Platform: Xbox One (£11.99)
Developer: Press Play
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood may look like a throwaway kids' platformer at first glance, but it plays like a colourful gameplay hybrid of Trine and Limbo.
After our improbably-coiffured hero banishes his annoying brother to an evil realm with a spell he found on the internet (one weird trick to cast your sibling into another plane of existence?), Max sets forth to save Felix from the evil Mustachio and save a bizarre world in the process. A Saturday morning setup to be sure, but the puzzle gameplay is surprisingly serious business.
Things start out simple, easing players into the extremely basic moveset. Max can waddle at a slow jog, jump over small obstacles and drag objects around, much like the Limbo lad, but is otherwise completely defenceless. A couple of nicely choreographed chase scenes set the tone nicely, before introducing Max to his magic marker, the only object he's thought to bring with him from the real world. As a sort-of-sequel to unappreciated WiiWare puzzler Max & The Magic Marker, Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood uses his Sharpie to twist reality in some excellent brainteasers.
Well, it is a magic marker, after all.
Once Max has imbued his writing implement with the soul of an old woman (erm... it's less creepy than it sounds), he can use it to draw platforms and objects directly onto certain points in the environment. Though nowhere near as freeform as Trine or Scribblenauts, you'll quickly learn to sketch early columns, solid branches, vines and other handy elements into key parts of the levels. Getting to high places by creating new platforms is easy enough, but when you factor in patrolling enemies, deadly traps, real-time lighting and an excellent physics simulation, the stage is set for a selection of rewarding puzzles.
Some are logical, others require careful weighting and reflexes, teasing you along throughout a few enjoyable hours that ends with an emphatically brilliant gameplay section, leaving you satisfied without dragging on for too long. At which point you can jump back into completed levels to destroy some of Mustachio's optional 'evil eyes,' which are hidden in nefarious places and require some alternate solutions.
You can see a few of the early puzzles in the gameplay video above. Perfectly-paced and weighted for multiple skill levels, with just the right amount of trial and error, Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood is eminently enjoyable on the gameplay front.
It's pretty, too. A cut above practically any Xbox 360 downloadable title, Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood manages to impress with its sharp and vibrant cartoon visuals, not to mention its excellent real-time lighting that - as previously mentioned - is factored into gameplay during a particularly memorable section. Though character models are somewhat blocky on closer inspection, it really is very tasty from a graphical standpoint and clearly makes better use of the Xbox One's hardware than its few fellow XBLA games.
Horsepower is the only thing the Xbox One really brings to the table, though, and in all honesty it's not a great fit for the freedrawing gameplay. Having to hold down the right trigger before crudely sketching the shape you want breaks flow and proves infuriatingly fussy during timed sections. Indeed, Max is crying out for a touchscreen, motion control or a mouse for extra precision - and I get the distinct feeling that the game would have worked much better on Vita, Wii U or PC. It's serviceable enough in the main, but when you absolutely have to scrawl a straight line or perfect(ish) circle, the thumbstick's lack of accuracy can lead to plenty of irritating do-overs.
If there was ever a time to show off Smartglass, this was it. Oh well.
Beyond these control niggles, Max's biggest problem is... Max. I've rarely encountered a less likeable protagonist; a whiny, arrogant yet simultaneously too-cool-for-school brat who appears to have been ripped out of the early nineties. Both in terms of character design, personality and grating quips. The world and other characters are barely fleshed out, while the story is very simplistic - something that isn't too shocking considering the younger target audience, but frankly the puzzles and visuals deserve a better front man and supporting cast. Not to mention a more detailed setting.
But we're ultimately not here for the story, so this isn't anywhere near enough to stop me recommending Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood. Though it's likely to become a vague footnote in the Xbox One's gameography in a matter of months, it's still clever and enjoyable enough to warrant the £11.99 price tag, and a few hours of your valuable time.
- Surprisingly deep and versatile puzzling
- Impressive visuals for a downloadable XBLA title
- Well-paced with little padding
- Thumbstick marker control lacks precision, can break gameplay flow
- Max is an unlikeable brat
- Instantly-forgettible storyline, setting and characters
The Short Version: Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood is a handsome and surprisingly sharp platform puzzler. Though stronger characters, storyline and controls could have made it truly special, it's still well worth exploring if you're looking for something fresh to play on your Xbox One.