Next week, Nintendo will release the largest Nintendo DS yet seen in America, the pocket-busting DSi XL. But I have played a DS game that no DS can display - on my TV with a giant, virtual stylus.
Max & The Magic Marker is a downloadable game from Press Play, in development for a couple of years in Copenhagen before being released for computers and, this month, for the Wii. It's a 15-level side-scrolling platformer starring Max, a boy who can run and jump but relied on the player's control of a floating orange magic marker to draw him his best offence, defence, platforms and ladders. This is a drawing-based action game, which means it better have as much imagination as it demands from the player.
Drawn To Platform: Max can clear each of his levels by reaching the portals that appear at the end of them. Along the way, he can collect items, including essential globs or orange marker ink. The ink fills up in the marker, though is drained fully at each checkpoint. This makes each level a series of challenges, most of the challenges involving the player getting Max to collect some marker orbs and than using that ink to draw bridges over gaps, staircases to exit pits or, later in the game seesaws and other basic contraptions. The increasing complexity of these challenges is mostly more fun than frustrating. Smart puzzle design caused me to frequently make the mental jump from "How in the world am I going to figure this one out?" to "I can't believe I pulled that off!" in 30 or so seconds.
Polish: The game's sound effects are synced to the music, even the sound effect triggered by Max's actions. The virtual magic marker is rendered in 3D and tilts to perpendicular with the TV screen if you move it to the left, tilts to the right if you move it to the right. The graphics are as vibrant and smooth as a bowl of fruit while Max is in action, but swap art styles and become crayon scribbles when the game is paused. In the land of game reviewing, little touches like these are appreciated.
I Wouldn't Play This With A 10-Foot Pole: There's a reason magic markers are not three metres long, and that reason is because it would be very hard to use them to draw something on a horizontal surface three metres away. Max & The Magic Marker, as sunny and telegenic as it is, has gameplay that would best be controlled with a marker or other writing instrument held against a flat surface. When the time comes to draw something in this game with precision, you'll be forgiven for lamenting that you have to do it from your couch - or whatever your measure of distance is that separates your Wii Remote from your sensor bar. Thankfully, your drawing skills aren't required to be so precise that this is an issue more than a few times in the game.
Max & The Magic Marker is in many ways similar to World of Goo, in scale, in dedication to a single multi-use game mechanic, and in its cheerful but tough presentation of classically gameplay-driven challenge. It's certainly one of the better WiiWare games on Nintendo's system, but, rarer still, a game based on a drawing mechanic that is good.
Max & The Magic Marker was developed and published by Press Play for the Wii on March 8. Retails for $US10.00. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the game in under five hours and wish, like most games, it didn't have an end boss.
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