|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Twisted Pixel||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Twisted Pixel||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Jan. 21, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
The Xbox LIVE Marketplace is full of top-down shooters and music-game add-ons. As such, it's refreshing to get a clever adventure title for the paltry sum of 800 MS points ($10). That's exactly what we get from Twisted Pixel's The Maw. This title brings together cutesy visuals and solid gameplay mechanics for a downloadable experience that is both kid and adult-friendly.
The Maw is a game you might have expected for the Nintendo GameCube. The simple yet ingratiating graphics, interesting level design, whimsical characters and story, and uncomplicated gameplay should appeal to a wide range of gamers. That said, don't expect a must-have experience from this XBLA entry. This is a game that is definitely worth the money, but many will still want hold on to their gaming dollars for bigger and better titles on the horizon.
The Maw pairs two unlikely alien friends together. After their unexpected escape from captivity aboard a spacecraft, Frank (a wimpy alien with a knack for controlling pets) and Maw (a purple blob with a scary set of choppers and an insatiable appetite) join forces, eating their way through the levels until they eventually gain their freedom. Throughout the game, the duo is confronted with new robot enemies, environmental hazards, and various extraterrestrial delicacies. Maw starts out as a small, one-eyed, amorphous blob. However, as he eats his way to glory, Maw will rapidly increase in size. The bigger Maw gets, the greater the variety of things he can eat. Of course, this becomes essential to passing subsequent levels. This ability to grow to incredible size gives the game an addictive quality similar to Katamari Damacy. As such, you'll find yourself scouring levels, looking for every last tasty morsel in order to get the coveted "100% Eaten" classification.
Moreover, Maw also has the ability to absorb the elemental properties of its prey. This Kirby-like mechanic proves to be quite engaging and allows for interesting and ever more complex puzzles within the adventure that depend upon the acquired abilities to be solved. By combining elemental absorption with the growth abilities of Maw, the devs have created an interesting character that's fun to play around with.
To top it off, the interplay between Frank and Maw is compelling. Frank's job throughout the journey is to ensure that Maw gets enough to eat. Frank controls Maw and is able to interact with the environment and enemies via an electric leash. By pressing the X button the leash will attach to Maw's collar or call for him if he's too far away. A press of the B button will attach the lead to any number of objects that prove useful to advancing the game. Also, because Frank can jump, there are places strewn throughout the game that hold sustenance for Maw that only Frank can reach. This introduces both mild platforming features as well as hidden bonus caches. Subsequently, players will roam around the levels, uncovering goodies, leading Maw to the fodder, and using Maw's abilities to advance. The interaction between Maw, Frank, food, enemies, and puzzles becomes increasingly more complex, and, consequently, is a good bit of addictive fun.
As fun as The Maw is, a few problems do mar the title. For example, the game's controls, though simple, are a bit wonky. They leave the game feeling unpolished. Often, players will have to redo sections of levels because the controls failed them. This is especially present in the sporadic combat sequences that require Frank to dodge objects Matrix-style, and then clobber them with objects via the electric leash. In fact, combat could have been done away with and the game wouldn't have missed a beat. Also, Maw doesn't seem to interact with objects very well. This can make uncovering hidden animals somewhat of a chore.
Additionally, the presentation, while pleasant and loaded with clever character design, is decidedly budget in nature. I know it's only a $10 title, but the presentation can't match what a lot of other devs have done with their downloadable arcade games. For starters, despite being shiny, the graphics are not particularly crisp or detailed. In fact, the visuals (including cutscenes) aren't much better than what was found on last generation consoles. That's not to say they are bad, they're simply not nearly as nice as what we have come to expect from an HD gaming experience.