In 2010, the Nintendo Wii was one of the platforms to carry a little gem in their library called Max and the Magic Marker — a cartoony puzzle-platformer where players could interactive with the environment by drawing platforms and shapes in order to progress through its levels. The game received praise for its mechanics and even though its sequel released in 2013, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood has found a home on Nintendo Switch which runs stable when played docked, but also cozies up to its portable features. Both Flashbulb Games and Stage Clear Studios bring you something that’s fun for all ages.
The opening sets the tone for all of what’s to come as you are presented with a wonderful, Pixar-like animated introduction of Max coming home to be annoyed by his little brother Felix playing in his room. Perhaps as young siblings do, subconsciously wishing they’d disappear, Max searches for a curse to do just that on a parody search engine. It’s only mere seconds later that he finds out that the curse actually worked as a portal opens up and snatches Felix away. Max, realizing he wished wrongfully, chases after him and jumps through the portal which takes him through a cinematic journey to get his brother back from the evil Mustacho.
A large cosmetic difference than its predecessor is the use of 3D modeled environments and characters. The environments themselves are rich in detail, making use of set pieces to create each section you come across feel different while staying true to the level’s theme. Objects rendered in 3D are placed in both the foreground and background giving a sense of depth to Max’s adventure. While the gameplay remains 2D, the camera plays a big role in enhancing the cinematic experience zooming in & out, skewing angles to show how certain objects in the environment behave, and even follow for what’s happening behind Max during chase sequences. There’s a story-telling presentation to all of it. Max grunts, talks and moves accordingly to what’s happening in any given scene. He also talks back & forth during gameplay to a magical, old lady who you meet early on who acts as kind of a narrator during your play through. Each level feels connected to each other so it never feels like you got teleported to a completely different area. With that said, the environments are varied and always feel fresh. Details like Max tripping as he’s running away in a frantic manner while being chased look fluid. The game doesn’t look as sharp on Nintendo Switch compared to the other platforms, but the graphical details are still in place and are easily admired.
With backpack still on both shoulders, Max suits the role. He is soon gifted a magic marker which can draw objects and paths to help him. It’s different from the 1st game, however. Whereas before he could draw on any open space to create the platforms or shapes desired, in this game he can only pull them out from specific colored nodes. While this may be seem as a step back for many, it creates room for structured puzzle-solving in creative ways. Each node contains its own amount of ink to be used. As players draw ink from a node, the freedom to manipulate its direction and shape are still present. Max can jump, climb up ledges, swing on ropes and may be required to all while using the magic marker at the same time. During some moments, a time slowdown will trigger by default in order to help the player accomplish what’s been put in front of them, but it won’t be long before the speed returns to normal. There are moments where there is pure platforming without being able to use the magic marker, where it’s taken away from Max since, provided in each world, are upgrades to your magic marker after he gets through platforming segments before obtaining his newly acquired magic marker. These segments are more go-at-your-own-pace. Chase sequences, with or without having magic marker abilities, are some of the better reactionary platforming segments. Players can bring up the magic marker on screen for the duration that ZR is held. Players are able to control it by using the left analog stick. Pressing A will use the ink provided and pressing Y will erase any on-screen which could be drawn. Simple mechanics, but usable in multiple ways. Other than that, the UI is completely non-existent, providing a clean look without clutter.
Elements drawn which are different from each other may be used together in order to solve puzzles. The very first Max is able to draw are pillars pulled from earth which serve as platforms. Not only do these benefit Max to get further, but can also block or aid enemies to different platforms to certain puzzles. There are enemy grunts who will relentlessly chase after Max with a club and immediately make it lights out. In order to bypass these enemies, players will have to utilize their drawing abilities to create traps or obstacles to help them. Other enemies may explode on direct contact or even snatch Max using their tongue from a distance if he gets in their way. Solving puzzles in the environment are both with enemies and without. As you progress through the story, Max is able to do more. For instance, objects drawn from earth may be attached together. You may pull out a branch and then pull out a vine to attach to the branch creating a pathway to pull yourself to the other side, provided there’s enough ink. That vine may then be cut at the source using your eraser leaving the remaining part of the vine to hang loose on the branch allowing Max to climb it and swing himself back and forth. Since physics are involved, it’s entirely possible to mess up, erase and start again. There are moments in the game where players might find that drawing things are completely pointless as the platforming elements could already be in place without the need to draw them. That may be true in some cases, but in other cases it’s about how you draw them in general. As an example, Max may be on the left side and he’ll need to draw a rope vine to swing across. In order to reach it the player will need to draw out the vine to the right in order to give it the momentum it needs to swing towards Max so can he grab it.
The game does a well enough job to introduce new elements. Spread across multiple chapters, each level contained in each world felt new, as they should. It certainly isn’t until the later chapters where all your abilities come into play where the game’s cleverness and challenge where I felt it ramp up more than the early parts of the game. The end boss was creative, if not easy. It was towards the end where I felt the game had still remained great, but left me wanting more of what it threw at me. After experiencing those portions, I felt the entire game could have played with the very same ideas on the same scale. The rest of the game before it definitely wasn’t bad. It was quite enjoyable and paced well. This may be due in part that some chapters whose puzzles are exclusive went by too quickly. I wish I had more levels in certain chapters because I enjoyed the variety and theme. There are optional collectibles to challenge you, however, being 75 of Mustacho’s Evil Eyes and 18 shards of a broken amulet to find for the old lady. Within most levels, there are a set number of Evil Eyes, either in plain sight or in hiding, to rip out from where it’s latched onto. You can find a maximum of 1 amulet shard in a level. What’s helpful is you can collect these at any time, no matter the progress of that level, and have it count towards being collected. This means if you die in the process while obtaining one, you don’t have to repeat the process. Likewise, you can play previous levels, collect what you need and then quit to the main menu if you wish. While there are achievements/trophies to obtain on the other platforms, the reward for collecting these are practically none. Collecting them can be fun, though. Evil Eyes may play a role in the final boss segment, but I’m not entirely sure. The main menu is themed to whatever level it is you last played.
The soundtrack definitely takes a backseat approach. There aren’t any tracks you’ll be jamming to. The sound design is still good, though. Steps of wood creaking, rocks crumbling, birds chirping and other ambiance work very well. If you’re a person who plays the Switch in portable mode or simply enjoys it then I should fill you in that the game makes use of the touchscreen. Your finger can act as the magic marker and it works just as snappy and responsive as the controller input. I can’t assure that there’s a preferred way of playing because both methods work as well as they should and get the job done. Both modes also run at a stable 30fps. Play it your way.