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Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Review

The Novelty Is Drying Out
by Jeff Cork on Dec 20, 2013 at 02:00 AM

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Reviewed on Xbox One
Also on Xbox 360
Publisher Microsoft Game Studios
Developer Press Play
Rating Everyone

Max, the star of 2010’s Max and the Magic Marker, is back – complete with his mystical writing implement. Unfortunately, he’s also bringing along some of the same problems that plagued the indie hit, and he’s drawn up a host of new frustrations as well.

Max – who looks like a mashup of Jimmy Neutron and Johnny Test – is tired of his younger brother’s antics. He looks online for a way to get rid of his problem and finds a handy site with an easy-to-use incantation. The results are a bit more sinister than Max may have been looking for; a portal appears in their room, and a giant paw grips Felix and disappears. Max hops in at the last second, determined to rescue his brother. Annoying or not, family trumps things with giant paws.

Without the marker, Max is a fairly standard platforming hero. He’s an adequate athlete, with the usual abilities you’d expect from a 2.5D side-scroller. His jumps are a bit floaty, and you won’t mistake him for Tarzan when he swings from a rope. His secret weapon is his marker, which is unfortunately where the problems really begin.

Max gets the marker early on, and it becomes more powerful as the adventure progresses. He can use the marker to create columns of earth to use as platforms or to raise objects, create limbs and vines for climbing, conjure up powerful jets of water, and summon blasts of fire to destroy obstacles (and enemies). You don’t get to draw willy-nilly; he interacts with sparkling nodes on the ground that are color coded to indicate which of his five powers they’re tied to.

You might not have the freedom to leave your mark wherever you like, but puzzles are varied enough to remain at least conceptually interesting. For instance, you may have to push a crate into place before raising it up with a stone spire. From there, Max can attach a vine to the crate from above. Destroy the supporting column, and the crate swings like a hammer, destroying a wall that’s blocking the way. When everything works according to plan, it’s a pretty good feeling. Unfortunately, Max’s marker has some problems.

The Xbox One controller simply isn’t up to the kind of precision input that some of the puzzles require. Straight lines are bad enough – especially when you’re trying to create a vine at just the right angle before Max falls into an abyss – but more complicated shapes are often just a matter of trial and error. It’s particularly frustrating because it’s possible to get hung up on simple puzzles only because a stick’s curve is ever-so-slightly too sharp for Max to grasp, or a vine unfurls in a strange, inertia-dampening way.

The last section of the game, where you guide a spherical object through a series of traps and obstacles, is fantastic. It’s one of the rare times when everything clicked, and it was both challenging and fair. I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t make it that far. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a game based on a gimmick that simply doesn’t work all that well.

Rescue your brother, using only your wits and a seriously magic marker
Quality varies wildly, from breathtaking underground sections to creatures that seem half-finished
Max’s constant cries of “Oh no” make him at least as annoying as his little brother, Felix
This game cries out for touchpad controls. Analog sticks are a poor substitute, especially during moments where both time and accuracy are critical
Puzzles require a level of precision that the controls and physics just aren’t up to. An inspired last act is buried in a frustrating slog of a game

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Max: The Curse of Brotherhoodcover

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

Xbox One, Xbox 360
Release Date: