[HCF looks back! A review originally written in January, but reposted here and now, just in case you missed it!]
New this week for the Xbox Live Arcade is Twisted Pixel Games' 3D action/adventure game and PAX 10 Audience Award Winner "The Maw."
Playing as the prototypical (yet adorable) humanoid alien Frank, you begin the game in lockdown aboard the ship of galactic bounty hunters. Within the ship's hold is a menagerie of the universe's most dangerous creatures -- of which, presumably, you are one -- chief among them being the eponymous Maw, "a cowardly fat blob concerned mostly with snacking and lounging, [who can] absorb the traits of anything he eats, is virtually indestructible, and can grow to unlimited size."
Surviving the ship's crash landing, Frank and Maw form an instant bond and, with the help of a handy plasma leash, team up to escape the planet of their former captors -- Frank the brains of the operation and Maw the ravenous brawn.
At only 150MB, "The Maw" is an impressively rich game: its graphics on a par with some full retail games, its original score and sound effects always an interesting complement to the action, its level design consistently clever and engaging. Combining aspects of 3D platformers and traditional puzzle-based adventure games, "The Maw's" gameplay mechanics are straight forward and familiar. You easily master Frank's attacks, dodges and interactions with Maw within the first few levels, yet the action never becomes rote. As the levels become more complex and the puzzles more difficult, you must, at times, venture off alone and it is in these moments you must employ the most creative problem solving. You're never alone for long, though; like a loyal, purple, gelatinous dog who could kill you at any moment, Maw is always just a call away. (P.S. Frank's "Maw" call is about as endearing as yelling gets.)
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of "The Maw" is the genuine, palpable sense of camaraderie between its protagonists -- an element difficult to achieve in a 60-hour fully-realized title, much less a four-hour (tops) XBLA game. Is it the voice acting, the pitch-perfect cutscenes, the subtle character animations, the gratuitous eye hugging? Whatever the case may be, as the game progresses and the first apprehensions of the end begin to creep up on you, no one will begrudge you a lingering search for that last Snuffle -- anything to delay the inevitable.
Of course, "The Maw" is not entirely without its flaws. For one thing, it's over far too quickly, and, unfortunately, its replay value is rather low for anyone but a gamerscore fiend. My personal gripe with the game is that Frank's running speed is too slow. As eager as I was to explore "The Maw's" world, Frank simply couldn't keep up.
All told, "The Maw" is a charming, visually rich and genuinely fun game, well worth the $10 and pleasant afternoon you'll spend on it.