The Maw Xbox Live Review
Ah, the platform game. Once a staple in the diet of any gamer, in recent years its taken a backseat to more popular genres and only occasionally surfaces to remind us of what we’re missing out on. A certain bird and bear duo have graced the 360 not once, but twice in the past few months, and it’s on Microsoft’s console that The Maw steps into the spotlight, once again attempting to rekindle our lost love with the genre.
It’s about as simple as platform games get, and the premise is clear and concise; there’s Frank, a small friendly alien who has crashed on a planet and wants to escape, and there’s the Maw, a small purple blob with one eye, lots of teeth, and a huge appetite. After becoming friends and partnering up, the two set off to get out of the pickle they’re in and find a way off the planet.
Levels consist of two objectives; find the exit, and get the Maw to eat all of the inhabitants in the process. It sounds easy, and to be blunt, it is; the game has very little challenge, thanks largely to it being impossible to die, and the levels being small and enclosed. There are certain puzzles to solve along the way, and while they won’t tax your brain, they’re entertaining enough. The way to solve them is to make use of the Maw’s unique ability: the characteristics of any creature that the Maw eats are transferred to the purple blob, and in a Kirby-like fashion, he can then use them to useful effect.
Whether breathing fire or floating like a balloon, making use of these abilities is essential to getting through the level and finding all of the edible creatures. It’s a nice feature and provides some entertaining moments, but it feels quite limited in its execution. With only ability available per level, there’s never a need to consider more than one approach to solving a puzzle or getting through a certain area. Perhaps if it was down to the player to choose the most suitable ability from several available, or try different techniques for solving something, there’d be more challenge and skill involved. As it is though, the feature merely stands as an entertaining, yet limited side-mechanic to the gameplay.
Another characteristic of the Maw is that he grows each time he eats enemies. As he can only eat creatures of equal or smaller size though, it’s important to chow down on as many of the bizarre aliens that dwell in the levels as possible, in order to take down bigger enemies later on. Although you can get by with eating the minimum number of creatures, you can only leave a level one the Maw’s reached a certain size, and those wanting achievements will need to hunt down every last critter. There’s a bit of searching required to find all of them, including the elusive Snaffle, one of which is hidden on each level, but it’s never enough to really get you thinking or pose a problem.
It’s not only the Maw that has useful abilities either, with Frank’s tractor beam enabling him to drag, pick up or throw objects or enemies. This, along with the Maw’s eating and shape-shifting ability forms the nuts and bolts of the game, and it’s a well balanced feature, not relying on one skill over the other too much.
It should be pointed out that for a small game developed by a low profile team, the game looks and sounds very good. The cut scenes are very well done, with moments of humour, and the affection and loyalty shown between Frank and the Maw comes across very well. Clean, clear and bold colours are the order of the day, and some excellent animation and good music aid the presentation no end.
Playing through the game is enjoyable, despite the lack of challenge, and in spite of the shortcomings, there’s something very appealing and enjoyable about The Maw. Whether it’s the cute aliens, the bright and impressive visuals, or the moments of humour, it’s hard to criticise the game too much. Yes it’s simple and very short, with it being possible to see the game off in an afternoon’s playtime, but it’s a high quality and fun affair. At 800 MS points, about £6, it’s reasonable value for a few hours entertainment, and is a perfect example of a game that’s short, but sweet.