Monday, 30 June 2014

Review - Max : The Curse of Brotherhood (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

As anyone who has one will attest to, having a younger brother can be a real pain in the ass. They use or steal your stuff, embarrass you in front of your friends and are generally a thorn in your side until you are are old enough to move out. Max's little brother Felix is no different. Max returns home from school one day only to discover the little runt is in his room again, playing (and breaking) his toys. So, Max does what anyone would do in his situation. He goes online and finds a spell that will rid him of his younger sibling for good. Moments after he utters the magical words a portal opens up and a monsterous claw comes through and pinches Felix right from under Max's nose. Being a decent sort, Max dives in after his little bro in order to save him. So thus begins Max's adventure, a journey that will take him through sandy deserts, deserted towns, lush forests, dank caves and lava filled pits. All in a desperate bid to rescue Felix from the clutches of Mustacho, an geriatric evil wizard kinda guy, who intends to switch bodies with Felix in order to regain his youth. 

What follows is a beautiful 2D platformer with some of the most gorgeous visuals since Ubisoft's wonderful modern Rayman games. From the pixar-esque cutscenes, to the vibrant and incredibly polished environments, Max is an incredibly impressive looking game. This is clearly a next-gen platformer, which looks incredible on Xbox One, but also impresses on the 360. Everything moves smoothly, and I encountered only the most minimal of slowdown during my playthrough. Audio is also top notch, with atmospheric music accompanying the action, movie quality sound effects and great voice acting throughout. There has clearly been a lot of love and attention poured into this title. 

The Curse of Brotherhood is not Max's first game, that honour goes to 2010's Max and the Magic Marker, a fairly average 2D puzzle platformer that used a gimmick of being able to draw platforms for him to walk or climb on using the titular marker pen. This new title retains the pen-based puzzle mechanics, only this time in a far more focused and well implemented manner. Instead of simply drawing lines which then become platforms, here you can only use the pen on highlighted spots of different colours, each performing a different function when the player uses the pen. Holding the right trigger brings the marker onto the screen which you must move over the glowing area, hold down the action button, and 'draw' with the thumbstick. Initially there are only orange interactive points on the floor, which can be used to create a vertically growing platform for Max to stand on, or to move other parts of the environment, but as you progress your pen is upgraded and new coloured spots are added for you to interact with. You will soon be drawing thick branches out of green glowing areas in order to create climbable platforms or create barriers between you and enemies, yellow vines which can be used to swing, Tarzan-stylee, to far away areas, and even the power of fire and water to manipulate your surroundings. These abilities are introduced at a steady pace, and are usually obtained after completing a particularly large area filled with block pushing puzzles, or one of several encounters with a huge ape-like monster who is intent on crushing Max into purée. 

The puzzles are never too taxing, though will require some thought alongside nifty platforming skills. You may need to employ more creative use of branches to trigger a touch plate, or create a barrier around Max in order to avoid deadly fireflies. Often you will need to push or pull blocks to use as platforms, or use the powers of your marker pen to create walls to block incoming projectiles. Even the deadly local wildlife can be coerced into unwittingly assisting you by manipulating platforms as they move onto them. Mostly though, you will be scrambling up branches and swinging across chasms and lava pits in a manner that would impress Nathan Drake or Lara Croft. Often the screen will zoom out in order to show a large area filled with interactive points, blocks, ladders and more, and it is up to you to figure out how to best achieve your, usually obvious, objective.  

It is a pleasure to play, with enjoyable platforming that really puts poor Max through his paces, with giant leaps onto vines, ladders to grab mid-leap, crumbling floors, spike traps, rolling boulders and the aforementioned giant ape monster turning up to give chase. There are some cool moments throughout the game where time slows down for a few seconds, allowing you to quickly draw the necessary items to save Max's skin. Yet to perfectly counteract these action packed moments there are plenty of puzzle rooms that allow to you experiment with the environment at your own pace, trying new combinations of branches and what-have-you in order to progress, with the ability to combine the various items - vines can be attached to branches or soil platforms to create handy ropes to shimmy along - proving especially helpful. As with most platform games there are additional collectables to nab along the way, here there are two different types. The first comes in the form of pieces of a magical amulet (18 in total) which are usually hidden in secret areas that can be quite tricky to spot, while the more common optional objective are strange eyes on stalks - basically, CCTV cameras that Mustacho uses to monitor the world. 75 of these are scattered throughout the game, and must be ripped out like a plant by Max by standing next to them and pressing the Y button. Many simply require you to search off the beaten path, while others require clever use of your marker abilities in order to reach them. Thankfully their squeaks and squawks alert you to their nearby presence. 

The only downers I can really level at Max are the fact that his jumping can feel a little floaty, but then I am exceptionally picky when it comes to my 2D platformer controls. It feels rather imprecise when compared to the old Super Mario games or, more recently, Rayman Origins / Legends, but doesn't spoil things too much. Another little niggle I found was that I would often be faced with two different directions to explore, so I would choose one to search first, in the hope of finding an eye or amulet piece, only for that way to be the end of the stage. This meant having to play through the entire stage again later to collect the inevitable evil-eye or amulet piece that was in fact hidden in the other direction.

I found Max to be a highly enjoyable experience, with puzzles that enhanced the gameplay rather than getting in the way of the running and jumping. I also played it alongside my partner, meaning both of you can work out the puzzles together. It is a game that is just as enjoyable to watch being played as playing it yourself... well, almost. Max is a fantastic modern platformer with a solid puzzle mechanic. It is just the right length too, providing plenty of gameplay for your £11.99 but not outstaying its welcome. I would probably play through it again to mop up the eyes and amulet pieces I missed if it weren't for the fact I have so many other games to play and review. Curse of the Brotherhood will appeal to gamers of all ages, and is an enthralling adventure from beginning to end, and thus comes highly recommended.

Title : Max : The Curse of Brotherhood
Developer : Press Play
Publisher : Microsoft Studios
Year : 2014
System Tested : Xbox 360
Also On : Xbox One, PC
Price : £11.99