Max and the Magic Marker hit PC and WiiWare a few years back, and carved a niche out for itself as a kid-friendly puzzle-platformer with slick controls. It didn’t hit the 360 and PS3, presumably due to the marker functionality (although the PS Move should’ve worked fine). No controller-only version of the game was released, which is why it seems so odd to exclusively release this game (for now anyway) on the Xbox One – a console with no motion control device to allow precise drawing. Max was praised for being a good-looking game with fantastic platforming — a trend that continues here, even if other control issues bog it down a bit.
It’s a shame the game doesn’t support the Kinect, because you’ll be pointing a finger at it trying to use the marker with RT to activate it, and the left stick. Okami handled this issue perfectly by pausing time around you, but it doesn’t usually stop here unless it’s a big platforming section, resulting in enemies coming towards you really quickly and not giving you much time to respond. Fortunately, while deaths are common due to this, checkpoints are handed out after each puzzle solved, so there isn’t too much backtracking and replaying required. Still, it’s a pain in the butt to actually get the marker to work when you want, and it seems to respawn on the opposite end of the screen you need it – which is especially odd since you can only use it on designated parts of the screen. It would make more sense to just have it start on one of those points rather than on one side of the screen.
Fortunately, that issue doesn’t do too much harm as the mechanics of the marker, the puzzles, and the platforming work well. While it feels odd to move using only the left stick since it renders the Xbox One’s swank d-pad useless in a platformer, you get over that after a few minutes of play. A jumps as you’d expect and and as mentioned before, RT activates your marker. There are multiple kinds of markers available that add different wrinkles to the puzzles – the type changes based on what appears on-screen. Orange is used to build or break down land masses — a simple concept in theory. However, you will have to use that function wisely as there will be times when you need to build a mass, jump on it, then make another mass to hop on before destroying the first one in a see-saw battle to create a platform big enough to stand on. You can also use it to lure enemies into a trap, or simply move them around the playing area.
There’s also a green marker that you’re introduced to subtly throughout play. You’ll see branches growing around you magically and think “okay, video game logic” — then you get the green marker AND CAN DO IT YOURSELF. It’s so awesome…until you have to draw stuff. While you’re usually given a smoke outline of what to create, sometimes you aren’t, which makes drawing the perfect lines needed a bit of a chore. This same issue hurts being able to draw vines later on and have to combine with the branches to form usable areas quickly. Fortunately, basic platforming is a breeze most of the time. Sadly, there are definitely some collision issues where you think you’ve nailed a jump because in theory, you’ve got about as far as you can to the edge and still don’t make it, and then wind up falling into a pit. Between that and the drawing, the gameplay is a bit rough the edges. The sum is definitely greater than its parts though, because things usually click, and when that happens, the game is a ton of fun to play.
The drawing issues are definitely a sign that this game would be better-suited on the Wii U than any other platform — its visuals would be right at home there too. Everything’s bright and vivid, with a nice variety of colors used for each section. The character design bears a bit of a resemblance to your average mid-to-late ’00s CG movie, and doesn’t really stand out too much, but is pleasing to look at. Animation is smooth, while most textures from afar look quite good. Unfortunately, when you’re in close-up sections, you really see some muddy-looking textures and it’s disappointing. This game was designed with the 360 in mind, so it’s not surprising to see it suffer from the same issue as many other 360-to-One games, but does hurt the overall presentation when you’re playing it since you’ve got a brand-new system and this game shouldn’t tax it in any way. In theory, it should look pristine and there shouldn’t be room for any immediate improvement. As it stands, the game looks a bit less impressive than Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams did on the 360.
Max’s visuals disappoint a bit, but the voice acting helps ease that sting. The cast does a fine job with a perfectly fine storyline — everyone takes the game seriously, which makes the brief cutscenes and little quips from Max seem more genuine. Max doesn’t sound like a guy trying to sound like a kid — he sounds like a kid, and one who is confused about what’s going on and wants to make things right. The big evil bad guy’s deep voice works, and having his face go unseen will remind me of Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. The soundtrack goes for a basic family-friendly movie, so it’s both cheery at times and epic, with some ominous music thrown in too. It’s pretty good stuff and fun to listen to in the game — although I’m not sure I’d be in any hurry to grab an OST since it may be one of those games with music that works well in the game, but not outside of it. The sound effects are cartoony, but quite good, with things like the ooze of quicksand sounding both funny and a bit scary as well.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood doesn’t break any new ground, and should have had the option of using the Kinect for the drawing mechanic, but still delivers. It has rough edges, but overcomes most of them because the platforming is done well. The controls for it are responsive, as are the drawing controls — they’re just naturally hurt by the lack of touch screen functionality and hampered by time not stopping for most drawing events. Visually, it looks fine, but isn’t the game to showcase the console’s power. The audio is excellent in every way, with a strong voice cast, soundtrack and impressive sound effects rounding it out. If you enjoyed Max’s first adventure and can tolerate some iffy drawing mechanics, The Curse of the Brotherhood is easily worth its asking price.
Platform: Xbox One