Twisted Pixel’s debut welcomes you to a universe that includes one very famished alien jelly.
Reviewed on the Xbox 360 by Mark Dicks
Whether it’d be a plump plumber and his chameleon tongued dinosaur, AMS representatives Thomas Rogan and Agent ‘G’, a bear with a breegull stuffed in his backpack, a thief skilled in animal dialect with his mystical beast or red garment wearing members of a gorilla family, I believe it can be said that video game protagonist duos can make for some thrilling gameplay. So what about a concoction of two captured aliens banding together after one unfortunate event?
With a story sparse on dialogue (think WALL-E) which in turn allows Twisted Pixel’s humour to breathe. The Maw pans out like a prison break buddie-movie come Little Shop of Horrors borrowing a large dose of the, “Feed me!”
You play as down on his luck bug-eyed ant like ‘Frank’, whom rather unexpectedly teams up with one very famished alien jelly known as ‘The Maw’. Your captors have ship wrecked you on bizarrely inhabited planet which to your new friend looks more like an assortment of exotic cuisine. Now that you’re on the run it doesn’t seem like a bad idea only to oblige and beef up your bodyguard for some vengeance.
To those familiar with Katamari Damacy franchise gameplay wise this is a game about visual and game effecting growth. To begin with the Maw is but a mere puppy but as you advance through the story his waistline and height take quite some expanding! Like an in-game pet you control this gobbling blob with effectively a space age dog leash and a one button beckon, well there had to be some dialogue right? The leash isn’t just for pulling your counterpart along, as Frank will find a series of puzzles requiring more than just pure teethed brawn. For instance you’ll encounter fiery salamander creatures, which at first are too hot to handle in the taste department. A quick scan of your surroundings will present a watery solution. Time to test the formula of grab, swing and throw? Like they say, “there’s no I in team.”
The Maw’s puzzles shine with a sense of creativity although not being on the higher end of the tasking meter. Depending on what Frank feeds his hungry blob can cause psychical appearance and skill obtaining results. If you chow down on one of the planet’s floaty residents it grants the Maw with balloonish qualities. Re-leashing with him and now executing a jump manoeuvre causes a more lofty bounce. Need to reach higher ground? Problem solved.
I did unfortunately experience flaws in this 3D platforming puzzle adventure. The control of Frank wasn’t entirely that satisfying. Jumping sections hinted cumbersome at times and slipping down slopes was an unnecessary handling irritation. Invisible walls cropped up now and then, -sigh-. I even witnessed a creature glitch that made me have to replay the entire level to fill the Maw’s stomach quota, -double sigh-.
I found the Maw even had elements of a temperamental nature. Like he didn’t always snaffle up ‘Yums’ (cute living alien popcorn) with precision as I circled them in frustration. As he grew he got in the way of some of the larger aliens as I attempted to complete puzzles that required them! Or he didn’t ram (a later obtained skill) a blockade in the exact direction I was planning. For a game focused on teamwork these discomforts caused a noticeable hindrance with the core gameplay mechanic.
Negatives aside however I did love the vibe of The Maw. The goofy protagonists personas to a comical later level involving a scatty bird like alien named the ‘Loofer’. Having the pleasure of playing Twisted Pixel’s later work as a comparison even this brews with their unique style. I knew I was playing a Twisted Pixel game. I believe kudos should be in order!
The visuals aren’t anything to shout about but the chunky cartoonish aesthetic suits the colourful alien universe The Maw was aiming for. The edible inhabitants from ‘Gloobers’ snails with mossy rock shells, to ‘Puff-Tors’ earthworms that live in blimps, have all been sprinkled with personality. I even felt bad at times causing such population depletion! Let’s put it his way… there is no dull moment to be had.
Sonically you’re accompanied by catchy sludgy swing music, complete with mouth clicks, claps, finger clicks, ‘doobeedoos’ etc. but also humming with silly alien eeriness. A homage in it’s own jazzy quirk to films from the likes of when the Theremin was in heavy usage. Mars Attacks rung a bell personally. The Maw hungrily gurgles and generally makes a noise of himself. With his increase in size both his tone deepens to match that. Whereas Frank has a gentler cutesy whiny voice, “MAAAaaawww?” I’m happy to report that the audio in this game has an identity. As expected all other Sci-Fi SFX have settled into this package but with a Twisted Pixel flair.
XBLA titles do suffer from short syndrome and The Maw is no exception. There are eight levels in the game and that is all. I wrapped up the entire adventure in around nine hours and that was also with my collectable OCD in one hundred percent order. There’s leaderboards but I didn’t feel in total control of my starving companion for these to be plausible highscore chases. Farewell replay value!
Okay then, so in all would I recommend The Maw? I’m going to go ahead and unclearly state yes but no. Granted it was an enjoyable little title, but after I finished my ‘BFF’ adventure I couldn’t help but feel left wanting… well simply just ‘maw’! If you’re a fan of Twisted Pixel’s work and haven’t yet checked out their debut I would happily say a yes. Also a yes if you’re looking for a quirky humorous alien adventure to fill a little void in your heart. But otherwise I feel there are so many other longer dual protagonist games out there that have the ‘two heads are better than one’ scenario far more polished.