During a console launch period, there’s usually a bit of a scramble to fill genre gaps. Certain games will get bought not because they look particularly exciting, but because players want to have access to a variety of experiences, and want to be able to scratch any particular itches that may hit early on. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is the Xbox One’s first puzzle platformer, built in Unity, and based on an older, forgotten game that was designed with touch screens and motion controls in mind. It’s a bit of a surprise, then, that The Curse of Brotherhood isn’t totally phoned in, and actually has quite a bit to offer.
After a pretty standard videogame-y set-up (Max’s brother is spirited away to another world when Max reads an incantation online, and Max goes to rescue him – it’s not clear whether it’s Max or his brother Felix who are enduring the titular curse here), M:TCoB gets right down to introducing its central gimmick. Holding down the right trigger summons up Max’s magic marker, which can be used, in specific places, to grow pillars out of the earth. Later on you unlock more abilities (growing branches and vines, and eventually messing around with other elements), and although the puzzles never really get complex they do generally feel as though they’re getting a little smarter as you go along.
In fact, the developers have found quite a few neat ways of using Max’s abilities. The system itself is a bit limited, since you can’t draw and move at the same time, and you’re restricted to very specific actions – you can only draw a pillar up from an orange glowing point, for instance, and only in the radius the game indicates, which differs on a point by point basis. But eventually you’ll need to use various drawn items at once, or use the analogue stick to work branches into specific shapes, and the physics engine comes into play in some interesting ways. It’s the sort of game where you’re occasionally delighted when your ideas work, because they seem slightly outlandish at first.
But then part of the surprise and pleasure here is coming from the simple fact that the game isn’t rubbish. M:TCoB looks utterly uninspiring from the outside, right down to its use of the Unity engine (which is often put to good effect but just feels a little cheap, especially when it’s running through a super expensive new console). The controls can be a bit finicky, which is annoying when so much of the game is reliant on Max’s ability to climb and jump with accuracy.
Death occasionally feels unfair, and pushing and pulling around branches you’ve grown, which is a pretty big part of the game, can feel a little off. Puzzle solutions tend to repeat often, and the actual platforming elements are pretty uninspiring. Although the developers have obviously worked hard to adapt the whole thing to a standard controller, it’s still pretty clear that it would work better if there was a way of drawing everything with a finger or stylus.
On the whole, though, it’s an enjoyable experience. M:TCoB isn’t quite Limbo, but it still does far more than beat the bare minimum requirements for the genre. It’s fun and spirited, and well suited to a launch that has been awash with big showy blockbusters – it’s something to relax with, or to let the kids play when you’re done with Dead Rising. It’s not the kind of game that will be remembered down the track, but in the here and now it’s filling a certain gap in the One’s line-up more than adequately.