Like many older siblings, Max is easily annoyed by his younger brother, Felix. It’s not just that he’s loud and obnoxious, though; he’s always ruining Max’s things without thinking about the repercussions of his actions. Essentially, he’s a young kid having fun, but that doesn’t bode well with his brother, who’s aged past that stage and has become a bit more mature. So, Max comes up with a plan and decides to wish away his younger sibling, without thinking that anything will actually happen. However, he makes a vital mistake by looking up and reading a strange spell from the Internet, which ends up sending Felix to another dimension, where he’s put in terrible danger.
If the above-mentioned plot line for Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, Press Play’s momentum-based, two-dimensional puzzle-platformer, makes you think of David Bowie’s Labyrinth, then you’re in the right ballpark. In fact, the two feel quite similar, and it quickly becomes apparent that the European developer is paying homage to the classic 80s film with its game. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but it shows a lack of originality within what ends up being a relatively thin storyline. That is, as far as its depth (or lack thereof) goes. Still, concessions need to be made when looking at this aspect of the experience, because we are talking about a platformer after all.
After following his sibling into the other world, through a wall-based portal, Max finds himself in a magical land, wherein an old man named Mustachio has taken advantage of Felix’s arrival. You see, the aging maniac has been prepping for a day such as this, and has machines ready. What are his plans? Well, he hopes to play God by harnessing Felix’s youth and then inserting it into himself. You know…that classic plan, which was most recently brought back to life via SEGA’s Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse remake.
Through our interactions, Max must attempt to save his brother by traversing from one point of the world to another. This is accomplished through the use of a magic marker, which the protagonist earns near the beginning of the six to eight hour-long experience. It is, unexpectedly, infused with the spirit of an old woman, who is met early on, allowing it to essentially create things out of thin air. Said list of available options includes tree branches, vines, water jets, fireballs and raised earthen platforms, all of which must be utilized to solve puzzles that require knowledge of momentum and gravity.
Let’s say that you need to get from one part of an environmentally-themed level to another but only have a vine, a branch and two water spouts at your disposal. To progress, you’ll need to create a branch, then utilize a vine to get to it. From there, you can create directed water spouts that will carry you to your goal once you cut the branch free. That’s a prime example of the type of puzzle you’ll encounter, though there are both easier and harder variations as you would expect.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is an intelligent game on paper, and looks good in screens and trailers. However, it’s unfortunately marred by problematic controls and iffy physics. It’s easy to get through the beginning portion of the game, but you’ll eventually find yourself stumped and frustrated. Or, at least the latter one. Even if you know what to do at times, the game will work against you, and will require multiple attempts before it will do the right thing.
One of the most frustrating parts of the game ended up being an early chase sequence, during which a large, black monster was hot on my tail as I raced across small platforms. I’d always get to the end, where I could (almost) find refuge underneath a raised and spike-covered piece of wooden construction, and would end up getting eaten there. It didn’t matter what I did — even if I jumped, it wouldn’t make much of a difference — so I spent quite a while there, fighting the game in an attempt to progress. I eventually beat it, of course, but not before having to restart after a glitch rendered the monster useless. He’d fallen on a spike strip, you see, and had his ass stuck in place.
The platforming itself is solid enough, but it lacks the precision of a Mario game. That’s not a huge negative, though, as the real issues pertain to the drawing controls, which would’ve worked best with some sort of a touchscreen. It’s tough to draw exactly what you’re imagining, especially when it comes to the tree branches, which results in lots of wasted time. What compounds this problem is the fact that said branches can be pushed or pulled, so that they can be used to reach higher platforms, and, like some of its peers, that part of the game only works when it wants to.
Due to the aforementioned technical difficulties, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood ended up being more of a chore to play than it should’ve been. I went in hoping for a great and charming platformer, but ended up discovering an unnecessarily frustrating, trial-and-error-based game. That’s not to say that it’s bad by any means, but it’s definitely not as good as it could’ve been, making it tough to wholeheartedly recommend. It is, however, a visually pleasing experience that mimics the likes of modern day, computer-generated films, though one must take it into consideration that this particular title was built for both the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One. As such, it looks great at times, but also looks dated during others – most notably during close-ups of Max’s face and certain textures.
When it comes to the title’s audio, it’s tough to complain. The voice acting is strong, and the writing is charming. On top of that, there’s also a unique soundtrack to listen to, which is very complementary despite being a tad on the weird side.
To conclude, the journey that is present within Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is one that will only appeal to more seasoned gamers, who are more willing to overlook its faults and deal with difficulty spikes. Although the game looked great in preview videos and pre-release screenshots, it’s not the masterpiece that we were hoping for. Still, it’s a slightly above-average experience that possesses a lot of charm. It’s just too bad that its pros are hidden underneath frustrating technical issues.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.