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Twisted Pixel Games
Twisted Pixel Games
GENRE: Platformer
January 21, 2009
 Written by Matt Swider  on January 29, 2009

Review: An alien boy and his blob

There's more to The Maw than meets the eye. Underneath its colorful graphics and charming purple blob character is a fully competent puzzle/platform game from independent developer Twisted Pixel. It's no more family friendly than a Mario game and no less enjoyable, either. PAX attendees realized this when the game won PAX 10's 2008 Audience Choice Award, beating out nine other indie contenders on the show floor. It's also a 2009 Independent Games Festival finalist. While the winner of this festival isn't decided until March, The Maw is now the recipient of another noteworthy achievement: being the first downloadable game worth your 800 Microsoft points ($10) in 2009.

The always-hungry Maw is the real star of the game, but players actually control his alien buddy Frank, who leads his purple co-star around via energy leash. The two met after the spaceship they were being held prisoner on crash landed, sparing them and, conveniently, the energy leash you pick up at the start. Through eight levels, Frank and Maw exact revenge by feeding Maw every organic creature in sight. Initially, the gameplay involves dragging your tethered pal in front of smaller creatures that he can eat. But, as Maw grows faster than the nation's obesity rate, he can swallow larger enemies and clears a path to the end of each 3D level.

Part of the fun is leading Maw to various creatures and watching him devour snails coiled up in their shells and dragons engulfed in fire. But, the other part is figuring out the puzzle gameplay. Those fire-breathing dragons need to be extinguished before Maw can digest them. Otherwise, he'll spit them out and trigger an amusing animation in which he runs to the nearest water source to cool off. There are also a lot of generators to smash to bring down energy barriers and figuring out how to destroy them isn't always easy. Some of the puzzles are going to be rudimentary for platform genre veterans, but there are at least two situations in the game that aren't by-the-numbers problem solving.

The most unique aspect of The Maw has to be the handful of times he eats rare creatures and evolves, absorbing that creature's distinctive abilities. For example, eating an extinguished fire-breathing dragon allows Maw to incinerate everything instead of just eating it. While the lush 3D landscape is beautiful, especially for an Xbox Live Arcade game, there's nothing like breathing fire and setting a bunch of trees ablaze to find more enemies to eat. By far, though, eating the game's one and only peacock is the most entertaining part of the game. This becomes the single instance in which you control Maw instead of Frank, as Frank rides on top of his temporarily blue, multi-eyed blob friend.

The assortment of creatures Maw can eat and evolve into really helps fill the eight levels with variety, and wanting to see what's waiting in the next level encourages you to finish in one sitting. But, the fact that this game can be completed in one sitting is The Maw's biggest flaw. The adventure is over too quickly and there's nothing else to do except go back and get the job done faster for the leaderboards. Also, to nit-pick, the game suffers from pacing issues whenever you find yourself backtracking through a level to perform a tedious task. Frank, especially when weighed down by Maw, moves too slowly to make venturing back to the start of a level worth eating every little creature in the game.

Bottom Line
The fact that The Maw's single biggest letdown is that it ends demonstrates why it's this year's first worthy XBLA download and why it was an award winner even before releasing. The richly-colored graphics and likable main characters make the attractive presentation a little kid-friendly, but the puzzle-solving and evolving gameplay ensure that it's ideal for a general audience of any age. With additional levels planned, Twisted Pixel has us tethered to the game, waiting to eat up the DLC.

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