PLATFORM: Xbox Live Arcade

DOWNLOAD IT FOR: 800 Points/ $10

ESRB RATING: E10+
DEVELOPER:Twisted Pixel Games


PUBLISHER: Microsoft



What’s this? A bright, cheery game? It’s got to be a joke, right? Where are the space marines and brown environments? Where’s the blood?

But no, The Maw is unlike most of the dreary games sent our way. It’s a living cartoon, a fun and entertaining game that you can feel fine playing by yourself or sharing with your kids or parents alike.

 

THE PITCH


You’re an alien that goes by the name of Frank, who has been imprisoned by some alien captors for unknown reasons. You end up jailed nearby another alien, a one-eyed translucent purple blob named Maw, but before you guys can really get acquainted the ship crashes into a nearby planet. You emerge from the wreckage and soon find out that your little companion has a voracious appetite, as if it wasn’t already obvious from his enormous mouth. Luckily for him there are lots of little animals to feast upon. You guide him around and try to find your way back home, as well as try to get back at those who wrongly imprisoned you.

(At least, let’s hope they were wrongly imprisoned. The game takes a wholly dark new turn if you imagine them as a pair of escaped murderers or sex offenders.)


   

THE PLAY


A lot of people have compared the game to Katamari Damacy, and while it’s an easy comparison it’s really it’s more like an overhauled version of Shark Shark, perhaps better known by the Popcap ripoff Feeding Frenzy. The basic premise is that Maw eats everything in sight, and to eat bigger creatures he needs to grow larger by eating smaller ones. He grows pretty huge over the course of the game (wait till you see the last level) but for the most part you’ll be leading him around on an electric leash and guiding him towards more food, or simply grabbing creatures yourself and throwing them into his gullet.

The controls are simple enough that a kid could play it. It’s helped by a decent camera that doesn’t have to be manipulated too frequently and a lack of any kind of apprehension for your actions, since you can’t die no matter how many times you get shot or attacked by enemies. It’s very user-friendly, very focused on a casual gaming experience.

If at any point you don’t know what to do, never fear. Big question marks will pop out of the ground indicating where you need to go next. Any time you have to hit a certain button to interact with an object a big icon detailing which one to hit will appear.

One thing that’ll keep adults interested is the sense of humor in the game. The Maw doesn’t care about how cute the little critters that he chows down are, his hunger is too great. When eaten certain creatures transform him into new forms and give him new abilities (fire breathing, the ability to float, etc.) to access new portions of levels and remove obstacles… it keeps things fresh and the gameplay different enough to keep you entertained throughout. There are some minor platforming elements but nothing too frustrating or long.



While the characters are mostly silent (except for Frank’s childish and way too cute “Maaaaaaaaw” cries) they exhibit a huge amount of personality, which speaks to how fantastic the animation is. They are very lovable characters, and wouldn’t be out of place in a Pixar film (cripes, I hate dropping the P-word.)

It’s not perfect- it’s over way too quick, with only 8 levels that will each take you around 15-20 minutes to beat. Frank also moves at a very slow pace, perhaps to keep things easier for the casual gamers but it’s a little irritating when you’re backtracking through a level to find all the things you can eat.

But on a whole it’s refreshing to play a game as simple and happy-go-lucky as this one.


THE PRESENTATION

 

Big bright and cartoony, this game stands out amongst every other XBLA title. Easily one of the best-looking downloadable games around, and this from a studio of 10 people!



The soundtrack is light jazz, more relaxing than you’d expect but something that fits with the slow pace of the game. It was done by Winifred Phillips (God of War) and changes and expands as you make your way through the levels.
 

THE REPLAY


 


In each level there’s a hidden creature called a snuffle that can be tracked down and eaten… it’s not terribly hard to find them, though. By eating every critter on a level you can 100% it, which will net  you an achievement. That’s about it as far as replayability, and it’s nothing that will take a seasoned gamer more than 4 or 5 hours.

There are downloadable levels on the way for a minimal price (a buck twenty five), starting with one hitting tomorrow, so the game will continue as long as you keep cashing in those Microsoft Points.



THE VERDICT

 

A fun, lighthearted game that stands out amongst the rest of the Xbox Live Arcade titles. Hardcore gamers will easily blast through it, but this is the kind of game anyone can get into and enjoy.

8.0 out of 10