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Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

We play through three levels of Press Play's upcoming Xbox puzzle platformer.

Sometimes it's just a delight to play a game.

Granted, the 2.5D puzzle platformer is a sub-genre that when done right, easily becomes a joy to experience. Those few that have fumbled the execution have been quickly forgotten.

One of those may well be Max & The Magic Marker, the 2010 original to which The Curse of Brotherhood is a complete rebuild - think re-imagining - of.

According to the game's creators, the neat concept, that saw the the blond-haired kid use a magical marker to draw his way out of trouble was botched in execution. The marker and its ability to draw anything, anywhere, became a omnipotent problem-solver. There was simply no challenge to the game.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

So, back to the drawing board. Sandbox environments and open-ended puzzles were altered to a more straightforward rescue story told through multi-staged levels packed with more puzzles than a crayon box is with colour. The marker's neutered, and only offers a handful of powers to play with, which are unlocked over the course of the adventure, and environmental interactions limited to specific spots on each level.

They're changes for the better. We have a great time playing three sections in our hour-long time with the game.

The setup behind the game's premise is short and to the point; Max incants a spell he found online to be rid of his younger brother (it seems the internet's as bad for dodgy sorcery as it is porn) and upon seeing the kid being swiped through a portal, immediately leaps after him to undo his mistake. Nicely, this split-second decision tells you everything you need to know about his character.

The following cut-scenes are as punchy. There's an eye to Pixar here in the shot compositions and camera tracking, not to mention the character design work. To begin, we're dropped into a vast desert that stretches off into the background, and as we cross numerous rocks, in the near background a huge lumbering beast paces with Max's brother in its claws. Despite the danger for our sibling, it's a beautiful scene, and we take a moment to absorb it.

Later when we stumble upon the oasis of a mammoth tree rooted unexplainably in the desert's centre, the camera pulls far back, not just to capture the striking sea of greenery amidst the dunes, but to emphasise how small Max is in this alien landscape.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

Soon enough we've come alongside the creature, and are close enough to distract it. Obviously, it decides to chase us.

The creators intend to litter the game with these escape beats, forcing you to quicken your pace and land jumps and platform climbs precisely to avoid death. The reason for Max's flight in each circumstance will differ. As to with the puzzles and level design, the team are attempting to make every location and problem different from the last. The notion of repetition is an alien one here.

They may achieve that goal. We're switched from the game's opening, which sets up the marker's powers - some zen-like grandma choosing to inhabit the pen and aid Max to save his brother from the villain of the piece, Moustacho - to a forest canyon full of rivers and waterfalls, and finally into the belly of Moustacho's castle where you've also to direct your brother, who's rescued but trapped in a cage ball, through lava-covered dangers.

Throughout all, we stumble on situations that require use of the marker, the powers of which range from commanding the elements of earth, water, fire and the like. The spots to use each are colour-coded, and moving the marker cursor with the right stick over said spot highlights a glowing circle around it, the size of which is symbolic of how much power there is to draw from that spot.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

You can draw as long as there's power left, and some things drawn can be shaped as you sketch. Branches and water spurts can be curved, swingable vines sketched to drape over ledges when they form.

You can't reverse what you've drawn, only erase it fully to begin again. That ability starts to factor into solutions too; erasing a rock platform to let an enemy through, then sketching it again as the enemy passes to trap them, or cutting created branches so they fall onto ledges below to make walkways.

The power limitations means soon enough there's no single creation that'll allow you to progress, requiring you to puzzle out what combination works. We're soon sketching multiple waterways to slide and dodge between multiple rocks on a waterfall to land safely, or attaching a vine to a created branch, then cutting the latter at its base so it swings on the vine, then chopping the vine so the wood's tossed somewhere useful. If that sounds a little Cut Your Rope, wait to see you see some of the castle puzzles.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

One small issue we've had is that, colourfully detailed though the environments are, on occasion it's been hard to spot exactly what's needed to be done. We fail to see a crawlspace in a cliff-side as we're chased early on, as well as spotting two ledges that need a branch dropped onto them. However, we've literally been dropped in midway through the game. Such signposts will be more obvious when we take the proper, direct path through the story and learn what we need to look out for.

And we're looking forward to experiencing it. What we sampled was, niggling issues aside, a joy to play. Straighforward but with enough head-scratching to cause delight and appreciation at a puzzle's solution. Even if the game's not built for more than one play, that play alone looks worth the price of admission.

Max: The Curse of BrotherhoodMax: The Curse of BrotherhoodMax: The Curse of Brotherhood