The tale of Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a familiar one. In fact, it's so familiar the developers tell it in the form of brief cutscenes that are charmingly animated but feel overly rushed.
Our protagonist, Max, arrives home from school to find that his younger brother, Felix, is violently playing with Max's toys. Understandly upset by this, Max's first response is to pout in annoyance and Google a magic spell to get rid of one's unwanted sibling. Lo and behold the spell works and Felix is dragged through a glowing magical vortex into another world.
Perhaps feeling immediate remorse, Max leaps through the portal before it can close and spends the rest of the game striving to rescue his brother from a grisly fate at the hands of a villain named Moustacho.
The game works from a fixed camera perspective like Limbo but in 3D, so as you move you'll find that the camera pans around to show you the next relevant part of the level. While this caused some issues for me a few times with things being offscreen (making it hard to work out how to proceed), for the most part it works well.
In the opening levels of the game Max is chasing after the monster that has abducted Felix and it's a relatively straightforward platforming affair with jumping and rope swinging being the order of the day. Max must have arms of steel judging by the amount of mantling and rope climbing he does throughout the game.
Before long Max is granted a magic marker that enables him to manipulate the landscape around him. At first this just lets him raise pillars of earth at particular points but later he gets the ability to grow branches or vines, form water spouts, and shoot fireballs. These elements are introduced very neatly with the puzzles involving them getting more complex and involving complex interactions of the elements you can make as the game goes on.
The controls for producing these can be a bit fiddly; drawing accurate paths with the thumb stick is a bit hit and miss. However when time is of the essence Max goes into a slowed-down Matrix-like state of being, giving you more time to wrangle the marker effectively.
Even once you've worked out what needs to be done there's a lot of trial and error in solving puzzles, but fortunately checkpoints are frequent and load times are nonexistent á la Super Meat Boy. You'll rarely be thrown back farther than the beginning of the current puzzle. I found this was the case particularly when trying to propel Max from one waterspout to another: It can be hard to judge exactly how far Max is going to be propelled and if you've got the positions of the spouts wrong a death plummet is the usual result.
Solving puzzles in Max is very satisfying. I never felt that the game designers had been cheap, and I finished the game without having to look up any solutions.
Every now and then, after a particularly cool scene that usually involves a chase or moving parts (such as stone pillars falling like dominos), Max automatically records a clip of your actions for you to watch at leisure or share with your friends. This is a nice feature because often you're too busy looking ahead to pay much attention to what actually happened behind you.
My only real disappointment was in the final scene. It uses the tired old sequence of giant poking up out of a hole trying to smash you with his hands. It saved a checkpoint after each of the steps needed to win the fight so there was no real tension, and it just felt out of keeping with the rest of the game.
Graphics & Sound
The look of Max is sumptuous. They've gone for a lovely cartoony style and everything is crisp and well designed. The animations are all well done and despite the overall simplicity of the game it really feels like a next-gen title. The game it reminded me of most is Heart of Darkness, which is by no means a bad thing. The sound is likewise well done though there's something a little weird about Felix's voice; I suspect they did some pitch shifting or something to give him his peculiarly squeaky tone. The voice acting is all perfectly adequate, with Max sounding like an actual kid! Moustacho and Max's mentor are also voiced well, though the villain sounds a bit like he's trying to be Jim Cummings.
Overall, I really liked Max. It kept me up late on a work night because I was enjoying the game and didn't want to stop playing until I was finished. The production values are top notch, the puzzles are entertaining and well-designed and there are undercurrents of dark humour throughout which I really appreciated. Check it out!