Let’s get this out of the way first: prepare to die a lot in Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. Press Play’s latest puzzle platformer will test your patience with its “trial-and-error” approach and finicky controls — which often led to Max plunging to his death more times than we could count. With that being said, Max’s quest to save his brother from the clutches of the evil Mustachio is a nice departure from games that hold your hand for far too long. Curse of Brotherhood is all about having you figure out the solution on your own. And while frustration managed to squeeze in a few times, we grew to respect the game more as we were left to ponder how to get Max from point A to point B without any annoying hints popping up on the screen.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood has the makings of a traditional Saturday morning cartoon. Max, finally being fed up by his younger brother Felix playing with his toys, reads aloud a spell on the internet to get rid of him. To his surprise, a portal appears in his bedroom and a large hand grabs Felix and pulls him in. Immediately regretting what he’s done, Max dives in after his brother to rescue and return him back before he gets grounded. Max finds himself in a dark, dangerous world led by madman Mustachio, who has his own personal agenda planned for Max’s brother. With the help of a witch, Max must use his magic marker to overcome the world’s treacherous terrain and traps.
Max’s magic marker is his one and only survival tool. At first, you’ll begin by making new columns of dirt for Max to stand on. But as you progress, you’ll gain the power to create vines that you can swing from, shoot projectile fireballs, and our personal favourite — jet streams of water that can propel Max across the screen with incredible momentum. The beauty of these power ups occur in the game’s later levels, where you’ll need to use them in conjunction with each other. For instance, you may need to attach vines to raised platforms that will allow Max to cross a pit of lava. Or set fire to a tree branch that you can use to shoot fireballs at nearby enemies.
"There’s always some clever way to mix the powers together and the game never repeats the same solution."
While Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is considered a 2.5D puzzle platformer, it’s the puzzles that take front and center. There is generally only one possible solution, but that doesn’t mean solving them is any less rewarding. There’s always some clever way to mix the powers together and the game never repeats the same solution. What may have worked during an earlier segment is thrown out the window with the introduction of a new obstacle, which forces you to think of new ways to use your abilities.
You’ll be switching to your magic marker quite frequently throughout Curse of Brotherhood’s six hour adventure so it’s a bit of a shame that the mechanics don’t hold up as well as they probably should. Entering marker mode is as simple as holding down the right trigger, at which point the unmistakable fat marker appears on screen. It can be manoeuvred around with the right thumbstick to highlight specific parts of the environment that can be manipulated. The problem is that the movement is just too imprecise to draw simple circles and lines. We found ourselves redrawing tree branches several times over just to get the shape right. The drawing mechanic is made more annoying during some of the more action-packed sequences that require you to react quickly. Time dramatically slows down to give you a chance to draw a branch or vine to save Max’s life, but half the time is taken up just by moving the marker over to the right spot. Thankfully, Curse of Brotherhood has a forgiving checkpoint system that puts you right back into the action, so dying is never too much of a nuisance.
"...it’s a bit of a shame that the mechanics don’t hold up as well as they probably should."
If you’re playing on Xbox One, Press Play also took extra measures incorporating the system’s built-in DVR. A handful of exciting moments and puzzle solutions are automatically recorded for you. It's a cool gesture, but we doubt the lot of you will be quick to show your friends how you bested a game that looks so bright and cheery. That isn't a knock on Curse of Brotherhood's visuals, because they really are quite fantastic. Max's journey is evenly separated into six chapters, and each of them boasts a unique colour palette that is very easy on the eyes. We were particularly fond of a level set at night with some truly great lighting effects emanating from fireflies that can hurt our titular hero. There are lush fields and mountainsides that make you forget you're playing something that looks stripped out of Nickelodeon's cartoon lineup.
Curse of Brotherhood ultimately falls short in the story department. While it does open strongly on the search of Felix, the narrative tends to fall by the wayside somewhere in the middle. Things pick up towards the end, where the blend of puzzle-solving, environments and story feel the most natural. In a way, Curse of Brotherhood made us believers because of its final act. And while the ending boss fight will cause some folks to feel cheated, we had no problem with it. In fact, we hope the folks at Press Prey have it in them to continue the series.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, while looking like a kids game, is anything but. The cartoon graphics may be enticing enough for kids to try, but the steep difficulty curve may be too much for them. However, underneath the cutesy disguise is a clever and surprisingly entertaining little game. Curse of Brotherhood leaves you to your devices with nary a hint to help you through its puzzles (which is a good thing), but it's frustrating and unintuitive controls often get in the way of making it something truly special.