Marker pens, however old you are, always seem to be the unsung heroes of life: in school, we used them to write the latest playground swear on mucky whiteboards; in college, we used them to cover every inch of our textbooks so we looked like we were learning something; and in adult life we use them whenever the trusty Biro runs out. Yet they’re never quite as useful in real life as they are in Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, in which the titular character uses a magic marker – well, an “infused with the spirit of an old woman” marker – to travel through an unknown world and save his brother Felix.
You see, Max banished his brother to said unknown world after he found Felix in his room – a fair punishment. Now an evil old man called Lord Mustacho has kidnapped his sibling and Max needs to travel to his castle in order to save Felix. As you can tell, it’s certainly not the strongest story, with one-note characters and unremarkable dialogue, but the charm in Flashbulb Games’ latest comes from the gameplay.
A 2.5D platformer at its heart, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is much more of a complex game than its cartoonish facade makes it look, as its magic marker mechanic allows for some intelligently-designed puzzles. With his marker, Max can raise platforms made out of earth, grow and detach branches, create vines to swing from, generate water currents that carry you around, and shoot fireballs at enemies and destructive objects – each ability available to use at special colour-coded nodes.
Yet what makes this game’s puzzles so mind-boggling and satisfying to solve is Max’s ability to combine these powers. Vines can be attached to platforms of earth or branches to extend a vine’s reach or create bridges, while shooting a fireball at a branch allows you to shoot fire from the branch, allowing you to shoot at objects and enemies that were inaccessible before. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood’s greatest strength is that its puzzles always encourage you to try out new combinations but don’t allow you to get too familiar with them either, always chopping and changing to keep you on your toes.
This is all thanks to the game’s great pacing. New abilities for Max are evenly spread out over the seven chapters – taking about 8-12 hours to complete, depending on how crazy you are about the game’s two collectibles – and, just when you’ve unlocked the last ability and have seemingly seen all the mechanics Flashbulb has to offer, you’re thrown a curveball in the last chapter that culminates in a well-designed (although somewhat easy) boss fight.
There’s certainly a lot of methodical thinking required, then, for the game’s physics-based puzzles, but the best moments are had during the many tense chase scenes that Max is involved in. Whether he’s being pursued by a giant Frankenstein-looking beast or a wave-making lava monster, the game’s strengths are showcased perfectly during pursuits: basic platforming feels smooth and responsive, and the moments where you’re forced to take your marker out and forge yourself a path are racked with tension as the chaser gets closer and closer to you.
In fact, the title’s only real negative is its graphics. While the character designs of Max and Felix look great, everything else looks pretty dated for a game that came out three years ago – particularly the game’s opening segment in which you’re running through a desert wasteland with some pretty low-quality textures. That doesn’t mean that Curse of Brotherhood isn’t good-looking at times, of course – one section of the game, taking place in near-complete darkness except for the glow of your marker, is not only visually great but excellent in terms of gameplay, too, forcing you to be even more cautious as you check for monsters and traps.
Moments like this are when the game is at its best, when the platforming and puzzle mechanics are switched up and the game becomes more unique. Certainly, there are some moments that those experienced with platformers will be all too familiar with, but get past those and you’ll find a game that’s both unique and innovative at times.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood may be a few years old now, but though its visuals don't always hold up, its gameplay certainly does. The ingenuity of the physics and puzzles in the game allow for some truly mind-boggling moments at times, while the exhilarating chase set-pieces will set your heart racing. Its price tag is a little steep, but de-pen-ding on your passion for puzzle platformers, it's a good buy.