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I love writing reviews where I can sing the praises of an obscure game and help it get the attention it deserves. This is not one of those reviews.
At first, I was really pulling for Max: Curse of the Brotherhood. The central gameplay gimmick is clever: the player uses a magic marker to create vines, rock pillars and other objects at glowing parts of the world in order to bypass obstacles. For example, you might create a water spout to propel you over a patch of spikes or a vine so you can swing across a chasm.
Soon the game asks you to combine these objects. For example, you can summon a branch, cut at its base, and then raise the fallen branch with a pillar to create a makeshift bridge. When you stumble on the solution, it feels like you just performed a magic trick.
Unfortunately, the game's puzzles are very finicky. If you're dying over and over, it's not necessarily because you picked the wrong solution. It might be because you're not making the branches the right shape or the vines the right length. The margin of error is slim in some situations so you could be dying over and over just because the trajectory of your water spout is a few degrees off. I often figured out the solution to a puzzle right away and then spent 10-15 minutes trying to actually execute my plan because of how exacting the game is. When I completed a puzzle, my reaction was more often "Finally!" instead of "Eureka!"
Eventually the controls started to wear on me, too. You pull out the magic marker by holding down the right trigger, pulling the marker over the glowing summon points, and then holding "A" while drawing the object with the analog stick. This control scheme works well enough most of the time. It works poorly during the game's many chase sequences, though. Hitting all the right jumps while a giant monster is barreling toward you is hard, but it becomes an exercise in frustration when you have to periodically stop and slowly drag your magic marker across the screen to create a vine to swing on. The final boss fight falls flat for the same reason; it's more of a battle against the controls rather than a battle against an evil wizard.
When the game becomes a drag, the plot offers no solace. While the bright and colorful graphics remind me of a Pixar movie, that's where the resemblance ends. Wizard steals your brother, you travel to his weird dimension, something something old lady, something something magical marker, kill wizard. It's about as memorable as an in-flight movie you watched without sound while you were half-asleep.
You'd think that watching Max, a young boy, burn up in a pit of lava or fall on spikes would be traumatic. Fortunately for our psyches, Max is the worst. For starters, the whole reason his brother was kidnapped was because of Max. In the opening cinematic, he opened a portal to the wizard's dimension by reading some sort of dark incantation from a spellbook (We all had that book when we were kids, didn't we?). During his trip to the alternate dimension, he seems to be actively trying to bore us. "Whoa!" and "Hmm" and "Yes!" account for 90% of his dialogue. Was this dimension like that Eddie Murphy movie where he's going to die if he says too many words? I can't remember the name of the film right now. I watched it on an airplane with the sound off. Anyway, point is: Max sucks and I was glad to see him die repeatedly.
Max: Curse of the Brotherhood's central gameplay is interesting but the game's too flawed and forgettable to recommend. The only reason anyone should pick it up is if they're bored during the holiday break and they've exhausted all other options on Xbox One. The game's only going to look worse by comparison next year when additional indie titles land on the console.
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), Xbox 360 (coming in 2014)
Developer: Press Play
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios