Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (MCB) was one of those games that took me on a bit of a roller coaster in terms of how much I enjoyed it throughout the seven or so hours it took to get through. I thought the story, while familiar, was perfectly sufficient. The presentation quality was excellent, and the controls mostly good. The gameplay was intuitive yet still challenging, although just a couple of hours in some of the puzzles start to really hurt the pacing and fun factor. The experience picks up again soon after, only to go through the cycle at least a couple of more times before the finale that highlighted both the good and the bad of what Max offers. Ultimately, while I enjoyed the game, I wasn’t upset when it ended.
The story, which is the only mode available by the way (just a statement, not a condemnation), is split into seven chapters, each with three stages except for the last one. The opening prologue sees Max, an energetic young boy, coming home to find his little brother playing with his toys. Max, highly annoyed, quickly hits the internet to search for ‘how to banish your brother’ and the first search result is of a chant that Max says aloud without giving it a second thought. Moments later, a portal opens up in the room and swallows younger brother Felix away. In shock, Max jumps into the portal to save him.
Max wakes up in a strange land but soon encounters an older, spiritual and very knowledgeable woman. She infuses her soul into the only “weapon” Max is carrying with him — a magic marker. Together, although almost exclusively through the physical actions you control with Max, the two set out to stop the realm’s evil force, Mustacho, from basically transplanting Felix’s youth into Mustacho’s aging body and to end his reign over the land once and for all.
The journey will take Max through locales like caves, wetlands, an active volcano, and a forest. On practically every screen there will be some easily identificable object in the environment that you have to manipulate with the powers you’ve received for your marker. These objects aren’t random, they’re more like cue points that are specifically placed. Max’s first ability is to create pillars out of the earth to act as platforms that can be jumped on. Later, you can create water streams with a shape and direction to jump into that rapidly propel Max to reach new areas. Environmental hazards are constant, and include the gamut of falling into oblivion, tenaciously carnivorous vegetation, and Mustacho’s minions, whom you cannot touch, but you can outwit. Mustacho also employs a gigantic monster simply known as The Beast that is the cause of several chase sequences that have the player running through a series of puzzles with little tolerance for mistakes.
The precision often required in Max was one of the key issues I had with it, despite the instant and automatic loading of checkpoints that are very generously placed. Using the RT to enter “marker mode,” and the A and the left thumbstick to draw (or X to erase), it’s up to you to manipulate the marked locations in the world with the powers that you sequentially unlock throughout the story. This is MCB’s primary gameplay feature or calling, and it’s used in conjunction with basic platforming mechanics such as climbing and of course, jumping.
Controller response is smooth, other than a sort of intentional lag associated with moving the marker around the screen. It doesn’t lend itself well to fast, rapid-fire decisions and actions, but then again most of the game is not built on this type of rapid reaction. On the other hand, several chase sequences and a few other sequences towards the end of the game do require rapid action. Granted, that’s something almost every game demands, and it’s expected. However with Max, those moments, combined with the more common cases where you have time, but still have to have pretty damn exacting precision with your drawings, are often the source of anguish. I can’t tell you how many times, starting especially when you get the ability to draw branches and vines (which is early on), I had to draw, and erase, and re-draw, repeat, etc., on a surprisingly high number of puzzles. After starring at the same single-screen puzzle for fifteen-plus minutes, going through another pace-crushing, fun-destroying trial and error stint, I resorted to let’s play videos on Youtube for a half dozen or so solutions. I hated to do it, but I also didn’t want to let the frustration keep me from moving forward, because, often in spite of itself, MCB is a fun and worthwhile game underneath the rough spots.
Where MCB really shines, besides the decent story and excellent presentation, is “all of those other times,” where the gameplay just clicks and works great. Nothing about the game is “broken” per se — although in full disclosure it did quit on me once and froze on me another time (just the game not the system). But it’s that probably 25-35% of the entire game where you are stuck on what feels like a really asininely designed puzzle or chase, where you can’t help but shake your head in frustration at the precision required. Goofy things like drawing a swinging vine in just the right spot, only to have it brush Max in the face but not quite in his hands, resulting in death. Or how the available ink for the marker when drawing vegetation or water streams is just the right amount to make things that “should” work, not. The chase and ‘sliding’ scenes are mostly exercises in these frustrations rather than thrilling as they were intended to be. It’s a fine line between the two; the precision for drawing things, with an imprecise mechanism such as the thumbpad, create a significant amount of fails and subsequent checkpoint reloads, but, despite some teeth-grinding, playing through Max was worth it.
Let’s get to the summary…