Theoretically, platforming and touch screen controls should go hand in hand. There are literally hundreds of titles on iOS that have exploited this theory with the reward of staggering amounts of downloads and, at a few quid a pop, it’s easy to see why. More often than not, however, the attractive asking price of such applications usually takes priority over the quality. So, how do you sieve out the stinkers from the stars? In the case of Max and the Magic Marker, one must only research its history of platforms to discover that it isn’t just another mini-game cash-in.
Available on iOS, PSN, PC, Mac, Wii and now, Nintendo DS, Max and the Magic Marker has enjoyed wide exposure to the gaming community, amassing significant cult status for itself and developer Press Play. And now, being a game where drawing is an integral part of the experience, one would assume that it should continue its reign of quiet conquest on the DS.
Max and the Magic Marker hits the ground running with an endearingly simple and lovely hand drawn opening depicting our hero receiving a mysteriously magic marker in the mail. Oblivious to its magical power, Max draws the world in which the game takes place along with our villain, the evil Mustacho. Unfortunately, Mustacho comes to life and Max must enter his own world in pursuit and stop the scoundrel’s reign of chaos.
We assume control of Max when he enters his artistic world and, using the stylus as the magic marker, we are tasked with navigating the treacherous terrain and surviving until the end of the levels. The basic platforming controls are solid enough and just about succeed in tying the experience together. Max, without use of the marker, can jump from different platforms to avoid traps, enemies and water, which will destroy your inky avatar. Despite the usefulness of his abilities, Max is severely limited without his magic marker which the player must use, in real time or pause, to build bridges, rafts, weights or even traps for his enemies. After ten minutes of play, the drawing mechanic becomes a piece of cake and you’ll soon find yourself activating lifts, creating protective shields and penning makeshift platforms.
The game maintains a light hearted feel despite the individually difficult sections in each level. This is thanks, in part, to the merciful checkpoints that litter all of the game’s stages. You may lose all your drawing ink to activate a checkpoint, but there’s always another healthy supply waiting to be collected a little farther up the road. Careful though, the temptation to avoid these checkpoints can sometimes backfire, as high speed runs over simple platforms can change instantly to areas with deadly booby traps like burning torches or falling rocks.
With mild commitment however, the levels are beatable with moderate effort. It must be said though, that Max and the Magic Marker can sometimes frustrate with its spikes in difficulty and moments where it isn’t clear where to go or what to do. Also, the platforming has its moments of disappointment where dangerous objects and enemies will kill you without touching you, and interacting with your drawn objects can sometimes result in Max being catapulted into the air… for some reason. Luckily, these hiccups never majorly detract from the overall experience.
As you traipse through the various worlds, admiring the colourful graphics and enjoying the catchy soundtrack only an indie game could pull off, it becomes quite clear that Max is right at home on DS. It may not look as good as it did on other platforms, but the gameplay is here in spades. Platform and puzzle enthusiasts alike should definitely check this out if they haven’t played it yet. Everyone, in fact, deserves to discover how touch screen controls should be incorporated in-game, and Press Play have undoubtedly nailed it with this charmingly simple and unfussy puzzle platformer that, while flawed, is undeniably enjoyable and refreshingly unique.
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