Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a sequel to 2010’s Max & the Magic Marker that released across the Wii, Playstation Network and a variety of touchscreen devices. Developer Press Play has gone exclusively to the Xbox One for their 2013 sequel (with an Xbox 360 version reportedly in the works for 2014), and their outing represents one of the few post-launch downloadable titles available on the Xbox One to date.
You play as Max, a boy who must rescue his little brother Felix after accidently banishing him to an alternate dimension. Max is aided by a magic marker that can control elements of nature, and he sets out to reclaim his brother from the evil Mustacho. It’s a thoroughly goofy affair, but each of the characters have their charm and the simple story is actually a highlight of the game. There aren’t many twists and turns thrown at you, but as a vehicle of moving Max from point A to point B, the story does its job in a pleasant way.
Gameplay is divided between basic platforming and using your magical pen to manipulate environmental triggers, with occasional chase scenes thrown in as a change of pace. Max has no direct attack against enemies, so every encounter becomes a puzzle in how to safely bypass your threat.
Max isn’t the fleetest of foot, and that lack of jumping height and movement speed combined with one-hit kills means that there isn’t much margin for error if you misjudge a jump or enemy. Early in the game I sprinted up a hill only to realize a second too late that a boulder was about to come crashing down, leaving me with no time to escape back to a hanging rope before I was crushed. My playthrough was filled with these kinds of deaths, and while it taught me to play more cautiously than I would in a game like Super Mario, there was a feeling of trial and error at play like there was no chance of me reacting with the necessary speed without knowing what was coming first. Fortunately checkpoints are spaced fairly frequently throughout each level, so you’re never bumped too far back after a death.
Holding down the left trigger brings up Max’s magic marker, which you can use to ‘draw’ items from glowing prompts like dirt pillars, vines, and tree branches. It’s here that The Curse of Brotherhood shows its touchscreen roots, and the translation to a controller isn’t as seamless or precise as it could or probably should be. Early in my playthrough I remember thinking that the delay in holding the trigger and the marker appearing on the screen could be really annoying if you ever needed to draw something quickly, and that fear was realized in later chase sequences that were made far tenser by battling the imprecise controls than the baddies chasing Max down.
But while the controls can be a bit stifling, there is a lot that enjoyed about The Curse of Brotherhood. The art style is reminiscent of a Pixar movie, and the environments are all beautiful and engaging. Pacing is also handled well, and I found myself unlocking a new marker power right at the point when I was getting bored with the status quo.
As much as I enjoyed the game – and ultimately I did enjoy it – $15 is a steep price to pay for roughly eight hours of mediocre gameplay and pretty visuals. Even the added collectibles are mostly hidden in plain view or require some minor exploration to find, and any achievements you don’t collect on your first playthrough can be mopped up with a handful of replayed levels.
If you’ve already exhausted your Xbox One launch library and are searching for something new to justify your early console adoption, you’ll find some things to love in this offering. But as far as essential downloadable titles goes, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is one you can skip.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Xbox One Review/ Xbox One/ December 20, 2013, Press Play