As an only child, I’ve never had the chance to experience the joys (or the burden) of having a younger brother. But after playing Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, it certainly seems like that brotherly bond can take some serious hard work: especially when you have to venture to all ends of a mysterious world to save your little bro from the throes of danger. But I wouldn’t mind sharing my controller with a little brother of my own if it meant that we could play this gorgeous puzzle-platformer from Press Play, which uses an interesting drawing mechanic that lets you create and destroy to traverse the draws of danger.
The story begins when red-haired Max comes home one day to find his kid brother Felix playing with (and breaking) Max’s toys. So naturally, Max quickly hops onto his computer and does a “Giggle” search for how to effectively make him disappear. One magic spell later and a portal opens up in the room, a giant furry hand reaches in, and Felix is taken away in the blink of an eye. Max immediately regrets his decision and hops into the portal after them to save his little brother. This is basically the gist of the game’s entire story, aside from a creepy old lady who helps Max out with some magic powers, and an evil villain named Mustachio who imprisons Felix for his own twisted devices. The world that Max is taken to is rich with changing scenery, from rocky precipices and dimly illuminated caves, to lush jungles and fiery caverns.
The game itself is a sequel of sorts to 2010’s Max and the Magic Marker, although the difference between the two is more stark than night and day. Whereas the original game favored simple and cartoonish 2D visuals, The Curse of Brotherhood brings Max’s world into the 3D realm with an unbelievable vigor, and makes it feel like you’re playing a scene straight out of a Pixar movie. Everything about the game’s presentation, from the character and level designs, to the lip-synching animations, to the gorgeous lighting effects that bathe the many detailed environments are absolutely shining in their own right. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better looking sidescrolling game on any home console today, let alone one that’s a mere downloadable title.
At its core, The Curse of Brotherhood is a traditional sidescrolling platformer game, and it actually bears a lot of similarities in physics and mechanics to Playdead’s Limbo. However, the big twist here is Max’s magic marker, which can be used to either draw things into existence, or just as easily destroy them. This seemingly simple concept becomes the cornerstone for Max’s entire adventure, and while you’re initially limited to only drawing rock columns up from the ground, you’ll gradually acquire more abilities the further that you go, like the power to draw vines, branches, and even water streams. Aside from running, jumping, and moving objects, the magic marker remains Max’s only means of progression and attack, which leads to a number of innovative ways you’ll need to use it with your environment to solve the game’s many head-scratching puzzles.
There’s no question that this game is just downright puzzle-platforming fun, and I was actually surprised at how complicated some of the puzzles became in the latter half of the game, despite Max’s fairly simplified skillset. For instance, one area in particular calls for you to draw tree branch, slice it off and push it into a newly-drawn water stream, and then quickly ride the branch along the current before jumping off and latching onto a swinging vine that you need to draw in mid-air. During moments like these, the game’s sweeping cinematic quality is really allowed to shine, with a dynamic camera that constantly zooms in or zooms out at all of the right moments depending on your surroundings. The game is also wondrously massive in scope: with a gargantuan beast chasing at Max’s heels at several key intervals in the game.
Of course, despite its gorgeous visuals and constantly inventive puzzles and environments, The Curse of Brotherhood still feels a little rough around the edges. For one thing, the controls can take a little getting used to, especially where the actual drawing is concerned. Players will activate the magic marker by holding down the right trigger, and then moving it around with the joystick and holding down a button to begin the actual drawing process. It definitely feels a little clumsier than I would have initially expected, and it had me begging for some kind of touched-based form of input: luckily, none of the puzzles require THAT much pinpoint precision and speed that you’ll really be weighed down or prevented from progressing because of the controls.
Even so, the game does have a fairly slow start, and it will feel like a good while before you finally unlock the magic marker’s second ability, the power to draw branches, and for a large chunk of time near the beginning it can get a little boring just drawing rock column after rock column. There are also a few minor graphical bugs, primarily during the in-between level title cards, when the left side of the screen becomes scarred for a few seconds by an alarming black blotch. But nevertheless, The Curse of Brotherhood also provides a fairly generous game length of around 7 to 8 hours to complete your initial playthrough, with some slight replay value in going back and finding all of the cleverly hidden artifact pieces and spooky Evil Eyes.
So anyone who ever said that Microsoft and the Xbox One were lacking in support from indie developers need to look no further than Press Play’s Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. In the Xbox One’s currently limited catalogue of games, this whimsical puzzle-platformer is one downloadable gem that should definitely not be missed, and its beautiful environments and gradually complex and refreshing puzzles make it a real treat to behold, despite its minor flaws. Just remember, the next time your little brother is getting on your nerves, don’t wish him away to some dangerous land. Or if you’re in the mood for another magical adventure, then maybe you actually should!Story – 8/10Gameplay – 9/10Graphics – 10/10Sounds – 10/10Replayability – 7/10