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Max: The Curse of Brotherhood's puzzles hide a surprising difficulty

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood's young protagonist and bright visuals might make it seem like a kid-friendly platformer, but its physics-based puzzles actually provide a surprising amount of challenge.

During a hands-on demo at TGS 2013, the game's crayon-doodling mechanics — which we first tried during E3 earlier this year — were explored a bit deeper, showing exactly how Max would have to chain together drawn objects to move around the environment. When prompted by an "inkwell" somewhere in the environment, Max can use his magic marker to create objects belonging to different elements, like vines, tree limbs, jets of water and pillars of stone. By slashing his marker across one of those objects, Max can either destroy that object, or detach it from the inkwell.

I feared that mechanic would be somewhat superficial after the demo's first level, which mostly involved lifting Max into the air using simple pillars and drawing wood bridges for him to cross gaps. However, a later level showed how many objects would have to be used in unison: For example, Max can stand on a branch, cut it off the wall then use it as a surfboard across a jet of water, propelling him across a chasm. That's actually a simple example, later puzzles in the demo required the use of five properly drawn inkwells to solve.

the puzzles themselves go much deeper than the game's core path-drawing mechanics

It's all based on a pretty robust physics model, so none of those solutions really feel canned. To wit: To cross one gap, I needed to draw a vine from a distant inkwell and drape it over a boulder stuck in the wall. The boulder served as an anchor point for the vine, allowing me to use it to swing across the gap.

Certain segments require you to put together these kinds of solutions while Max is imperiled — like when he's gone over a waterfall on a raft, or fallen through the branches of a tall tree. Fortunately, time slows down during these cinematic moments; but you're still on a seconds-long deadline to figure out how to draw your way out of the situation.

Some parts of the demo relied a bit on trial and error; especially the earlier level, which had Max dodging falling hazards which dropped at errant, but memorizable, intervals. But the puzzles themselves go much deeper than the game's core path-drawing mechanics; they're dynamic and really clever, if this brief demonstration was anything to go on.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood will launch as a downloadable title on Xbox 360 and Xbox One next year.

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