The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
If you've read our review of Drawn To Life: The Next Chapter on Wii, prepare for some déjà vu. Like that title, Max and the Magic Marker is based around users drawing puzzle solutions into existence using the Wii remote as the titular Magic Marker. And like Drawn to Life, Max's adventure suffers from the Wii remote's general inaccuracy. Don't go clicking away from this review quite yet, though. Max has a few saving graces that put it above Drawn to Life.
Unlike the goofy-looking and/or perverted main character you pieced together in Drawn to Life, Max is a simple but smartly-designed, pre-created protagonist. The game begins with the hero opening up a coloring book on a boring afternoon; you guide Max’s hand in filling in said book. For the most part, the shapes and lines you're drawing throughout the game are entirely in the service of solving puzzles instead of looking like something recognizable. Max may have an eager imagination, but it appears he’s not a very strong artist. It took me a while to get used to the rules of how each line works in the game world, but once I did I was able to work through early puzzles relatively quick.
As the game progresses, puzzles become slightly more difficult to deal with, especially once they require you to draw shapes around things in the environment. Trying to hang a platform off of a hook and make it stable for your hero to stand on is an exercise in frustration. It’s unfortunate that these kinds of puzzles become most common in the game’s later levels, but there’s still a great sense of excitement to be found in finally uncovering the way to progress through a difficult area and locating all the hidden items.
The enemy design in Max and the Magic Marker is bland -- prepare to spend the whole game avoiding indiscriminate purple blobs -- but on the bright side, the levels look great. There are three main environments: a small town, a pirate ship-filled island, and a factory containing tons of strange contraptions. Each level bursts with color and creativity, though a few more settings would have been welcome. Best of all, you can pause the game at any time, at which point the screen flattens and the graphics morph into something more representative of a coloring book. While pausing is helpful for taking time to draw a solution to a puzzle, I found myself doing it more often just to see what a certain area or action would look like in that unique visual style.
Max also wins out in value. Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter was cheap for a retail game, but Max and the Magic Marker is an even better deal as a WiiWare title. The game features a relatively tiny amount of content and a flawed central gimmick, but there’s enough fun here that you won’t feel ripped off if you download it and spend a weekend coloring in Max’s magical world.
Although Max may provide a better realization of the "draw-in-your-solution" sub-genre of creativity-driven platformers than what has come before, the Wii remote still cannot offer the accuracy truly needed to make a game like this shine. I spent some time with the PC demo of Max and the Magic Marker (available here) and quickly realized that the game’s concept fits much more smoothly onto a mouse-based control scheme. While Max isn’t entirely broken by any means, you’ll be hard-pressed not to get annoyed with constant attempts to draw simple straight-lined shapes that turn into crooked abominations. Unless you can hold a Wii remote with an incredibly steady hand, you might want to stick with the PC for your marker-wielding adventures.