Around the turn of the millennium, cutesy, cartoony platforming games were all the rage. Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot dominated the PlayStation generation, and both adults and children loved them. Then something changed. Games like Jak and Daxter, which had helped bridge the console generation gap for light-hearted platformers, began to take on a grittier edge when they started including guns and darker stories. With this shift from charming, innocent platforming to harder edged shooters, it seemed that a good ‘ol 3D platform game could only be found within the Mushroom Kingdom.
Even today, series like Banjo Kazooie and Sonic the Hedgehog which once represented the pinnacle of platforming have abandoned their glorious past in exchange for adrenaline junky toys like cars and guns. If you are like me and yearn for the days when a game didn’t need to have guns or guitars in order to be fun, then The Maw may be the answer for you.
The Maw, by Twisted Pixel Games, is a reincarnation of last generation platformers polished to a sheen that stands out on the Xbox Live Arcade. Immediately upon downloading and launching the game you will notice the clean, crisp, DreamWorks-like animation. Bright, colorful characters populate an even more vibrant world as Frank, the extraterrestrial protagonist, joins up with the titular purple alien “Maw” to form an unlikely duo. Maw is a truly memorable creature that can somehow be adorable and disgusting at the same time. Prepare for a planet with robust wildlife, littered with Spore-like alien creations and intergalactic bounty hunters armed with turrets and fighter ships.
Besides the beautiful presentation, one of the first things you’ll notice about the game is that Maw has an insatiable appetite. Gobbling up animals with a ferocity that would put Kirby to shame, Maw does not only take on the attributes of certain consumed critters, but he permanently increases in size after enough snacks. It is by increasing Maw’s size that one advances from level to level. Burning down trees after Maw ingests a fire-chameleon type animal, or smashing everything to smithereens as a huge rhinoceros beetle are just some of the techniques to uncovering consumables. You can even try to eat all the critters on a given level if you’re a completionist and wish to reach the 100% mark.
Playing Maw is a very relaxing experience, as the light hearted tone and appearance of the game is coupled with forgiving yet immersive gameplay. There is only one thing you need in order to make progress in The Maw – time. There is no true way to take “damage” or “die” in the game. At the most you are knocked into the air a few feet by an enemy, or simply stunned. This doesn’t detract from the challenge that some of the game’s puzzling situations or creature hunts provide. The gameplay itself has carried over most of the stiffness and rigidity of some last generation platformers, as jumping and navigating the world can be a bit wonky at times. Despite some of the control issues, seeing Maw grow throughout the game to the point where he crowds the screen and you can ride atop him is a truly rewarding experience.
Everything that Frank and Maw do in their adventure is punctuated by a dynamic soundtrack. When the two are simply exploring, an orchestral, whimsical Looney Tunes-like melody will play, and when Frank is riding Maw while the purple alien shoots laser beams from his eyes a rallying, triumphant Star Wars-esque track will fade in each time he fires. No matter what you are doing, the music always compliments the action. The game’s thin plot is communicated through cutesy gibberish and pantomime, but it gets the job done. You’ll smile when Frank yells “Maw!” and his glutinous alien pal cruises over.
This charming ode to past platformers is not without its draw backs, however. The game gets a bit repetitive, with each level being reduced to an “eat this, go here” affair. The later levels do a great job of breaking up the monotony with more diverse creatures to steal abilities from, but you may find yourself yawning after an hour, and putting down the controller to look for a real life snack.
Also, Maw is short. The game can easily be completed in two dedicated play sessions, probably about 5 hours total. You might be able to squeeze another hour’s worth out of the game by searching for everything. At 800 Microsoft points, replayability is a key feature that is unfortunately absent.
Speaking of content and Microsoft points, the Maw has 3 DLC “deleted levels” packs planned for release. The first, “Brute Force,” has already been released for 100 Microsoft points… just a month after the game’s release. If you’re anything like me, you are wondering why the hell Twisted Pixel didn’t just include the finished levels in with the retail release in order to bulk up the games lacking length.
Anyway you chew it, The Maw is a fun, stress free game to waste an afternoon or two with. If you’re into fresh, cartoony graphics and gobbling up every living thing on screen, then The Maw will be 800 Microsoft Points well spent.
color splashed world of The Maw is every bit as vibrant and beautiful as modern animated film. The cartoony look of the game fits the goofy action perfectly.
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It’s not hard to do what the game requests of you, but controlling the Frank and Maw feels a little clunky at times. Using Maw to devour enemies and utilize his special abilities is a blast.
music adds gravity to some of your actions, aiding the immersion.
The only reason you’d want to play this game again would be to collect everything on a given level for the achievements, and nothing else.
The Maw is a fun game for the few hours that it lasts. But it is ultimately too short and suffers from having its content bled out through DLC packs. If a quick, light hearted quest with a cute, hungry alien sounds like a good time to you, then check it out.