The only thing that hurts my brain more than a puzzle is thinking about the struggle game designers must go through to create said puzzle. The artistry of designing something that must confound, tantalize, inspire and in the end satisfy someone is a great challenge in itself, and to accomplish this many times over the course of an experience spanning several hours, is no mean feat. It’s with great respect then that I commend developer Press Play on delivering a solid puzzle game in Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (Max: TCoB) that, while not anything revolutionary, provides a rewarding experience with fresh visual flair and amusing cinematic moments.
After accidentally banishing your annoying younger brother Felix to a magical and mysterious world, you, playing as Max, set out on a journey to save Felix from the sinister Mustachio and his evil minions.
Almost immediately, you’ll find yourself in possession of a magic marker that allows you to alter the terrain throughout all the puzzles by either creating tall rock pillars, malleable branches, swinging vines and, towards the end of the game, free-flowing water spouts and destructive fireballs. This is where the real magic happens.
Your own creativity and wits are put to the test as you decipher exactly how you can use your physics-based powers to eliminate enemy minions, navigate a pool of molten lava or avoid a plummet to your death. For the most part, especially early on, the challenges are quite simple. While completing puzzles can be described as rewarding, I rarely found myself believing I was a genius for completing them, like I did in Portal 2. For the majority of the game, I felt myself reaching inevitable conclusions to each puzzle as I couldn’t help but feel there was only ever one solution to each problem. While completing each puzzle is rewarding in and of itself, they’re hardly the brain-scratchers that we’ve grown accustomed to in other premier puzzlers.
Some solutions to puzzles however really demonstrated the ingenuity of the designers at Press Play. In a section during the middle of the game, you’re asked to avoid lantern bugs that will zap you if you get too close to them. Running past is not an option and with only the ability to create a single branch, I was left dumbfounded for a few good minutes. It then hit me to create a bug shelter/umbrella by drawing a branch to look like an upside down bowl, if you will, and have Max hide inside while pushing it past the section filled with these electrifying lantern bugs. It was a small moment of puzzle design brilliance that highlighted just how creative the Copenhagen-based team at Press Play can be.
The real standout of Max: TCoB is its visual splendour that smacks you in the face with every new level you enter. While the characters exhibit almost Pixar-like sensibilities and animations, the world they inhabit is a wonderful canvas of colour and adventure that tickles your curiosity and seduces your desire to explore and discover. Lush rainforests are contrasted with ominous pieces of ancient architecture that all spring to life in a disarming way. Texturally, these mysterious environments leave much to be desired, especially in comparison with bigger budget titles such as Ryse: Son of Rome and Titanfall. But as a smaller downloadable title, the artistic beauty is a site to behold.
As you traverse these enchanting locations, you’ll occasionally be thrown into cinematic action moments. Whether you’re sliding down cavernous ravines and avoiding pitfalls or escaping the grasp of Mustachio’s key monster minion, you’ll enter several moments of slow motion action, as you need to quickly use your magic marker to save Max from his certain demise. Extend a swinging vine to intercept him from falling off a cliff; create a waterspout to send Max flying above an environmental hazard. Spread liberally throughout the game, these moments are gimmicky yet fun and provide brief instances of thrill that get your heart racing.
As a whole, Max: TCoB is a pleasurable puzzle game that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor does it set out to. While the story is fairly throwaway, it doesn’t diminish the joy of using your creativity and smarts to explore and survive in a gorgeous world filled with really interesting and satisfying mechanics.
Shane was provided with a media copy of Max: The Curse of Brotherhood to review on Xbox One.