Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a wonderful 2.5D platformer game with physics-based puzzles added. Or perhaps it's a 2.5D physics-based puzzle game with platformer elements. Really, each part is as important as the other. After all, the game's core platformer mechanic, and the momentum it provides, is what drives the simple story forward; but the puzzles are what make Max a standout title.
The story isn't really anything special: our titular character Max comes home one day and is annoyed that his younger brother, Felix, is breaking his toys. Max goes online and finds a spell to make annoying brothers disappear; the spell works, and a massive claw plucks Felix through a portal into another world. Realizing his mistake, and bemoaning that his "mom will kill him," Max immediately jumps through the portal to rescue his brother. Throughout the game, cutscenes remind us of the peril Felix is in. Luckily, they never get in the way of the gameplay, but they give us enough reason to keep moving forward without feeling forced.
No fantasy story would be complete without a villain, though, and Max's antagonist is Mustacho, an evil sorcerer with, well... a mustache.
The main draw to Max, and what really sets it apart from other platform titles, is its puzzles. Max's only weapon is a marker-pen that, in this land, has the ability to transform the environment, allowing him to pass seemingly impassible ravines, to beat seemingly unbeatable monsters, and reach seemingly unreachable ledges. Using the marker is simple: hold down the right trigger, move the marker over any glowing spot, and hold A to build or grow your element. Each element can be destroyed by holding the right trigger, holding X, and swiping over the column/branch/vine you've created. While this is most important for allowing you to 'erase' your little mistakes without being forced to reload, there are many instances where destroying your creations (or splitting them in half) is necessary to conquer the puzzle.
At first, Max's marker can only manipulate rock columns; later, you'll unlock the ability manipulate tree branches, then vines, and finally water. As additional elements are added to the puzzles, they become more complex and require increasingly creative solutions. Vines can be climbed or you can use them to swing across gaps, and they can be attached to branches and rock columns you've made; branches can be shaped, cut, and moved, allowing you to form platforms or activate pressure plates; water allows you to travel more quickly, but can also be used to move objects. And some of the larger set-piece puzzles really test your ability to think outside the box—if you're looking for a puzzler that holds your hand and guides you to the end, The Curse of Brotherhood is not the game for you.
While the lack of guidance can make a couple of the more challenging puzzles, especially those that require precision under time pressure, a little frustrating at times, the fact that you're almost completely on your own leads to a much greater sense of accomplishment when you finally figure out the solution. Another minor annoyance is that thumbsticks just aren't as precise as a mouse or touchscreen. This is really only a problem in chases—which, as mentioned above, require quick and precise motions—and it is easily overlooked considering everything else the game has going for it.
The graphics and lighting are simply wonderful, and the 2.5D perspective offers a storybook-like experience that feels almost like a Pixar-animated film. Characters are very expressive—undoubtedly benefitting from the detailed character models and high quality texturing—which lends even the most fantastic enemies an air of realism and believability. The environments in each level—and The Curse of Brotherhood is a good length, spanning twenty levels over seven chapters—feel lovingly crafted, and offer some amazing views. There is no shortage of incredible vistas to look at whilst solving puzzles or while simply traversing the rest of the game world.
The game's excellent, but otherwise subtle, lighting is fully shown off in one particularly memorable sequence that takes place in a cave. Max's marker is his only source of light, and it provides a faint glow that illuminates a small area. By holding the right trigger down, the (empty) pen can be used as a torch to investigate the areas ahead, above, and below. Should the pen be held over a creation point, it glows bright orange (for rock formations) or green (for branches and vines), bathing the environment in that color. It does not sound like much in a written description, but the lighting effects rival, and perhaps exceed, those found in Triple-A shooter franchises.
The Curse of Brotherhood is a unique and charming game. Although a few puzzles are solved more through trial-and-error than anything else, many more are clever and can be solved with careful planning and a healthy dose of creativity. Overall, the game is enjoyable; I rarely felt that puzzles were out-of-place or that they tested my patience to its limits. With its delightful graphics and impressive lighting, detailed environments, challenging puzzles, and simple gameplay that generally works, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a gem that is definitely worth your time and money.
I don't think I ever won a single fight in Soulcalibur II. Thankfully, I'm marginally better at reviewing than I am at fighting games.