This isn't the first time that Press Play's character Max has been in a video game, and it's not the first time the magic marker mechanic has been used. In fact, both made their debut in Max and the Magic Marker, a PC game that subsequently made its way to Smartphones, WiiWare, and PS3 by way of PSN. While it wasn't perfect, the ability to draw solutions to puzzles was novel enough that it felt fresh. A few years have passed, and we now have a sequel debuting on the Xbox One. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood changes up the mechanics and adds some polish, but the core game is still just as fun.
Bucking the modern game trend, the story doesn't take very long to set up. You play as Max, a normal kid with a normal family. Coming home from school one day, he finds that his younger brother Felix is playing with his toys without his permission, wrecking a few along the way and making a general mess. Frustrated, he does an online search for a spell to get rid of his brother, and to his surprise, it works. Immediately regretting his decision, Max sets off to rescue him before Felix is used in a spell to give the evil Mustacho infinite life.
The Curse of Brotherhood doesn't do much with the story beyond the initial setup and what's presented to you in the first level. Other scenes emphasize the peril your brother is in, and that's about it. There is a happy ending, but at a time when most platformers try to go for a film-like experience by presenting a grand tale of plot twists, it is refreshing to see a title go the old-school route by setting up the plot and leaving the gameplay to take care of the rest of the tale.
The game is essentially a puzzle platformer in the same vein as Limbo, though with a wider color palette and without the gore. Max can climb, crawl, duck, and run up ladders and ropes. He can catch himself on ledges and activate switches and traps to get through an area or outsmart a foe. He's also a bit fragile, so long falls and any contact with an enemy or dangerous object results in instant death. The infinite supply of lives and generous checkpoint system guarantees that death is fair. His enemies are varied, including club- and bomb-wielding trolls, electrified fireflies, a rampaging giant, and spiked turtles, to name a few.
Unlike other platforming heroes, Max has no direct means of attack. He has a magic marker to create things in the world. Initially, your powers are pretty mundane, and you can only raise earth pillars. As you progress, you pick up new powers, like the ability to create branches, vines, and water spigots to push you around in specific directions. You can even shoot fireballs, though that's restricted to certain spots.
The Curse of Brotherhood really begins to open up once you obtain new marker abilities, especially around the time you get the vine-making ability. Suddenly, the need to combine abilities is emphasized, and puzzles have you questioning what to attach and what to cut. There are sequences where you'll cut branches and vines to make things accessible, and some can be quite tricky, especially when you're faced with a large chasm as the penalty for failure. Once water streams are added, the degree of difficulty is amplified, since you need to think about where those streams lead so you don't hit objects and can reach the rope. No puzzle is grandly obtuse, but there will be some real head-scratchers that puzzle fans will enjoy.
The title doesn't just rely on puzzles to keep the player engaged. There are lots of classic platforming elements, such as using inertia to build up enough momentum to cross a large gap. Some sliding and falling portions slow down time, so you can quickly draw something to save yourself, and those same portions test your dexterity by placing lots of hazards in your path. In chase sequences, you have to run to reach a safe zone, or you'll be eaten by the beast that kidnapped your brother.
Not everything in the game works out well, though. There are times when the camera moves in such a way so it can present something cinematic. It's more incessant later in the game, and there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for it since character placement sometimes triggers it and the game forgets that it needs to zoom out. During the slow-motion segments, some of the graphical elements hide an element spot, forcing you to retry since you didn't see it the first time due to mist or falling rocks. The trial and error thing becomes problematic with some of the puzzles, especially since it occurs in areas where you don't have time to think things through and you just have to hope for the best. It's times like this that you miss the ability to place elements wherever you please. Finally, the game gives some enemies very generous hitboxes to the point where you're killed if you're anywhere near an enemy, even if it never grazed you.
Graphically, The Curse of Brotherhood looks great. The characters look about as good as your typical CG theatrical film, and while the finer details are only given to older characters and monsters, everyone you see provides a nice range of expressions when they speak, and they all show off some rather nice animations. The environments look fantastic, with a wide range of colors used throughout, and the color palette is complemented by the effects and clean textures, which don't appear stretched or blurry. Shadows are well cast and dynamic; you'll see a vivid example of this when you use your marker as a light in the caves. Distance blur and light bloom are handled expertly, and the effects of water streams and lava plumes look great. About the only thing that mars the experience is the inconsistent frame rate. During gameplay, the game stays at a solid 60 fps except for a few times when effects filled the screen, and even then, the drop was minor. During cut scenes, the drops are more apparent as the game struggles to show everything smoothly.
The sound is mostly good. The music doesn't play all the time, but the tunes that do play are nice, though there are times when the light-hearted nature of the pieces feels a little misplaced when compared to what's happening on-screen. The effects come through well, and even though the cast is rather small, the vocal performances are nice. Some players will find Felix's constant cries for help annoying, and the same can be said for Max's arrogance and his cries of, "No!" when he's being chased or faces the prospect of falling.
In the end, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a fine game for puzzle platforming fans. The length is just about right, the presentation is great, and the amount of hidden collectibles gives the title some considerable replayability. Though the freedom to construct your own solutions is sorely missed, the puzzles are well thought-out and certainly make up for the few puzzles that are ruined due to misbehaving camera angles and other issues. Fans of the genre will thoroughly enjoy The Curse of Brotherhood.
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