January 27, 2011
Unfortunately for Max, his imagination gets the better of him. Instead of drawing something nice, the first thing he draws is a horrible looking monster who is hell bent on causing as much chaos as possible - it also comes equipped with a vacuum that can suck up ink. Realising his mistake, Max decides that he must enter into the world he's created in order to stop the Vacuum Monster before it reeks too much havoc. It's ultimately a story concept that isn't overly original, but it does help to introduce why Max is making his way through the different levels. Aside from the opening cutscene, it's never really developed upon throughout the game, but it's to be expected and it isn't to the game's detriment in any way - the real focus here is with the gameplay.
Armed with his Magic Marker, Max must traverse through the various puzzles that are encountered by drawing. There's one small hitch though, his marker doesn't have very much ink, and the Monster steals it all whenever he passes a checkpoint. Ink must be collected through items found throughout levels, and it means players have to use their resources wisely. While the puzzles and decisions may start off being relatively simple, it's like night and day towards the end of the game. Initially, players are charged with drawing small bridges to cross depths of water, or creating a see-saw effect to reach higher ground, but puzzles later on have a much larger emphasis on thought and physics. Because a large majority of the puzzles are solved by drawing simple geometric shapes, like lines, circles or squares, it could easily be construed as an effortless affair, but the level design and hazards definitely change that, along with one key factor, time.
There are numerous puzzles that require split-second thinking, and because players simply couldn't draw, remove their drawing, and re-draw quickly enough, the developers added the ability to stop time. It adds a whole new level of depth, as for example, Max can create a straight line which acts as basic top-surface to a conveyor belt. However, as things aren't always simple, when the drawing starts to lose control, Max can jump, freeze time, and re-draw a new line so he can continue his passage. It also means that bridges can be half built, or if Max makes a bad jump, he can stop time, and draw a line to catch himself. The whole concept just promotes the feeling that there is rarely ever one way to solve anything - the key is to get the job done, no matter how much ink is used, or no matter how diabolical the drawing looks.
While the overall standard of design is very high, some of the puzzles don't necessarily work that well. There is one in particular which is much more hassle than it should have been, but fortunately, these puzzle-types only appear as a one-off in the game. It's a shame, because there's so much ingenuity behind some of the puzzles and it's spoilt by a few over-sights. The actual platforming is also a bit of a downside, as the controls aren't overly tight. They're ok for most purposes, but when things need to be done in a hurry they aren't overly responsive.
The game has a nice art style overall, with the three worlds each having a distinct, yet sometimes odd, personality. The last level especially implements so many different mechanics, but is often spoilt by quite bad frame-rate issues, which appear whenever Max picks up objects. It makes jumping a bit of a pain, as the frame-rate suddenly drops, then speeds back up to normal. There's also a lack of enemy types, as there's essentially only one throughout the entire game - a purple blob. The soundtrack is pretty good though and provides a nice accompaniment while pondering how to progress.
In terms of replayability, Max & the Magic Marker has a decent amount. The game will take between 2-4 hours to complete depending on how quickly the brain cogs are turning, but there is an incentive to play again. Each level contains hidden ink blobs, which require an extra bit of cunning to obtain, but are also speed challenges to complete too, as well as normal pick-ups. Each of these has an associated special mode, for example, one mode is "Full Marker", which means that Max no longer has to collect ink, and his pen is always full. As a special treat, the developers also give everyone who completes the game a prize, which can be collected by visiting the official website and inputting the password that's given.
Max & the Magic Marker is a great game that will definitely challenge the mind. There have been other games on the Wii that implement a similar mechanic, but none have done it as effectively, or made it as enjoyable and rewarding. It's not all rosy though, as some puzzles don't work that well, and there are some performance issues with regards to the platforming controls and frame-rates. However, the quest to bring down Max's evil Monster-drawing is overall a good one and one that's well worth playing.