After returning home from school to discover that his little brother Felix is playing with his toys and generally making a mess, Max angrily punches “How to make your brother disappear!” into Giggle. The search engine sends him to Handy Sorcery, where, after reading the spell that it lists out loud, he is surprised to see a portal open behind him and a monstrous claw kidnap his brother. Recognising his mistake Max leaps into the portal to rescue Felix, chasing down the hulking monster that has taken him.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood began life as an Xbox One and Xbox 360 exclusive, but after Microsoft decided to close developer Press Play the Danish studio returned under a new name, Flashbulb Games. Now free from any platform exclusivity, Max makes his debut on Nintendo Switch. It’s not the first time that the fiery-haired character has made an appearance on a Nintendo platform, with Max & the Magic Marker having seen release on WiiWare. In many ways then, this is a homecoming.
On paper, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a 2.5D physics-based puzzle platformer and a game that has you swinging on ropes, crawling under rocks, and nervously leaping from collapsing platforms. That’s par for the course, but when Max meets an elderly woman who explains the real danger that his brother is in from the ageing Lord Mustacho, that soon changes.
Powering his old magic marker with her soul, Max, over time, learns to use the potent ink source in different ways. Holding the ZR Button will call the magic marker into action, with Max hurling it for it to loom large on the screen. The elderly woman explains that it will be drawn to nature’s most powerful places, which basically means that you can’t use it anywhere you like. Early on it can be used to raise grassy mounds of earth to create platforms that help you climb to new heights, lift rotten trunks and other objects, or leap over otherwise unpassable quicksand. But, as you continue through the game, you will learn how to create climbable branches and vines that you can swing from, water streams that propel you to new places and can cool lava, and, lastly, the ability to cast fireballs from light sources to break terrain.
The developer deftly interweaves these separate gameplay mechanics as Max: The Curse of Brotherhood progresses, leading to puzzles that, even four years after the game first released, still feel refreshingly unique compared to other games in the genre. However, the platforming sections between these aren’t particularly remarkable, resulting in an experience that regularly drifts between tedium and the more mentally taxing puzzles.
When playing in Handheld mode on Nintendo Switch, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood also puts the portable home console’s capacitive touch screen to use. This provides an alternative to button input, letting you touch and drag to conjure anything with the magic marker while holding to break or destroy what you have created. This works well for the most part, although isn’t a control scheme that feels particularly well suited to the chase sequences where you’re fleeing from the very same monster that kidnapped your brother. Having to control your character and rapidly magicking objects into existence at the same time is hard going at the pace that you need to survive, but these troublesome moments are few and far between.
It will take you around six hours to rescue Felix in Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, but you can choose to spend more time hunting out collectables – whether that be destroying Lord Mustacho’s evil eyes that he uses to spy on the world, or the pieces of a lost amulet that you can recover.
For every thrilling moment that you experience from the game’s cinematic aspirations and standout puzzle design, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood fumbles soon after. It’s an uneven adventure, but one that can still celebrate many successes – even if it fails to rival some already strong competition in the genre on the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo Switch.