Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a 2.5D sidescrolling puzzle-platformer developed by Press Play through Microsoft Studios for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. It is a reimagining of Press Play’s Max and the Magic Marker.
What I find most fantastic about Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is that, at its core, it is a wonderfully simple game with the perfect amount of complexity to keep it from becoming stale and disengaging. The game starts out with a simple premise: a young boy, Max, comes home from school and finds his little brother, Felix, playing with his toys without his permission.
As many young kids do, this prompts Max to wish his little brother wasn’t around. And so that’s where the game gets rolling. As per a spell Max finds on the internet, a being from another dimension kidnaps Felix through some interdimensional portal, and so begins Max’s journey to rescue his little brother. I found this to be a rather effective intro to the game as it gets gamers playing within five minutes while simultaneously engaging players’ sympathies to the plight of this young boy.
But Max: The Curse of Brotherhood‘s success is by no means found in its story. Rather, the game’s success comes from its interesting spin on puzzles found in a platforming genre that can otherwise easily become stale. At its core, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is just like any other platformer: jump to get to the end of the level. However, Press Play took this simple premise and added in a puzzle element.
Here, Max carries a magic marker with which he gradually learns to control elements of nature to help him navigate stages. You control these powers through drawing mechanics at specific times and on specific artifacts– limiting yes, but not suffocating. Among the abilities Max gains are the powers to create or destroy pillars of earth to stand upon, branches to platform, vines to swing from, water spouts to propel him through the air, and fireballs to really wreak havoc on enemies and destructibles blocking your way.
However, these various abilities at your disposal do not exist in a vacuum, as far more often than not, you need to utilize several of your abilities in unison (and in a timely fashion in the late game) in order to progress. It is this requirement of synergy that creates Max: The Curse of Brotherhood‘s puzzling difficulty. The game forces you to consider how these abilities can work in tandem and in what order everything needs to be done in order to get you from point A to point B.
I will be honest, many of these puzzles are not easy–this game will make you think, sometimes making you go for a little trial-and-error. But, to be quite frank, and to disagree with the sentiment I seem to find on some other reviews spread across the community, I don’t want my puzzles to be easy and their solutions to be obvious. The fun and challenge of a puzzle is in figuring it out, certainly a process that requires some cognitive investment. Nevertheless, don’t think that Max: The Curse of Brotherhood will make you break your head in frustration, puzzles are just intricate enough so as to be satisfying, but not needlessly frustrating.
What is also fantastic about the puzzles in the game is how they progress with the rest of the game’s pacing. Throughout essentially the entire game, there are new abilities for you to obtain, such that by late-game, there are still new abilities that help reinvigorate the gameplay experience.
Because of these new abilities to tinker with and the ever-changing environments that complement them, it often feels that, just as you begin to grow accustomed to a new abilitity, the game presents you with a brand new one to play with. As such, even in Chapter 5 (out of 7, more like 6.5, practically speaking), you’re still getting new tools in your belt. During my playthrough, I never felt bored, as things evolved often enough for my interests to be constantly renewed and piqued again.
On that note, every chapter in the game takes you through a different type of environment that syncs up well with whatever new ability you need to be taking advantage of in that particular area. Throughout your quest to save your little brother, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood will take you through grasslands, desert wastelands, forests, ruins, volcanoes, rivers, caverns, and so much more. Each of the worlds that Press Play has designed are incredibly detailed and brightly realized with color.
For a 2.5D game, it’s particularly stunning to look at. Part of me was glad whenever a puzzle would stump me, as it would force me stop moving and think. And, often enough, I would lose my focus of finding a solution to the puzzle just to absorb the scenery. Characters and animations are also done charmingly well, and appear quite Pixar-esque, if I might say so.
One last bit of praise I have for Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is just how charming its few characters and small narrative are. I know it’s odd to praise a game like this that uses characterization and story only a little bit more than your standard Mario game would, but I felt there was a certain charm to be had in its simplicity that actually made me want to head out and save Felix.
Throughout the game, Max makes little quips and certain expressions that make you enjoy his little boy charisma. And every so often you get a little cutscene to Felix and his captor that reminds you why you’re doing all this in the first place. This is certainly not the game’s most important strength by any means, but Press Play does a good job of engaging players into what they’re playing, even if the entire premise is pretty simple.
Lastly, and probably the only issue I encountered with Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is that the controls were sometimes a bit awkward. Sometimes Max would move just a bit too far, or my actions on screen didn’t feel like they actually corresponded to the amount of push I gave on the thumbstick. For a platformer that often relies on making narrow leaps, this is something that ought to have been fine-tuned a bit more. Nevertheless, the controls are nowhere near broken–they just could have used a little bit more finesse. Awkwardness (Note: awkward, not broken) was the exception more than the rule, but still prevalent enough so as to be noticeable.
But before I sign off here, I think it’s worth mentioning that when reviewing a game like Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, it’s important to remember what the scope and aim of the game are.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a small and simple game and does not try to trick players into believing otherwise. It’s not a story-centric game neither is it a game that attempts to have fully detailed and fully realized characters that captivate you. That said, I refuse to knock this game down on the basis of shallow story or flat characters–neither of these is the point of the game any more than they are just convenient backdrops to get the game going. And for a game whose full market value is $15, I feel it would be wise to not go into this game with the same expectations you would waltz into a AAA game with.
Overall, I feel like Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is the fresh, simple platformer that the industry has missed since the days of the genre’s prominence. While it’s too small to ever win a Game of the Year award, the game is more than worth your time, especially when only for $15.
For those with an Xbox One who feels there isn’t much diversity in the console’s library thus far (like me), this is an incredibly refreshing title to get your hands on and enjoy. Xbox 360 owners should be looking forward to this title whenever it releases sometime in 2014. You can buy Max: The Curse of Brotherhood for $14.99 on the Xbox Live Store for Xbox One.