Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Maw

The Maw is an Xbox Live Arcade game that I picked up the other day when it went on sale. It won some awards prior to release, including the coveted Audience Choice award at PAX in 2008, so I was curious to see what it was like. For less than five bucks, I figured it was worth a look.

As the game starts, a small blue alien named Frank has been captured by galactic bounty hunters and taken aboard a quarantine ship. The ship crashes for unknown reasons, and the only survivors are Frank and an animate puddle of purple goo called the Maw. Maw is considered the "Deadliest Organism in the Universe" because it can eat just about anything (provided it's not too large to devour) and can grow to truly epic proportions.

Frank and the Maw become fast friends though, and together they have to find a way to escape the planet on which they've crash-landed while avoiding the bounty hunters.

The Maw is an odd little game. Essentially the point is to drag the Maw around and feed him local lifeforms as he gets bigger and bigger, allowing you to advance to the next area. At the start of the game he looks like this:

Left - Tiny Maw
Right - Frank checks out his cool new power bracelet

And here's the Maw towards the end of the game:

Left - Gigantic Maw
Right - Frank contemplates what his grocery bill will look like if this keeps up

The Maw can also absorb the powers of creatures he eats. For example, if he eats a lizard that breathes fire, he'll change form and breath fire as well. So the point of the game is to use Frank's power bracelet and the Maw's eating powers to solve puzzles and advance.

The controls work well, and I didn't have much trouble navigating the environment. One annoyance is that the Maw needs to be on his leash to follow you, so if you use Frank to solve a puzzle by himself, you'll have to go back and fetch the Maw. However, the levels are pretty small so backtracking is minimal. I also felt like Frank could use a sprint button because his default walking speed is painfully slow.

There's not much plot here. You move forward from level to level with no real plan or impetus that I could discern. I will say that the characters are relatively solid given that it's pretty much just Frank and the Maw, and the latter doesn't talk. Actually, Frank really doesn't say much either, but the cutscenes are well done, with enough subtext in the facial expressions and body language to convery the developing friendship between the Frank and the Maw.

While I found the Maw to be a pleasant diversion, it's very short (I completed it in about two to three hours), and I'm not sure I would have wanted it to be any longer. It turns out that under five dollars is probably the right price for this one.

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