Coloring inside the lines
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a mediocre platformer that occasionally flirts with being neat, clever, and noteworthy. But, for the most part, it’s totally forgettable.
Nothing’s wrong with Press Play’s reimagined platformer. Nothing’s broken, nothing’s glaringly out of place, and nothing’s inherently problematic about its design. But, in that same sense, nothing is particularly interesting about it, either. Max is soundly built, but not enough of its pieces are original enough to make it distinctive.
Take, for example, the premise and overall aesthetic. The story told in Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is suitable for what the game is. Fed up with his younger brother, Felix, Max turns to the Internet for a solution to his sibling stress. I’m not sure what the flame-headed hero searches for on Google, but whatever demonic incantation he stumbles upon winds up opening a portal between worlds. Felix, playing the role of damsel in distress, is snatched by a massive, monstrous claw and wrenched from his home and native dimension. But unlike a Pixar film, which Press Play’s visual style suggests was very much a model, the premise here is just that—a backdrop. The sort of writing practically bursting with personality and quirkiness normally accompanying that decidedly Pixar-esque style is absent here. Again, perfectly adequate.
That word, adequate, is what comes to define most of Max. As a platformer, it’s wholly competent, and its obligatory gameplay conceit—a magic marker that allows players to manipulate the world around Max by creating vines or branches or water currents—yields some interesting puzzles, though drawing with an analog stick proves, when in a hurry, a clunky and frustrating experience, especially while holding down the right trigger and A button to keep the marker active.
The biggest frustration I found while ferrying Max left to right, however, was the game’s trial-and-error nature. A few times, when being chased by the massive creature that abducted Felix or when Max found himself in a precarious place—say, the edge of a cliff—puzzles felt intuitive, and I could solve them reactively. Other times, the answers were obscure in a way unconducive to quick solution, leading me to die repeatedly while I scanned the screen for some sign of what to do. Some of the puzzle designs provided a decent challenge. Some even had clever solutions—usually when I had room to breathe and time to analyze. But more than a few only revealed themselves through repeated deaths, and that doesn’t feel well suited for what Press Play’s Pixar-inspired platformer seems to strive for: being welcoming.
Despite how exasperated certain sections of Max left me, I never found it unenjoyable. But there’s a whole lot of gray between “unenjoyable” and “exciting.” The fun found playing Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is the kind found by anyone engaged with something that falls under the umbrella of things they greatly appreciate. In this case, the umbrella is platformers, and as a lover of platformers, I can find something worthwhile in playing Max, but not necessarily something that warrants recommendation.
The real curse befallen Max has nothing to do with sibling rivalry and everything to do with absent personality. The one thing that makes Max stand out at all—the magic marker—never manages to shine. There are moments when Max struck me as something that had potential to be a more memorable platformer. Given more time, I think Press Play could have shaped their game into something noticeably special. As it stands, the overall experience never manages to rise above “OK.”
|Developer: Press Play • Publisher: Microsoft Studios • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 12.20.13|
I don’t think Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is devoid of value, but I certainly don’t think it’s something to rush right out and buy—unless, as an Xbox One early adopter, you’re content with a passable platformer that possesses a handful of quasi-memorable moments to tide you over until Titanfall. And for anyone jonesing for a platformer, Max represents only a quick, short-lived fix.
|The Good||The smattering of genuinely challenging puzzles that feel rewarding to best.|
|The Bad||Drawing with an analog stick, let alone having to do so while holding two other buttons.|
|The Ugly||Mustacho, the villain. His name, his face. Everything.|
|Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is currently a Xbox One exclusive.|