If you have a younger brother or sister, chances are you’ve wished death upon them at some point or another in your life. If that sounds overly harsh, then you’re probably an only child. I myself have a younger brother, and despite being the bestest of buds in adulthood, there were more than a few times in our youth that I wished genuine harm upon him. What if that wish came true though? What if I had wished for monsters to come and steal him away only for them to actually show up?
Well, that’s the exact problem faced by Max who, in a moment of brotherly rage, finds a spell on the internet to be rid of his brother once and for all. Low and behold though, the spell only bloody works, leaving Max with the unenviable task of chasing after the monstrous kidnappers through a fantasy world before they turn wee little Felix into mush.
To be honest, the theme of brotherly love/hate doesn’t progress from there, but it certainly serves as an interesting set-up and a nice change of pace from the usual save the princess fare. The thing is, being a 2D side scroller (albeit one rendered via rather stunning 3D visuals), an over emphasis on story would have felt misplaced. Instead, Felix’s kidnapping serves as an excuse to place Max in a fantasy world more eager than most to see him dead as the proverbial door nail.
Initially, while certainly pretty, if perhaps lacking something genuinely special to set it apart from the crowd, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood comes across as a pleasant if somewhat uninspired platformer. Things change rather quickly however when you realize that the primary coloured visuals and Pixar-esque design belie a game with a surprisingly dark heart and an equally clever core mechanic.
Despite being its visual antithesis, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood actually has a heck of a lot in common with Playdead’s brilliantly twisted, Limbo. Like that game, Brotherhood is more about puzzle solving and, well, death than it is about standard platforming. While the deaths here are not as brutal or quite as unforgiving as those found in, Limbo, for a game as visually bright and breezy as this, the immediacy of your demise can prove somewhat shocking.
What sets this apart from its most obvious inspiration though (other than the vibrant visuals of course) is Max’s mystical magic marker. Imbued with an array of unlockable powers by some old lady for one reason or another, it’s this devise that has allowed developer, Press Play to really push the boat out when it came to designing Brotherhood’s often fiendishly clever platforming puzzles.
From its original power of being able to create and destroy pillars through to the unlockable abilities to draw vines and create both water and fire, Max’s magical marker does a great job of introducing an array of genuinely unique puzzles that, while limited by the markers ability to only work at certain locations, is offset by some exceptionally clever level design.
It’s not all puzzle solving though; Max: The Curse of Bortherhood is also home to moments of high paced adventure that serve as a pleasant change of pace while often delivering some of the games’ most impressive spectacles. Yes, the somewhat floaty controls (it’s more LittleBigPlanet than Mario) can lead to a few seemingly unfair deaths, but pinpoint platforming isn’t needed here as much as a sharp, deductive mind (especially if you plan on picking up Brotherhood’s vast collection of crafty collectibles).
The only issues keeping Max: The Curse of Brotherhood from greatness are the slightly imprecise controls and its overly safe art style. Saying that though, even with these most minor of problems to contend with, Brotherhood stands as one of the finest arcade games released on any platform in quite some time and one of the best games currently available on Xbox One. Some might argue that is damning Brotherhood with faint praise, but I think the launch library is actually quite solid, one made all the better thanks to this little gem of a puzzle-platformer.
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