Max makes his mark
Review: Max: Curse of BrotherhoodLEE HENAGHAN
REVIEW: Max: Curse of Brotherhood. Xbox One. $19.99. PressPlay.
Once the most dominant genre in video games, the humble platformer has become somewhat marginalised in recent years.
Back in the 80s and 90s, iconic franchises like Mario, Sonic and Crash Bandicoot were guaranteed money-spinners, generating so much revenue for their parent companies that they were adopted as de facto ''face of the brand'' mascots.
As technology has improved and the average age of gamers has crept upwards however, the concept of cute characters and simple, jump-based gameplay has lost a little of its lustre. Gritty realism and hyper-realistic graphics are the in-things these days, and platform games have dwindled in both quantity and quality over the past decade.
That's not to say that they've ever really gone away - Mario is just as vital to Nintendo as he's ever been and sleeper hits like the recently revived Rayman series have shown that there is still an appetite for the genre.
Unlike shooters, sports sims or macho RPGs, a well-designed platformer appeals to every demographic and is relatively cheap to make - something that developers are well aware of.
With Microsoft keen to establish its new Xbox One console as a family-friendly format that everyone can enjoy, a platform game was always likely to be in the pipeline, and we haven't had to wait too long for the first offering.
On the surface Max: Curse of Brotherhood appears to be your generic platform puzzler - the plot (kid must rescue brother from clutches of evil mastermind) is about as trite as they come, and another cute cartoon character leaping around the screen isn't exactly going to win any prizes for originality.
What sets this particular platformer apart is the addition of a magic marker which allows you to manipulate and interact with the environment in order to solve puzzles, avoid enemies and guide Max to safety.
More than just a gimmick or throwaway feature, the marker is a core gameplay mechanic and for the most part it's executed brilliantly.
Most games of this type are based around the idea of finding a path through tricky terrain but the world itself is generally rigid and unchanging.
Being able to create stone pillars, sprout vines and branches or alter the flow of water means you're not just moving a character from point A to point B; you're controlling the entire environment around them, literally making your mark on the game's landscape.
A platformer where you control the platforms is one of those clever concepts that seems so obvious and appealing that it's surprising that it hasn't been done before, and the constant switching between Max and the marker, while fiddly at first, soon becomes second nature.
Aside from some frantic chase sequences, most of the action is confined to slower paced, trial-and-error sections where you'll need to think your way out of trouble.
The only way to put your theories to the test is to throw Max into the thick of things and see if he survives, resulting in all manner of horrific deaths for the ginger hero. Thankfully lives are unlimited and restart points are generously distributed so you're not punished too harshly for frequent failures.
With attention spans at an all-time low, most modern games that incorporate puzzle elements or require a degree of lateral thinking will usually hold your hand through the trickier parts to prevent your from launching your controller against a wall.
Nowadays it's rare to find a game that doesn't give you a hint, point you in the right direction or even let you skip entire areas, should you so desire.
Aside from a basic tutorial at the outset and the odd visual prompt, there is absolutely no hand-holding in Curse of Brotherhood - it presents you with a problem and leaves it entirely up to you to figure out a solution.
Whether you find this refreshing or infuriating will depend on your temperament; for me the lack of guidance meant that pay-off for puzzle-solving was all the more satisfying but if you're an impatient gamer then you may well find it an exercise in frustration.
Of course, there's always the option of outside assistance; a couple of parts that left me completely flummoxed had me seeking out walkthrough footage on YouTube. With the Xbox One's 'snap' feature, I was able to bring up a video alongside the game window and play along with it in real time, the kind of handy hint that might be a little too tempting in future.
Overall, Curse of Brotherhood is fun, if frequently frustrating, throwback to the 90s platform heyday; given a neat twist by the addition of the game-changing marker mechanic. It's full of clever design and memorable moments and at just $20, is great value.
- © Fairfax NZ News