Review: Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

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Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is the sequel to the 2010 game Max and the Magic Marker by Press Play. The story follows Max, who comes home to his annoying little brother Felix. Max searches the internet for a way to get rid of him and finds a poem which he reads out loud. Once he finishes, a portal opens and young Felix is whisked away by a giant monster. Max leaps through the portal in hopes of rescuing him. Thus begins the journey into the magical realm.

Graphically, this 2.5D platformer is beautiful to look at. Each area is vibrant, detailed, and varied. From a barren desert to a lush forest, each area is unique and offers up different hazards to navigate through. The Curse of Brotherhood opts for a more cartoon style of art, and it pays off. Max, his brother, and the main characters of the game are unarguably cute. Obviously, there was a lot of time and effort put into level design; in contrast, there are a few enemies that seem to have been hastily put together and rendered. It would be so obvious if the levels weren’t so beautiful. Seeing a handful of enemies with very little detail and purpose is actually pretty disappointing.

The core game mechanic in The Curse of Brotherhood (and Max and the Magic Marker, for that matter) revolves around a magic marker that you can use to solve puzzles with by drawing things to progress. It’s not as arbitrary as it sounds though; you can only create things based on the color of areas on the screen. For instance, if an object is highlighed yellow, you know you have to pull it up to create an earth pillar. If an area is green, you can create a branch, and so on. This cuts down on a lot of guess work, and falls more into trial and error. There were also several times while playing that the area I needed to create something simply blended in with the environment creating an overly frustrating experience. The illusion of creating stuff from scratch is there until you quickly understand that everything is predetermined and there’s not much free will at all.

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Early on while playing it was obvious that this game was meant to be played with something other than a controller. A touchpad would have made for a fantastic experience by offering up a unique interface and control scheme. The same goes for the Wii controller and nunchuck. I’m not a fan of the Wii controller set up, but I can see how that would have made this a much more engaging way to play. By binding drawing to an Xbox controller, Press Play has taken away the magic of the game and replaces it with frustration. I can’t count the number of times I died because I was (or thought I was) using the marker only to walk off a cliff. Which is disappointing, especially since there are some enjoyable puzzles scattered across the levels, such as reaching higher places and navigating across large empty areas. Yet those fun and enjoyable puzzles fall victim to the limitations of the controller and become tedious.

Gameplay is one of those areas that can truly make or break a game. Great gameplay can make a mediocre game better, and terrible gameplay, a great game mediocre. In the original Max and the Magic Marker, players controlled Max with the Wii Remote and nunchuck or even on a touchscreen from a portable device. In The Curse of Brotherhood, the need to use the Xbox controller really takes away from the entire experience. The experience in the original game doesn’t translate that well in this iteration. I was always left feeling that I was missing part of the experience. It’s obvious that a controller was not the intended way to play the game. It creates many frustrating moments when speed and precision are required to keep you from dying. Make no mistake about it: you will die, and probably die a lot. This isn’t because you don’t know what you should do, or even how you should do it, but because of the limitations of the controller. Rather than motion control, or drawing a path on a touchscreen, you’re forced to hold down a trigger and try to perform the same actions with a thumbstick. Add to that a few imprecise animations such as how stiff Max seems when he jumps, and this cute and fun platformer begins to turn into a frustrating clunky experience.

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The sound in this game won’t win any awards. It all felt like I have heard it before. When a game meshes well with its sound either music or ambient noises it makes it gel as an experience. I didn’t find that to be the case here. In fact Max quickly became annoying by repeating over and over again “Oooh-ooohhh” during almost every sequence. When the player actively wishes there was a mute button for the protagonist then there is something wrong with how that character is portrayed.

Aside from the exasperating controls there were moments when I enjoyed Curse of Brotherhood; it can be a fun little game. It’s fairly short at right about 5 hours to complete the story, so if you are not an ardent completionist and driven to collect every amulet piece and eye stalk then I’m not sure how much replay value this will offer. While I enjoyed parts of the game, I ultimately was left feeling slightly disappointed and wondering what it would be like with a different controller setup. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is fun at times and maddening at other times. If you are looking for a change of pace from the initial AAA launch titles on Xbox One, or just something to get you by for a couple hours this one may be of some interest. Make sure your expectations are not too high or you may be disappointed.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is available now on Xbox 360 and Xbox One.