Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a puzzle-platformer that is actually just over four years old now; it originally released in 2013 on other consoles as a sequel to Max & The Magic Marker (a Wiiware and Nintendo DS title). Now the game has made it onto the Switch, no doubt hoping to sit amongst the numerous success stories we’ve been seeing for indie developers on the eShop. Can it perch itself proudly amongst the stars of the show, then, or have these last few years been unkind to it? Let’s have a look.
The game opens with a beautifully animated (almost Pixar standard) cutscene where Max becomes exasperated at his younger brother, Felix. Using the search engine ‘Giggle’ for some advice, Max stumbles across a chant of sorts that he reads aloud, accidentally getting his brother stolen through a magical portal in the process. Jumping straight in to save him, Max finds himself in a strange world full of platforms, puzzles and enemies to fight his way through.
Split across several chapters, you’ll be facing all of these gameplay elements within themed worlds; the usual forest and lava-type levels are all present here, as well some occasional, less commonly used ideas that really shine when encountered. As well as the standard jumping up and over platforms, you’ll also come across a number of chase sequences throughout your adventure. The difficulty of these moments never becomes a mighty, daunting challenge, but they will definitely cause several deaths and introduce a welcome bit of intensity when they arrive.
The best part by far, however, and the mechanic that the entire game revolves around, is the way in which you must use a magic marker pen to solve puzzles. The pen will unlock various abilities as you reach new chapters, essentially allowing you to interact with scenery in a new (but similar) way each time. Starting from specific points on the screen indicated by set colours, you can use the marker to draw shapes with branches or vines for travelling, or even raise platforms and create gushes of water to propel yourself or objects around. The creativity isn’t fully free – you can’t just draw any shape anywhere – but the puzzles allow enough wiggle room for them to be a lot of fun.
Despite being limited to a just a handful of abilities, the puzzles are always a little different to before; you’ll never see the same piece of scenery or puzzle layout twice. Each one arrives at just the right time, too; just as you are in danger of getting slightly bored, a new way to solve puzzles will unlock. This welcome pacing remains throughout, and with a very generous frequency of save points the supposedly dramatic action can actually feel quite calm and relaxed. It may not have been the developer’s intention, but we actually enjoyed this gentler approach – the puzzles, and taking the time to figure them out, work much better when you know you won’t have to keep repeating things if you mess up.
Thanks to the nature of the Switch, if you choose to play the game in Handheld mode you will be able to use the touchscreen to draw with your finger. Or, if you prefer, you can use a combination of the left stick, right trigger and face buttons on any controller setup you like. Both methods work just fine, although we’d argue that playing with a controller in your hands feels slightly more precise. Dragging the marker around the screen with a control stick isn’t really any slower than using your finger and, in fact, using your finger means that your hand will sometimes be in the way of where you are drawing. We’d also recommend playing on a TV if you can as there are times when the camera pans out to particularly wide shots – it isn’t awful in Handheld mode, but this was a game designed for traditional home consoles and that becomes particular apparent in times like this.
The art of each world you visit, and especially the animation of the game’s cutscenes as we mentioned earlier, are lovely at times. The performance of the game on the whole isn’t quite as strong as it would be in an ideal world, though; you’ll notice a lot of blurry edges, blurry backgrounds, and moments where everything just needs half a second to catch up. This never impacts the playability of the puzzles or causes any level of frustration - it just prevents it from being a truly top-quality package. Essentially, the puzzles and the interaction with the scenery are the things that will win you over here; any visual resolution woes are mostly forgotten.
Max: Curse of the Brotherhood uses a wonderfully implemented drawing mechanic to solve puzzles that can often feel familiar, but are usually just about different enough to remain fun and fresh. The platforming, chase sequences, and even the final boss won’t put up too much of a fight against you in the seven-or-so hour campaign, but you may find yourself occasionally stumped by the odd puzzle that strays from the norm.
It isn’t quite perfect, and there are several small areas where we feel the game could be improved, but ultimately we had a great time playing through the adventure and enjoyed the core mechanic. It can’t quite compete with the true elites of its genres but it is definitely a welcome addition to the eShop - if you love the puzzle-platform genre and want to add another game to your collection, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.