TGS 2013: Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Hands-On Preview - Quick Draw
Written Saturday, September 21, 2013 By John Robertson
At first glance you could be forgiven for writing off Press Play's Max: The Curse of Brotherhood as a simple children's platformer. The Jimmy Neutron look of the protagonist, the Cartoon Network-esque voice acting and the plot (save your brother from evil wizard Mustacho) all scream 'E for Everyone'. As with many things, however, first impressions can be misleading. 30 minutes with Max indicate that things are more complex than they first appear.
To use that most wistful of videogame clichés, The Curse of Brotherhood is the "spiritual successor" to the Nintendo Wii's Max and the Magic Marker - a game which saw your WiiMote become a magic marker used to create objects with a view to solving physics-based puzzles. The idea remains intact with The Curse of Brotherhood and, according to Press Play Studio Director Mikkel Thorsted, it's the very thing that makes this game "special".
"It's a puzzle platformer, but we have an interesting twist on that in the form of the magic marker which allows for some very creative puzzle solving gameplay," Thorsted explains. "The marker lets you solve puzzles in many different ways, which is something that's very special about the game."
I'm let loose on the Xbox One edition of the game (being shown here at TGS 2013 for the first time on Microsoft's upcoming console) to experience some of these puzzles in action.
The level in question pops up around 30 minutes into the game and, as such, things are fairly simple to get your head around. At this point the marker can perform two functions; 1) pull pillars of stone up from the ground, and 2) create wooden branches.
Erecting a stone pillar from under your feet acts like an elevator, granting you a means to reach ledges/cliffs that are too high for Max to otherwise reach. The power can also be used to clear objects from your path, and this is demonstrated by way of raising a stone pillar underneath a fallen tree that's blocking our path. Once the tree is upright the column of rock can be erased and Max can continue unhindered. Later on in the same level I'm required to create wooden branches to bridge gaps and create makeshift sets of stairs. It's all very simple stuff when powers are used in isolation, which is why Thorsted is so keen to take the pad from my hands and pilot Max through a later level to show-off more complex scenarios.
Max has two additional powers in this section; vine creation and the ability to create jets of water. Being physics-based, all of the objects you can create can interact with one another. The instance Thorsted shows involves combining the branch and water powers. After having a jet of water shoot out from a cliffside, a branch is dropped into its path which is then propelled forward and lands neatly across two beams. Voila, you've created a bridge. Drop Max into the water jet and he's thrown forward to the bridge you've just created, without which you would have fallen to your death between the two supporting beams.
"We're trying all the time to make sure that we're not asking you to perform repetitive gameplay," says Thorsted. "We're very much about adding new powers, using the environments to change how the gameplay works, how you can use the powers and what choices you have."
However, there are limits to what you can do. "There are a number of solutions that will work," Thorsted continues, "but it's not like you can just do anything. We want to make really tight puzzles and have players be creative within some boundaries but, because of the physics, we're still being surprised by some of the things you can actually do."
Later in the demo you're forced to combine powers under the added pressure of time limits; having to create vines (read: ropes) while Max is jumping through the air or materialising branches to break his fall before he plummets into the water. No, he can't swim.
To aid you in these moments the game slows down Matrix-style when you're at risk of dying, giving you a few more seconds to use the living-saving magic marker. Combine this with a very generous checkpointing system and it's clear that the difficulty is designed to come from working out solutions to puzzles, rather than seriously testing your skills with a controller.
That being said, there are some more traditional platforming elements to navigate through. Timing runs through falling spike traps, leaping over ledges, avoiding swinging obstacles and the like. This demo is all about showing off just how good the game looks on Xbox One (and it does look nice) and how the magic marker works, though, so I can't suggest how frequently/severely your platforming skills will be tested.
The idea, however, is to have sections that feel very different from one another.
Thorsted: "It's really hard to show individual sections of the game and be able to show you exactly what it's all about, because every part of the game is quite different. For example, in these two levels you've seen there haven't been any enemies and we haven't shown you any really big puzzles that take up big spaces. I just hope you can imagine what we can do from what we've shown."
As far as enemies are concerned, the idea is to have Max act as non-violently as possible. With that mind, Thorsted explains that the majority of cases involve "Max outsmarting enemies, fleeing or avoiding them. But there are cases where you have no other choice than to kill them or catch them in traps. It's certainly not a 'kill everyone' kind of game."
It's not a 'kill everyone' kind of game, then, but Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a much more expansive and ambitious game than its Wii predecessor. Everything rests on just how well the designers use the robust physics tools to create puzzles that require creative thinking to provide satisfying solutions. What's for certain is that Max stands-out amongst the sea of shooters and 'gritty' titles that make-up the bulk of Xbox One's launch window releases, so for that alone it's an interesting proposition.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is coming to Xbox 360 and Xbox One in 2014.