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The Maw review

AT A GLANCE
  • Adorable main characters
  • Short but sweet bite-sized levels
  • Learning how to play without boring tutorials
  • Slightly sub-par graphics
  • Leaves you wanting more
  • Not much else, unless you're heartless

Last fall was full of big, exciting Xbox Live Arcade releases, but the downloadable well dried up during the heavy retail release season of the winter. Consider The Maw a return to form for exciting digital releases on Microsoft's platform that, though small, feel substantial.

To begin with, there's the super-polished gameplay, a mix of puzzling and platforming that's elegant and exciting. As a small blue alien – the game's website informs us that your name is Frank, although this title is never revealed during the game – your job is to lead around the titular Maw, a growing purple blob who had been imprisoned alongside Frank by a group of faceless bounty hunters. Maw devours everything in his path, particularly cute pink balls called Yums, and gets exponentially larger as he does so.

The gameplay is elegant because the simple concept – pull Maw through the next location so he can eat more and get bigger – never really changes. Even as subsequent levels offer the purple creature new power-ups, your control over him remains essentially the same. Yet through those new abilities, developer Twisted Pixel is able to keep your actions remarkably fresh level to level, constantly teaching new tricks through the player's own exploration rather than drawn-out tutorials or big text boxes. The player's wide-eyed wonder at touring each level and experimenting with each new power mimics that of Frank, as does the attachment to Maw that only seems to grow with the beast.

That wonderfully innocent relationship between Frank and Maw really stands at center stage as the greatest achievement of the game. What the game lacks in detailed environments it more than makes up for in the brilliant family-friendly design of these two characters. Like the first 20 minutes of Wall-E, The Maw doesn't need any dialogue at all to convey emotion, and the lack of any speech beyond cute noises from the leads doesn't get in the way of drawing players in to the game's colorful world. The Maw is basically the videogame form of a Pixar movie, and it pulls it off wonderfully.

If there's one area of The Maw that gives itself away as a cheap, downloadable game, it's the length. Owing partially to an upbeat lack of death in the game, its 4-5 hours can easily be toppled in a single sitting or two. That may not seem like much game for the 800 Microsoft Points ($10) price tag, but considering how polished and focused all of that content is – not to mention the fact that super-cheap downloadable levels are on the way – we'd say it's entirely worth it. If you're a fan of well-crafted children's stories and tightly designed gameplay, there's no excuse not to give The Maw a shot.

Feb 4, 2009

More Info

Release date: Mar 09 2009 - PC
Jan 21 2009 - Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Published by: Microsoft
Developed by: Twisted Pixel Games
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Mild Cartoon Violence

10 comments

  • Zepaw - February 22, 2011 12:31 a.m.

    I don't understand saying 5 hours is too short for a $10 XBLA game. I rented Dead Space 2 but it was great enough that the 10 hour game would have been worth for $60. I played through all of Braid in one 2-3 hour sitting tonight and it was well worth buying. That brin said I didn't love The Maw, but it was fun while it lasted.
  • Tymiegie - February 15, 2009 5:47 a.m.

    I really liked this game. The premium theme that you get after beating it is gorgeous
  • Weasel - February 5, 2009 2:49 a.m.

    Fun game, but after upgrading from the demo I was surprised to be done with the game with all but one achievement about 2 and a half hours later, if that.
  • understudybass - February 5, 2009 12:43 a.m.

    ugh it looks like a good game but it's just hard to spend almost anything for only 4-5 hours let alone $10. i think i'll pass.
  • mikeo1229 - February 7, 2009 1:54 a.m.

    I Love this game, heck my little sister Loves it too. and I laughed at that negatve -Not much else, unless you're heartless
  • MagnumPi - February 6, 2009 1:19 a.m.

    This is ace.
  • Jbo87 - February 5, 2009 4:07 p.m.

    If the game is as polished as the review says then I'd say that 800MS points sounds like a bargain. Most games on XBLA tend to cost 1200. And $10 (7 quid to me) is hardly that much to ask for 5 hours of gameplay. Many full priced retail games clock in at only a couple more hours than that for four or more times the price. Might have to check this out.
  • chupamama - February 5, 2009 5:41 a.m.

    Good to see a review from Mr. Kollar here! This is a fun little game and anyone with limited time will be impressed with the bite sized chunks it can be played in.
  • Grenade - February 5, 2009 3:03 a.m.

    I don't care if it's short. I want it because no matter how long it actually lasts, if I have fun then it's done its job.
  • Maxstats69 - February 5, 2009 12:44 a.m.

    The kid's gonna love this one! Shit, I'm probably gonna love this one!

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