You can say what you like about graphics being unimportant to the overall quality of a game and say it’s all about the gameplay, but the fact remains that the visuals are the first thing you will judge a game on, and first impressions count for a great deal. The mistake people often make is thinking that ‘graphics’ and ‘art style’ are the same thing. At first glance, I was intrigued by Maximus‘ art style – disproportional characters, Microsoft Paint-like enemies, and weapons that consist of what some would simply consider to be poor graphics but in actual fact give the game a comedy value; a sense of playfulness to caving zombie heads in with a large blunt object that feels somewhat nostalgic.
Maximus is set “back when games were fun” and follows a group of heroes who get angry when their village is burnt down and their best friend is taken away by a giant owl. That’s just about all of the story I got, but that’s irrelevant because you won’t be following it. You’ll be laughing at the random, detailed images within cutscenes seemingly drawn by an eight-year-old.
Throughout each level, you hack your way through medieval soldiers, zombies, evil dogs and…jelly? But you will eventually come across a boss. The bosses are what, for me, make Maximus so challenging and enjoyable. You never find yourself fighting the same re-coloured enemy, using the same moves and techniques. Instead, each boss will move and act in a totally different way, requiring you to figure out their attack patterns and weak spots each and every time. For example, a giant Cyclops wearing a nappy should be attacked once the giant boulder it’s swinging has passed, before retreating to, once again, dodge the bolder. Some are downright weird, such as a Were-bear that will pick up and shake you to death, or an old man-spider that makes you feel bad for killing him. Not to mention what I can only call “Skeletor” – the perfect enemy for your He-Man look-alike hero.
Behind every great modern beat ‘em up is an advanced levelling system that will keep you coming back to previous levels and building your character further. Maximus offers a lot of stat upgrades that you may only half-fill by the time you reach the end of the game, but Hard Mode and (of course) in-app purchases give you a chance to max out your chosen character. Different equipment can be rarely obtained from enemies or a slot machine that can also reward you with money. You may equip a weapon, armour, a ring, and a pet thing (I had a flying cheeseburger that restored some life every now and again). Each piece of equipment other than the pet will have some effect on the character’s stats, allowing you to pick and choose not only how you upgrade, but how you adjust your equipment to fully customise your build.
Beginning stats and maximum stats alter with each character, as do abilities and attacks, which get stronger and gain additional effects as you level-up. Depending on your character and situation, you may choose to use light attacks or heavy attacks, but pressing them both together will unleash a series of attacks. Magic is also available – being a spinning slash or pulse wave – but will recharge much slower than the special attack.
Other than being on a mission to save a friend, I had no idea where I was going, but fortunately our heroes did. Levels are never the same, that’s for sure. One minute you will be running from a boulder in a treasure cave, then fighting a giant lobster on a pirate ship, and then in the chilly tundra jumping over pits of death, with the ever-changing environment, ambient audio and a variety of enemies making every level feel like a different game altogether. On top of that, you will unlock extra modes, such as Survival Arena and a Boss vs. Boss mode where you can bet cash on which boss you think will win and, with a little practice, win lots of money.
Maximus is a great game that suits the iPhone beautifully. The interesting enemies and well-made levelling system make me want to play the game again with a different character. The short yet increasingly difficult levels are perfect for playing both on the go or from home, and, in total, create a game worthy of around five hours playtime per playthrough. The deciding factor for me, though, is the art style. The funny little characters and their simple animations make for a refreshing experience that is definitely worthy of a download – and for free, who can complain (even if the in-app purchases are a little in your face)?