For Xbox One owners, there has been an erratic line-up of games since launch. It almost feels like we’re in limbo, waiting for the next wave of titles like Titanfall, Watch Dogs, and Destiny. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood isn’t going to fill that void, but it does offer an innovative and visually captivating experience for a relatively decent price-tag.
This Xbox Live downloadable platformer is a sequel to Max and the Magic Marker, which appeared on WiiWare, PSN, and mobile platforms back in 2010. While you still play as the titular character Max, the massive facelift in the graphics department makes The Curse of Brotherhood feel like a completely different game. The gameplay mechanics have also evolved dramatically, but as we’ll explain later on, this is not necessarily an improvement.
In the game our hero Max has an annoying little brother named Felix - who looks like the creepy love-child of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. Like all siblings do, Max wishes his tedious bro would just go away. After searching for ways to get rid of him on the Internet, Max stumbles across an evil spell which opens up a portal, releasing a monstrous claw that grabs little Felix and traps him in a treacherous magical place called Anotherland. Naturally, Max feels pretty guilty about banishing his own flesh and blood, and tears in after him armed with nothing but his trusty marker pen.
The concepts of a young boy’s imagination and creativity are captured beautifully in Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. The game is a 3D, side-scrolling platformer with numerous puzzle solving components through-out. As you would expect, you navigate Max from left to right, jumping, climbing, and dodging danger along the way. However, your magical marker pen also allows you to manipulate the environment, creating platforms, moving objects, and drawing ropes to grab to avoid certain death.
To use the marker, players hold down the right trigger which freezes the gameplay and brings up a drawing tool. Unlike the original game, players can only interact and draw from certain areas of the map, as indicated by sparkling objects. In Max and the Magic Marker, players could draw at nearly anytime to create any type of structure to reach an objective. Here, this lack of freedom severely limits the creative puzzle solving component. An example would be leaping from platforms in a jungle themed level, where sparkling ledges allow you to draw vines for Max to grab onto. It still requires some skill, but the lack of imagination and variety required to solve puzzles soon takes its toll.
The other drawback is the actual drawing mechanic itself, which is clunky and frustrating due to the fact that drawing is controlled by the right thumbstick, which is hardly ideal for precise penmanship. Instead Max: The Curse of Brotherhood feels like it should accompany touch-screen controllers, such as the iPhone, PS Vita, and Wii U. Even using motion controllers on the original Wii creates a more responsive setup. Ultimately, it was disappointing to see that the developers didn’t attempt to utilise Kinect (or even SmartGlass) for the on-screen drawing interaction.
While it’s difficult to ignore this fact (considering that most of the gameplay revolves around the drawing aspect) there is still a reason to try Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. The visuals in the game are amazing, featuring stunning lighting and depth across a variety of different environments - ranging from fiery lava pits, to lush jungles and dim cavernous tunnels. The basic movement (non-drawing) controls are polished and the character animations are highly detailed, from Max himself right through to some of the nightmarish creatures chasing him. The final boss battle is also a real highlight and a worthwhile reason to persist with the game right to the end.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood offers a decent amount of entertainment for the price-tag and could appeal to fans of games like Limbo (including the similar, dark, horror-like themes.) It will take casual players around seven hours to complete, but there is little reason to come back to the game after the climactic finish, which makes this title difficult to recommend to everyone.