‘Max: The Curse of Brotherhood’ brings polished platforming to Xbox One

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Platforming is one of gaming’s oldest genres, which means it’s increasingly tough to deliver something truly original in that space. Press Play channeled some ideas from Petri Purho’s Crayon Physics Deluxe in its 2010 game Max & the Magic Marker, but those ideas have been distilled into some fresh directions for the developer’s upcoming follow-up, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. The game was revealed as an Xbox 360 exclusive at E3 2013, but Press Play recently confirmed that The Curse of Brotherhood is coming to Xbox One as well. We recently got a chance to sample that next-gen version, and hey! It looks like you’ll have something to play on your Xbox One while you wait for Titanfall‘s March 2014 launch!

Story/Concept

Banished brother. Max is a young boy with an obnoxious little brother named Felix. One day, Max comes home to find Felix smashing up his toys, as rambunctious tykes are wont to do. The elder brother loses it. He turns to the Internet for help, discovering an incantation on a sorcery website (naturally) that promises to rid him of this nuisance in his life. As Max reads the words, the sky darkens and a portal to another dimension suddenly appears. A giant, fur-covered blue hand slips through the portal, grabs Felix, and whisks him away. Max, realizing the error he’s made, snatches up his kidnapped brother’s dropped glasses and dashes through the portal after him.

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There’s a moral to this story, kids. Young siblings are a colossal pain, but that doesn’t mean you should use the Internet to find a way to banish them to a mysterious fantasy world.

Gameplay

Magical marker. In Max & the Magic Marker, players were able to draw abstract shapes into existence for the purpose of bridging gaps and solving puzzles using, as the title suggests, a magical marker. The same concept carries into The Curse of Brotherhood‘s 2.5D platforming, but there’s more structure now. Not long after Max jumps through the portal, he meets up with a wizened old woman who imbues her soul into the magic marker he carries with him. Instead of using the marker to draw objects into existence anywhere, there are now specific interaction points that produce a range of color-coded effects, all based around elemental forces.

Max’s first marker ability allows him to interact with glowing yellow interaction points, which has the effect of summoning rock pillars of varying heights into existence. Later abilities are used to draw out tree branches and vines, water spouts, and destructive bursts of fire. Anything that’s been made can be unmade as well. The entire creation/destruction process is as simple as holding down the right trigger to activate the marker, and then pressing one button to create, and another to destroy.

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It’s a simple framework that belies a surprising amount of depth. In one mid-game puzzle that comes up shortly after Max adds the ability to draw tree branches to his repertoire, a falling spike trap is kept from falling while you run under it thanks to a well-placed branch. As you run beneath the suspended trap, an enemy gives chase. Max has no offensive abilities at this point, but cutting through the branch at the right moment brings the trap crashing down on the advancing enemy.

Variety is everything. Press Play focused on ensuring that each new level in The Curse of Brotherhood‘s introduces something new. This isn’t an open-ended puzzle game in the same way that, say, World of Goo or Crayon Physics Deluxe is. There’s some flexibility in the way you solve each puzzle, but the elemental interaction points appear in scripted locations. Creative problem-solving is important, but not necessarily in a way that encourages repeat playthroughs. In short, the game is more focused on puzzle-driven platforming than it is on puzzle-solving with platforms. It’s straightforward and charming in the way that Super Mario Bros. is.

Presentation

Fantasy worlds. Looking at Max: The Curse of Brotherhood on Xbox One, you’d be hard-pressed to single it out as an Xbox 360 port if you didn’t know that beforehand. The visuals pop with color and life, and it feels like it was made for the next-gen system rather than having a coat of next-gen paint slathered on top.

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The world that Felix gets whisked off to is also brimming with variety. The “Anotherland” setting that Max first finds himself in is a desolate, rocky desertscape with impossibly twisted pillars of stone piercing into the sky. A later level sends Max scurrying through a claustrophobic jungle, replete with tribal huts and primitive traps. And for the endgame, Max pays a visit to the fortress of the nefarious Mustacho, a lava-filled castle that wouldn’t be out of place in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Takeaway

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood appears to be a refreshingly original platformer that embraces old ideas in new ways. The replay value is questionable based on what we saw, but the tight platforming controls and inventive marker mechanics kept things enjoyable during out first runthrough of the game’s opening hour. We’ll know more soon. Press Play isn’t able to reveal a finalized release date just yet, but we’ve been led to believe that it’s going to be very soon now.