Name : MAX: The Curse of the Brotherhood
Developer : Press Play
Publisher : Microsoft Game Studios
Platform(s) : Xbox One, Xbox 360
Genre : Platformer
Release Date : December 20, 2013
Price : $14.99
Read more about MAX: The Curse of the Brotherhood
Boxart

This holiday season has brought us two shiny new gaming consoles and with them a limited library of new games for our enjoyment. For those of us itching for a new gen puzzle-platformer we have been out of luck until now. Enter Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer developed by Press Play and published by Microsoft Studios. Like most launch period titles, there seems to be one goal in mind – show off the Xbox One’s new functionalities and hardware capabilities. So does this indie tech demo make the leap as an enjoyable game or is The Curse of Brotherhood just an ambitious project that fell short of the ledge?

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 The Curse of Brotherhood is the tale of Jimmy Neutr… err Max, a young boy who through a series of unfortunate events finds himself alone in a world full of peril and danger. Defenseless against the land’s hostile inhabitants, he will need to outwit and outmaneuver them in order to survive. Navigating the depths of dark caverns, flooded swamps and through old woods, these hazardous environments can often be just as deadly as any creature Max will encounter. Dangerous as this quest may be, fear cannot be allowed to win and he cannot turn back. Should he fail, his younger sibling will be lost forever. Wait, are we playing LIMBO?!

 Unlike Playdead’s silent hero, our main protagonist isn’t shy and will often speak – even to a fault. Communicating often through annoying immature remarks and whining about his journey such as being alone in the dark or fear of getting wet, his personality wears thin and you start to root for the bad guys. In fact, when you include his brother Felix, who I personally thought deserved to be cursed to serve the needs of an evil villain in a far off land, I started to wonder why I even came along for the adventure. Then I started to think maybe the villain Mustacho should kill them both allowing the parents an opportunity to sit and reflect on what a poor job they did raising children. After all, if Max had parental settings on his laptop, that website with the curse would have been blocked preventing his brother from being kidnapped. Just saying…

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 While the characters might be one dimensional, the environment is not. In fact, its two and a half dimensions right out of a Pixar film. A world rich with scenery, each environment bursts with personality providing a refreshing experience as you advance through the game’s chapters. The engine’s lighting effects do a fantastic job at illuminating subtle detail adding depth to the scenery that even retail games often fail to achieve. Although, The Curse of Brotherhood suffers from a few slight graphical hiccups in the form of unfinished textures, it’s still one of the best looking Xbox One titles available and can easily pass as a family friendly animated film.

Looks however can be deceiving because these landscapes are anything but friendly; in fact, this fantasy world is as deadly as Christmas cookies to a diabetic. You will die often and most of the time without warning. Press Play has fully adopted LIMBO’s trial by death. This works to the game’s advantage instilling a sense of urgency as you cautiously progress through each of the level’s puzzles. Inner turmoil slowly begins to grow with each step knowing the game might throw you completely off guard with one of its intense actions sequences requiring you to be dismiss all caution and run for your life. When you are crushed, stabbed, electrocuted, burnt, eaten or just plain fall to your death, you restart at the nearest checkpoint which are scattered abundantly throughout the level. Respawning often just a few steps from where you took your last breath with an infinite amount of lives, dying while annoying is of little consequence.

 Max alone has none of the special abilities you would expect of a platform hero. This little guy can’t even double jump and yet while he may not be able to defy the laws of gravity, he does have a trick up his sleeve. Our hero carries a marker, but not just any marker… it’s a ‘MAGIC’ marker. I’m talking actual magic! With it he can alter the environment around him by drawing pillars, swinging vines, water columns and even fire to navigate puzzles.  This command over the elements allows for some unique puzzles design. Sadly the drawing concept is just a neat gimmick that isn’t well executed on the Xbox One’s controller.

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 Many of the games puzzles require you to freeform draw specific shapes allowing little room for error. The precision required to direct a branch or a stream of water under such confines isn’t well suited to thumbsticks leading to unnecessary frustration. Some puzzles can be solved within minutes, but players will spend twice the time repeatedly trying to execute the solution ultimately taking away from how clever the puzzle originally was. If Press Play could find a way to incorporate Microsoft’s Smartglass technology it may allow for a more fluid and rewarding gameplay for smartphone and tablet users..

The Curse of Brotherhood is a clever concept set in a vibrant world rich with personality often hinting at fun, but every time it picks up the pace, a new puzzle serves as  reminder to the title’s quirky controls. When Max speaks, the game loses most of its charm. In short, Max has the personality and precision of an Etch A Sketch. There I said it because someone had to.  So if you’re going to play with something old, I recommend looking into some of the fantastic indie platformers you may have missed during previous years already available on the Xbox Marketplace.

Rating
Description
6.5Gameplay
It's like drawing with your left hand. Where is the SmartGlass support?
9.0Graphics
You won't find a better looking game on the Xbox One!
7.5Sound
Soundtrack is upbeat and fun. Sadly, Max is not. Get this guy a ball gag!
7.5Final Score