“Max: The Curse of Brotherhood” review

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As one of the first two games offered to Xbox Live Gold subscribers for free on Xbox One as part of the Games with Gold program, this sidescrolling puzzle-platforming game is a fun little distraction from the more beefy triple-A games, but it is a bit short and can be pretty frustrating at times.

Developed by Press Play as a sequel to 2010’s “Max and the Magic Marker,” “Max: The Curse of Brotherhood” tells the fantastical story of how the titular character rescues his brother from the clutches of the elderly villain Mustacho by utilizing the magical properties of a marker given to him by a mysterious old guru woman.

The writing is sparse but funny, and the voice actor for Max does a wonderful job of getting across that older-brother-who’s-annoyed-by-his-sibling-but-loves-him-anyway feel in each of his lines. As far a story goes, I pretty much summed it all up in the paragraph above, but this game isn’t trying to be a visual novel or a massive space opera like “Mass Effect,” so it’s just about as deep as it needs to be.

Gameplay revolves around the magic marker, which over the course of the game gains the ability to control earth, branches, vines, water and fire. Each chapter presents a set of puzzles that the player must overcome using only the magic marker and Max’s jumping abilities.

Glowing areas appear throughout levels that correspond to the various abilities of the magic marker, and the player must use the elements provided to navigate from one end of the area to the other while avoiding obstacles like lava, deadly plants and even intelligent enemies later on in the game.

The magic marker is used to control natural elements like branches to navigate areas.

The magic marker is used to control natural elements like branches to navigate areas.

The challenge comes from Max’s inability to fight. His only skills are to jump and use his magic marker, so it’s up to players to find a way to avoid these deadly obstacles.

While the overall difficulty curve is manageable throughout the game, there are some puzzles that require a wild leap of logic to figure out, and often the exact technique used to solve these outliers is never used again. I must admit that I succumbed to frustration at least two times and had to resort to walkthoughs on YouTube because I had no idea how to progress through certain parts of the game. That was despite a hint system that I assume is meant to help players like myself through these tough puzzles, but the hints failed to appear regularly, and I only ever really noticed them during the some simple challenges.

By the end of the final boss fight, I felt much more relieved to not have to deal with finicky swinging vines and wild difficulty changes than satisfied to have completed the story and rescue Max’s brother. The game is fun for a quick couple minutes of down time, but the more difficult puzzles would have been a barrier I wouldn’t have chosen to overcome if I had not been playing specifically for review purposes.

The game is no longer available for free on Xbox One as part of the Games with Gold program, but if you managed to snag it and haven’t played yet I suggest you give it a fair shot. Otherwise, I only suggest picking this one up if you’re the kind of player who can deal with an unexpected challenge by thinking way outside of the box – so far that you pass through a few other boxes on the way to the solution.