Never have kids. That’s what you’ll be thinking after spending but a few minutes in the company of Max. He’s the sort of bastard child that forces parents to sit up late into the night, crying over a glass of red wine, wondering where they went wrong before the inevitable question of divorce comes into play. The problem for this family is that Max’s nerdy brother Felix isn’t much better either. Within seconds of the game starting we see Felix trashing the house and breaking Max’s stuff – so to be fair to our titular hero – we can’t blame him for summoning an otherworldly monster to whisk the annoying sibling into another dimension, we’ve all been there. What follows next, however, is something we’ve never experienced: guilt. Max realises he’s probably going to get seriously grounded for banishing his brother to a hellscape and jumps through the portal to save him. We’d have probably left him there. Nonetheless, it’s a simple premise, that works well enough to set up this wonderful little adventure of action and awe.
Has it been too much to ask, for a casual shake up of the platforming genre? Press Play seems intent on proving, once and for all, that the pen is mightier than the double jump and we are inclined to agree. Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood is all about drawing your way out of trouble (and usually into more). Its stages are a set of seemingly simple challenges that quickly escalate into feats of intricate world manipulation. Max can control a spectrum of natural elements by using a magic marker imbued with the soul of a benevolent fairy. The marker can, however, only be used in specific highlighted locations, but Press Play has crafted each death-defying puzzle so expertly that you’ll rarely notice the limitations.
The mechanics are simple enough to grasp, but enjoyable all the same. Rocks can be raised out of the ground to help usher Max across impossible spaces, vines can be drawn into existence to create ropes, and water can be summoned to help propel objects across deadly sections of the environment. To begin with, these tools feel like fun, if rather superficial distractions to give Max its own identity, though once the complexity of the puzzles becomes apparent, it’s clear Press Play has cleverly crafted its levels to challenge the mind. The physics engine in particular has left a lasting impression, especially when powers are used in tandem. An early example saw us summoning a branch into existence above a deadly chasm, positioning Max on top of it, before cutting it off of the wall and watching as he uses it to surf along jets of water that we draw into the world. To be fair, that’s a fairly simple example of the systems at play – later levels require the use of five drawn objects being conjured into the world in quick succession.
As each power can only be used at a highlighted location; you’ll quickly discover that there’s usually one very specific way to progress through the puzzles in Curse Of Brotherhood. That might seem cheap, but despite being singular in solution, Press Play rarely recycles ideas. When you’re using powers in concert, guiding Max above peril with gracious ease, you’ll feel a strong sense of accomplishment. Pride, even. Sure, you’re doing exactly what Press Play intended, as the frequent automatic Game Clip recordings will no doubt show in your Activity Feed over the coming weeks. But there’s next to no hand-holding in Curse Of Brotherhood and, in traditional puzzler style, completing each section becomes liberating because of it. Every situation requires some form of lateral thinking to combine the powers, to get Max one step closer to saving his brother.
As you might imagine, a game that requires precision based drawing – without the aid of a touchpad – can bring about its fair share of problems. Every couple of chapters, you’ll run into the same issue: the Xbox thumbstick just isn’t precise enough for drawing some of the shapes. In these situations you might find yourself having to redraw branches or jets of water several times until you get it just right. It’s irritating, though Max is such an intolerable little git that his countless deaths only made us crack a smile. The issue crops up frequently enough to leave a bad taste – but if that’s the price we had to pay to have Kinect support dropped entirely, then so be it.
Infrequent issues aside, Max: Curse Of Brotherhood has proved to be a wonderful surprise. When sequences come together towards the end of the game, where multiple powers are used in quick succession, it is genuinely thrilling – oozing the excitement that we haven’t experienced much of since the days of Saturday morning cartoon shows in the Nineties. Curse Of Brotherhood will provide a satisfactory test for your brain, if you can look past Max himself, that is. And if you can’t, well the game presents plenty of ways for you to kill him. Ultimately, £11.99 gets you an accessible and engaging platformer that serves as a great stop-gap before the triple-As start arriving in the Spring.