Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Review: Saving your kin, one marker stroke at a time
Little brothers are the worst right?! Annoying, loud, always want to play with your gadgets, and most of the time they wind up breaking them. Max understands this frustration, and the annoyance of brothers provides the premise for this gorgeous 2.5D platformer.
Max is most likely going through some teen angst, and takes out his frustration on his annoying little brother. By chanting some sort of incantation, his brother gets whisked away into another universe. Of course, it's not even a split second later that Max regrets this decision and decides to hop in after him. What could have been a relatively normal afternoon turned out to be a crazy adventure for that little rapscallion. It's a little hard to connect with Max and his intentions from the outset, because his actions are really harsh in the grand scheme of things.
Little did I expect to die so much in this game. Seriously, I wasn't even past the first world and there was a sequence where I died at least 10 times by being chased by a giant troll. Sadly, it usually wasn't due to the game's natural difficulty, but was because of the often wonky controls. I'm not even talking about the marker, which I'll get to in a bit. By the second time the troll chased me, I knew exactly where to jump, and duck. However, when I tried ducking to crawl, Max wouldn't move forward. Those precious seconds are what cost me my life multiple times. Still, this was just the first world. The platforming gets increasingly more difficult and requires you to be completely precise to avoid death.
It's not all bad though. There are definitely bits of genuine fun, despite dying so frequently. Even though I felt the game was cheap at times, it didn't discourage me from advancing further, and much of this can be chalked down to some pretty good level design. So about that magic marker...
Add the magic marker to the mix and you have a whole slew of new problems. Max's first game allowed for some crazy creativity, but that was because it was on devices that allowed direct control of the marker. Touchscreens and even the Wii remote allowed players to draw out various shapes to help solve puzzles. Curse of Brotherhood's marker works a little bit differently. Different colors will manipulate the world in different ways. For instance, the orange marker has the ability to raise and destroy various pillars, which allows Max to reach previously unreachable locations or block off enemies.
However, the biggest disappointment with the marker comes from the fact that you can't use it whenever you want. Glittering spots will signify where you can unleash the marker, and at that point spells out exactly where you need to start drawing to solve a puzzle. The game still retains a certain level of challenge by only supplying you with a limited amount of ink, meaning you'll have to carefully plan out your marker strokes.
Unfortunately, the marker suffers from the same control issues that the main game does. You'll be performing every marker stroke with the right thumbstick, which can be less than ideal. When raising or lowering pillars, it's not that big of a deal, since it more or less requires to draw straight up. When dealing with drawing vines, which usually require a certain shape or layout to reach various areas, that's when the problems start. Couple that with situations that need you to react in a given time limit, and you'll have some truly hair-pulling moments of failure.
If there's a department that Max absolutely excels in, to the point of near salvation, is its graphics. Seriously, it's freaking gorgeous, and the environments themselves steal most of the show. The attention to detail coupled with the brilliant lighting make it look like an interactive Pixar movie, and that's certainly awesome. The game's soundtrack is also appropriately dramatic in the right moments, though it's not one you'll be immediately wanting to buy on iTunes shortly after you're done playing.
Its length is appropriate, sitting at around 8-10 hours, but you have to take into account that playtime artificially lengthened by cheap deaths, whether they're associated with platforming or dealing with the marker itself.
It's hard to recommend Max: The Curse of Brotherhood to fans of platformers, since the game presents such infuriating mechanics. That said, its gorgeous visuals and some fun, if occasional, level design might still be somewhat enticing.