Inside Pulse 12

Review: Max & The Magic Marker (WiiWare)

Max & The Magic Marker
Publisher: Press Play
Developer: Press Play
Genre: Platformer/Puzzle
Release Date: 03/08/2010

If you knew that the things that you drew would come to life, what would you draw? I could think of a number of things, though given how crudely I use a writing utensil, I don’t think I would want the objects that I would end up drawing. In Max & The Magic Marker, you have such a power. Is this game a WiiWare work of art, or does it need to go back to the drawing board?

Let’s Review

Story/Modes
You play as Max, a boy who has just been given a marker as a gift in the mail. However, unlike the Sharpies of the world, this particular marker brings whatever it draws to life. So rather than drawing money, a brand new bike, or even a ham sandwich, our little hero Max decides to draw a monster that looks suspiciously like a giant eggplant. Naturally, the eggplant monster comes to life and decides to raise hell on the pages of Max’s notebook. Max then draws himself on the page and we are now off on an adventure to defeat the newly created monster. Given the situation, I would’ve much rather created a bazooka or grenade or something a little more threatening. But then we wouldn’t have much of a game now would we?

There really is only one true mode to this game, and that is the single player adventure. As you obtain collectibles during the main game, you will unlock various extras that include cheats and an alternate mode that you can goof around in. Dubbed “Playground Mode”, the game drops you in the midst of a blank sheet of paper, and you are free to doodle and mess around as you see fit. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot to this mode that you couldn’t accomplish in the main game, but it’s the thought that counts.

Story/Modes Rating: Poor

Graphics
Max & The Magic Marker is a very good looking game for a WiiWare title. The backgrounds show an incredible amount of detail, and the game as a whole is very colorful. I’ve always felt that really good 2D graphics are far better than bad looking 3D and this is one of the reasons why. If they tried to pull off a 3D look with this title, not only would it probably not have animated as well, but it would likely not have been as beautiful a game as it is.

The same cannot be said about the drawings that you will undoubtedly create, which will turn out to be a series of uncoordinated orange lines. Well, at least mine did. I don’t know how you would make user defined drawings more appealing to look at, but it’s worth mentioning since it sticks out like a sore thumb against the stylized backdrops.

Graphics Rating: Great

Sounds
The music mostly consists of more happy-go-lucky tunes that go along well with the more upbeat atmosphere of the game. As fitting as they are, the tunes are mostly forgettable until you get to a point where you become stuck or frustrated. They then go from happy to grating. I don’t know about you, but listening to positive music when I get frustrated just makes me more angry. I’m not that good at solving puzzles to begin with though, so this may or may not mimic your experience.

The sounds are just as serviceable. There’s nothing too notable about them, just little vacuum sounds when you suck up ink and popping noises when you crush an enemy with a giant ball of scribble. There aren’t any voiceovers or anything aside from the evil laughter of the monster you’re chasing, but this isn’t a title that really needs it either.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

Control/Gameplay

Max & The Magic Marker is played using the nunchuk and the Wiimote. Since you’re controlling both Max and the marker at the same time, your actions are divided nicely between your two hands. Everything that Max does is handled by the nunchuk, including movement, jumping, and pushing objects around. Drawing and erasing is done entirely by the Wiimote, as well as pausing the action when you need to in order to freely create something without the distractions of enemies and other hazards. Your actions are laid out perfectly among all the buttons, and I couldn’t think of a better way to do it.

The problem I have with the controls is not with their assignment so much as the limitations of the hardware itself. This title was also released on the PC, and there’s no denying that using a mouse is far more accurate than a Wiimote when it comes to drawing straight lines. You will be crafting a lot of stairs in this game, and it’s very difficult to create ones that the game recognizes as being a straight platform as opposed to a slope that Max will just slide down. The Wii just lacks precision to do this effectively, and although this game reads my motions far better than most on the console, it still bears mentioning.

The entirety of the game consists of three worlds with five levels each, making a grand total of fifteen levels throughout the entire game. As you begin each level, you start off with no ink in your marker and must find some as you progress through the level. When you finally run across some, you are free to use it as much as you like. For example, after you draw something that you no longer have use for, you can suck the ink back up into the marker and use it again to traverse the next obstacle. You can also shake the Wiimote to suck up all the ink that hasn’t been claimed manually.

Each level also has checkpoints littered about that act as a starting point should you ever die or get yourself in a situation where you feel that you are stuck. You have unlimited lives, so you are free to experiment on each stage’s obstacles without fear that you will lose all of the progress you have made thus far. When you reach a checkpoint, the eggplant monster will take all of the ink that you have acquired up to that point, forcing you to collect more in order to advance. However, if you collect some ink and then are forced to restart back at one of these checkpoints, you get to keep whatever ink you had collected, making the second run a tad easier on you. If you are going for collectibles though, these will have to be picked up again.

Other than the marker aspect of the game, the gameplay behaves as a platformer should. You move from left to right, overcoming obstacles as you go. And if you need some assistance, you draw yourself some. This can come in the form of staircases, bridges, and platforms to traverse conveyor belts. Unfortunately, you can’t draw yourself weapons or anything that could possibly come to life, but even the few lines and platforms that you create add a dimension to the gameplay that you don’t see very often in games nowadays. I personally have not played anything like it, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Great

Replayability

As I mentioned above, there are only fifteen total stages throughout the game and depending on how quickly you are able to solve the game’s many puzzles, you are looking at an approximately three to four hour game your first time through. After you complete the game for the first time, you can try to do speed runs in order to top your own record, or find collectibles in order to unlock cheats or the Playground Mode. However, this does not add any value to the game to me as my personal philosophy is that “collectibles” is just another name for busy work. Even without being an astronomically long game, for ten bucks, you really can’t go wrong.

Replayability Rating: Poor

Balance
There will be times during the later stages of the game where you feel like all is lost and you are ready to give up because there doesn’t appear to be a solution in sight. Rest assured that if you keep at it, you will figure out how to progress and you will feel a great sense of accomplishment for having done so. As much as the game feels hopeless at times, you realize that the game is not unfair, you were just blind to the sometimes obvious solution. The actual platforming segment of the game is not that difficult, nor are any of the enemies you face. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Max & The Magic Marker dances the line between challenging and frustrating just due to some of the puzzles it presents to you, but does so without ever crossing into BS territory.

Balance Rating: Good

Originality
The closest game that I’ve ever played that I can equate this experience to is Scribblenauts. Except, rather than using vocabulary words to give you items you may need to progress, you draw things that will hopefully give you access to go forward. Not just any things either, the stuff you come up with has to be somewhat structurally sound, otherwise it may fall or tip over with you on it and you will fall to your doom. I’ve never played anything like it, and it truly speaks to the quality of the games that have been coming from WiiWare lately.

Originality Rating: Classic

Addictiveness

It’s very easy to find yourself unable to stop playing simply from repeatedly telling yourself “just one more level.” In fact, it’s very likely that you may go through the entire game in just one sitting. The more ambitious completionists will want to try to find all the collectibles which are strewn about in such a way that it feels like there are stages within stages. Unfortunately, I’m not a completionist, and so I didn’t play much beyond the main game. But I will say that regardless of whether or not you decide to seek out everything this title has to offer, the journey will be an enjoyable one.

Addictiveness Rating: Classic

Appeal Factor
This game really took me by surprise. I didn’t think I would like it at first, as it looked to me like another Mario clone with a drawing gimmick. It’s so much more than that. In fact, I would venture to guess that people who don’t even like platformers would enjoy this game just for the clever use of the marker mechanic. It’s also a title that will appeal to all ages as well, as I can see kids really getting into the Playground Mode and just allowing their imaginations to take hold.

Appeal Rating: Classic

Miscellaneous
I was really surprised that for a game that encourages speed runs through the various stages, that there was no way to keep track of high scores on a leaderboard of some sort. Granted, this is on the Wii console which is very anti-online for pretty much anything (besides awesome WiiWare games) but this would’ve been added icing on the cake for those on the fence about spending 1000 Wii points on such a short title.

If this game ever gets a sequel, some form of co-op play would be an awesome addition to this game as well. Just imagine, a split screen title where you and a friend take different routes through a level where you sometimes have to draw stuff to aid the other person and vice versa. Heck, if you wanted to make it competitive, you could even have a mode where you attempt to race your buddy through a particular stage and can even draw things to hinder their progress as you make your way to the end. There’s a lot of potential in this franchise, and I’m excited to see what comes next from Press Play.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story/Modes: Poor
Graphics: Great
Sounds: Mediocre
Controls/Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Good
Originality: Classic
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Classic
Miscellaneous: Good

Final Score: Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Max & The Magic Marker continues the legacy of innovative and unique titles that have been coming out of the WiiWare service as of late. It’s not a long game by any means, nor is there a whole lot to do after you’ve completed the main game (unless you like collectibles), but the core experience is good enough to warrant the $10 it will run to download this game. If you like clever games like Scribblenauts or even Portal, then Max & The Magic Marker might be right up your alley. Just keep in mind that the Wiimote will be imprecise at times, and this title should be a fun experience had by all.

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  • Dude, it looks like just a Drawn to Life clone. Have you ever tried that series? I’d be interested in just how similar they are. (Drawn to Life was the first game created by the same guys who made Scribblenauts.)

  • I have not played the Drawn to Life series. Are they any good? I looked at a trailer for it and they do look rather similar. Max & the Magic Marker limits you to drawing platforms and staircases rather than random objects that come to life, so it seems more puzzle oriented than Drawn to Life would be. I’ll have to check it out sometime and find out.