. It was truly a remarkable time from start to finish, and I implore any platforming fan to give this game a look.