Max: The Curse of Brotherhood immediately has a couple things going for it.
First of all, it's pretty cute, in a Saturday morning cartoon sort of way. Second, it figures to be a cheap but decent puzzle platformer on the Xbox One, which will be crying out for any good software it can get in its first few months on the market.
A 3D sidescroller built using the Unity engine, most of Max's puzzles are built on using natural obstacles water to generate enough momentum to get over gaps. Max controls them using a magic marker of sorts, a gift granted him by a benevolent fairy. Not being particularly agile (he's a little kid, after all), the marker is pretty much mandatory.
The mechanics are simple but enjoyable. Using the right analog stick, I was able to "draw" an extension of a vine or a waterfall by using the right trigger. I had to be careful in how I drew the line though, because the water or the vine or whatever would extend in the direction I drew. Sometimes that would merely increase the degree of difficulty, such as when I created a vine that swung back and forth, rather than hanging straight down. Other times, it would make a gap straight-up impassable. In those instances, however, I could slice away the object and try again.
As time went on, the puzzles became more elaborate, and thus required more and more setup. The puzzle that ultimately stymied me involved drawing three waterfalls and a vine, all of which had to be angled in just the right way, so I wouldn't go zooming into the void. Impatient as I am, I was never able to get the angle exactly right, and so I always died right before getting to the vine I needed. Poor Max.
Impatience aside though, I can see why puzzle platformer fans might enjoy these stages. Despite being relatively simple, the puzzles make good use of physics and momentum to create a variety of puzzles that challenged both my brain and my reflexes. I find the story appealing, as it makes me think of a cartoonier version of Labyrinth, which happens to be one of my favorite movies. In fact, it's so similar -- Max wishes that his annoying little brother would disappear, then tries to rescue him when his wish inadvertently comes true -- that I jokingly asked if David Bowie is reprising his role as the Goblin King (alas, he's not).
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is being billed as a "reimagining" of 2010's Max & the Magic Marker, which was released on PC and Wiiware. That game was solid, so I expect relatively good things of the pseudo-sequel. At the very least, it will hopefully be longer than the somewhat brief "Magic Marker." I will say that I definitely prefer Curse of Brotherhood's somewhat darker art to that of Magic Marker, which was attractive, but also reminiscent of a 3rd grade art project (by design, I might add). I normally don't like 2.5D very much, but Curse of Brotherhood looks quite good even at this early juncture, and its darker approach is a good fit for the Xbox One.
Ultimately though, the sheer fact that it's available on a next-gen console is what sets it apart from the competition. Puzzle platformers are hardly a novelty on other systems these days, but Max ought to stand out from more hardcore offerings on Xbox One such as Crimson Dragon. It's also the sort of game that can be picked up and understood quite quickly, making it less intimidating than other fare on the platform.
The only downside to this approach is that it doesn't feel like a significant leap over what's already available on current-gen platforms. Max has relatively simple graphics, and it doesn't make use of the Xbox One's online features in any particularly unique or meaningful way. Mostly, it figures to be a good, solid puzzle platformer for those desperately looking for something to fill the hours between rounds of Titanfall.
There's merit to being "just" a good game, of course. No one ever said that every piece of content on the Xbox One has to push the system to its utter limit, and actually, I like the retro vibe. If anything, the next-gen consoles will be at significant advantage over their predecessors owing to the simple, affordable, and entertaining games that figure to proliferate across their services over the first months of their existence. Anyone who complains of not having anything to play will simply not be looking hard enough.
Like many games of its ilk, Max's likely destiny is to be that pleasant surprise that gets downloaded on a whim, making it more important to the Xbox One's chances than you might think. Titanfall and the like will get people in the door over the course of the Xbox One's launch window, but ultimately, it'll be games like Max that keep them playing. More than ever, the platform with the most "pleasant surprises" will be at the advantage, and with Sony vacuuming up the indies as quickly as possible, Microsoft needs as many such games as it can get.
So file Max: The Curse of Brotherhood away for now. It may not seem overly important at the moment, but it may soon make its presence known, whether you realize it or not.
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