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Genre: Action
Min OS X: 10.4

Max & The Magic Marker
August 16, 2010 | Daniel Knowles

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Mac OS X: 10.4.11 | CPU: Intel Core Duo Processor | RAM: 1 GB

by Daniel Knowles

As a child, what time I didn’t spend in front of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, I mostly spent with a pile of pencils and felt tip pens drawing crazily violent scenes of adventure, warfare and space exploration. Thanks to the developers at Press Play, children now (and that still includes me) might not have to make the choice. Max and the Magic Marker is a beautiful, innovative and entertaining platformer that combines the traditional running and jumping with drawing the environment Max inhabits. Need a bridge? Or a ladder? Or a catapult? Draw it in with a giant orange marker pen.

Perhaps somewhat unfortunately for a game based on the premise of a child’s imagination, the actual story is not immensely inspiring. Max has drawn a monster – a large purple blob named ‘Mustachio’ - which has invaded all his other drawings and now he has to defeat it. That means traversing levels in three different worlds (suburban, pirate and futuristic), collecting ink for the pen and using it to beat the various obstacles that get in the way, be it volcanoes, laser beams or whatever. And though the story may be slightly unoriginal, the graphics are gorgeously rendered and Max is a reasonable hero. His huge head, dominated by a giant orange quiff, is reminiscent of the best sorts of Franco-Belgian comic book characters.

How much fun you get out of him really depends on how creatively you play the game. Most of the early puzzles are fairly unchallenging, requiring the player to draw simple bridges or steps for Max to climb up. If you are just concerned with beating the level it can get fairly repetitive. The game has a mechanism which allows you to freeze time and draw in aids around Max before resuming the game. What this means is that, if you like, you can complete most of the puzzles – especially the earlier ones – simply by drawing endless steps. The real satisfaction comes though from using the physics system to win with guile, building catapults and elaborate levers to throw Max around like a shiny cartoon rag doll.

Thankfully, the developers included a lot of incentives to do just that. A reasonable player could probably blast through the levels in a few hours at most, but collecting the secrets and completing the time trials expands the experience out to a day or so. Some of the best puzzles are saved for the secrets, requiring precise jumping skills as well as innovative drawing. Getting the time trial targets in particular completely rules out using boring tactics and so forces you to get the best out of the game. When you have collected enough you also get access to some extra modes such as a playground mode, a superman mode and the option to have unlimited ink. The unlocked content allows for a little more experimentation.

That said, it is hard not to feel that some opportunities have been missed in making this game. On the platforming side, the only enemies you encounter are very underwhelming small purple blobs which are easily killed by dropping a line of ink on their heads. Similarly, when you finally catch up with ‘Mustachio’, the only boss encounter in the game, he proves very unchallenging. Dropping anvils or rolling rocks down hills seems slightly wasted on the targets included and it is hard to see why Press Play didn’t include some better enemies when the game offers so much potential for killing them in entertaining ways. I also thought that they could have gotten more out of the physics mechanism. Take water – Max encounters water quite a lot and if he falls in it, he drowns. Given the cleverness of the rest of the game, it doesn’t seem like it would have been that much more of a stretch to have made it possible to draw a boat and have it float. As it is, regardless of shape, drawings always sink. The game is terrific fun but it can sometimes seem unnecessarily restrictive.

Don’t let that discourage you however. Max and the Magic Marker is an exceptionally entertaining and challenging way to kill a few hours. For $20, it isn’t a bad deal at all. Completing the better puzzles is enormously satisfying and each of the fifteen levels offer plenty of replay value. The visuals, soundtrack and feel of the game cannot be faulted and the designers have clearly been inspired by the best of the art of bored seven year olds. Equally, the game flows very well on my aging Macbook Pro and I didn’t encounter any bugs or endure any of the crashes or performance issues whilst playing it. If you like platform games, you will almost certainly enjoy Max. It is just hard to ignore all of the ways in which it could have been not just good, but incredible. As it is, gaming still has a way to go before it can completely outdo the fun of the creative destruction of pen on paper.

Max & The Magic Marker
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