The Maw Review
Anyone who played last year's Braid, A Kingdom for Keflings or Castle Crashers is well aware the Xbox 360’s Marketplace has become the go-to download service for fun, creative, and reasonably priced offerings. Well, better crack out those Microsoft Points, because now they'll want to add Twisted Pixel’s The Maw to that list. The purple blob-starring action/platforming title has been rocking the indie game circuit—including being an audience fave at last year’s Penny Arcade Expo—and after spending some time in its Pixar-like alien world, it’s easy to see why.
The inspired set-up goes like this: You’re Frank, a fairly non-threatening extraterrestrial who teams with the titular alien with the huge pie hole to solve puzzles and eat bad guys. While you’re not too powerful on your own, your partnership with Maw makes you a true force to be reckoned with, as the big guy with the bigger appetite can pretty much consume anything he can get his gaping mouth around. And herein lays the game’s masterful hook.
Not only does the one-eyed, sharp-fanged blob increase in size as he feeds, but he can also take on skills and attributes based on who or, more accurately, what he’s snacking on. Gobbling up a fire breathing beastie, for example, will grant Maw the ability to also spit flames. From a blockade-clearing ram charge to temporary flight, Maw's acquired-through-eating powers are great fun. They’re also necessary, as each new power-up plays an important role in solving puzzles. In order to complete a level you’ll need to scoff up the right baddies to get specific jobs done. Getting the big guy to follow a specific diet isn’t as easy as just unleashing his voracious appetite on the world, though; Maw’s as dumb as a bag of bricks, but he’s loyal to Frank, and together they ensure he gets the nutrition he needs. Frank, equipped with an electric leash, leads his hungry purple pal to food and can even wrangle objects and fling them into Maw’s mouth. Frank can also utilize this magic lanyard to help with puzzles and move objects.
One of the absolute coolest aspects of the experience is simply witnessing Maw’s transformation. He takes on some bizarre traits of the characters he consumes, like a horn when he gains the ramming ability, but even more impressive is his increasing growth; at the start of the game he’s an almost cute little ball of purple skin and teeth, but by the time the game’s concluding levels arrive he’s an enormous eating machine with a mouth that can accommodate anything you throw at it. Tossing some of the game’s larger bad guys down his gullet not only pays off in terms of game progression, but it’s also a visual treat to watch Maw gobble down goons like an oversized garbage disposal.
And really, the title’s hands-down best feature is its beautiful presentation. I made the Pixar reference earlier with good reason; the game is gorgeous, sporting crisp, bright, CGI-style visuals that’ll have you recalling film faves A Bug’s Life, Lilo and Stitch and Monsters, Inc.. The music and audio effects are equally engaging—and sometimes hilarious—in a way that totally matches the impressive graphical presentation. Once you get into The Maw, don’t be surprised if you forget this just a XBLA title and not a full-on AAA effort.
Although, a few kinks in the gameplay will occasionally remind that you didn’t plunk down sixty clams for The Maw. Most of the action is spot-on, but some of the platforming moments lack polish, and navigating Maw through some environments can definitely induce some frustration. These are mostly minor gripes, but a small indication that the play mechanics don’t quite match the level of polish reflected in the rest of the production. The game is also short, even for a download. Thankfully, new DLC is already on the way in the form of three completely new levels that'll only run you another 100 Microsoft Points apiece. It’s a testament to the original release’s appeal that I definitely plan on scooping up this new content. It’s also great to see this kind of continued developer support for the game so soon after its initial release.
If you’ve finally caught up on all the holiday’s big titles, and are looking to blow some MS Points, The Maw is the way to go. Its amazing production values and innovative premise far outshine its gameplay shortcomings, and its $10 price tag won’t break the bank. With new content on the way you can also bet it’s a property its developers are invested in. In fact, given the quick follow-up of DLC, maybe we can look forward to a 2009 full to the gills with Maw face-feeding fun. Or, even better, a big budget retail sequel complete with Maw and Frank XBL co-op play. Whaddya say, Twisted Pixel?