by Jonathan Fortin
reviewed on PC
Old Lady Marker
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood opens with a quick, efficiently told introduction: the titular Max comes home from school and is immediately annoyed by his little brother Felix. Naturally, Max decides to search the web for ways to get rid of his brother and instantly stumbles on an incantation that sucks Felix into another world. Max has a change of heart and jumps into the portal at the last minute, journeying to another dimension where he has to save his brother from a hammy villain.
So basically, it's like Labyrinth, but with Google. (Except Google in this game is called Giggle so that they don't get sued.)
Once in the alternate world, Max's magic marker becomes possessed with the soul of an old magical lady. She presumably does this because a) she's too old to fight the aforementioned hammy villain by now, and b) Max is the only other human she's seen in ages and therefore her only hope no matter how much of a brat he is. So she gives up her corporeal body to posses his marker, allowing him to “draw” objects into the game world, such as pillars, branches, vines, and chutes of water.
New Platform, New Expectations
Max was originally released for Xbox One and received mixed but mostly positive reviews, with many reviewers noting that it was one of the few games available on the platform at the time. Essentially, the Xbox One was so lacking in content upon release that the few decent games available became more recommendable than they otherwise would be. (Worry not about Xbox One-level system requirements, however. My low-end laptop ran the game without any problem.)
Now Max has been ported to the PC, a platform that has a seemingly endless library of high-quality sidescrolling titles. The question, then, is not whether Max is good; the question is whether it has a distinctive voice amidst a multitude of similar games.
Max's gameplay primarily revolves around platforming: getting from one place to another despite a series of puzzles and obstacles. There are enemies (including orcs that inexplicably sound like Chewbacca), but no weapons, meaning you must either trap enemies or elude them. Max, being a little boy, only has one hit point, and dies instantly if an enemy touches him. Fortunately, there are frequent checkpoints.
There are also the token collectibles, including a series of Evil Eyes working for the enemy that are hidden throughout the game. Thorough players will want to uproot all 75 of them for a complete score.
Scribbling For Solutions
What Max really brings to the table is its Magic Marker mechanic, which the player controls with the mouse. By clicking and dragging on specific hot-spots, players can “draw” their own vines, branches, and earth pillars, helping Max get from one place to another. Conceptually, it's a great idea.
Unfortunately, the Magic Marker mechanic is executed a bit awkwardly. For one thing, you cannot use it while Max is moving, even though sometimes you need to use it while he is being chased by a giant beastie. Additionally, Max takes a second to pull the pen out, and another second to put it away again. These constant hiccups quickly become annoying, especially since he'll automatically put it away again if you accidentally move him or move the cursor over him. Why couldn't we just keep the marker out at all times for instant use?
The fact that you can only use the Magic Marker on specific hot-spots also limits the player considerably. As a result of this, the player is rarely encouraged to experiment or to be creative with their solutions. Some of the puzzles are quite clever (a segment involving trapping killer fireflies is kind of a hoot), but they also quickly become repetitive. Max can't go a few steps without needing to grow new branches or vines.
Pretty graphics; some excellent puzzles; decent all-around
Clumsy Magic Marker controls; annoying protagonist; safe, cliché creative choices