The Maw (Xbox 360) review
"He might not look like much, but Maw is a powerful creature. As the game begins, he's about the size of a pot-bellied pig. You'll wander slowly across the rocky landscape and he'll follow in your wake, gobbling up the bulb-shaped creatures that pop out from shrubbery when you approach. As things progress, the continuous feasting results in growth and new abilities. Maw can eventually take to the skies, fire lasers from his eyes and even ram his way through solid stone walls. All he needs is a little bit of direction."
Somewhere far away from here, military types are locking up assorted people from an unnamed planet. You're one of the victims, a diminutive blue fellow in a flashy space suit. One day you were free as the breeze and now you're aboard a space frigate, bound for an uncertain and likely unpleasant future. Then fate intervenes. The vessel you've been riding crashes and you're thrown from the hold. Dazed but still alive, you stumble to your feet and struggle to get your bearings. You're in a canyon of some sort and enemies are starting toward you with weapons ready. If something doesn't change soon, you're toast.
Fortunately, you're not alone. At your side is a purple blob named Maw. Equipped with only one eye and a massive set of teeth--not to mention an appetite that just won't quit--your companion is your ticket to freedom. Alone you wouldn't stand a chance, but with Maw at your side? It's the enemy that should be worried!
He might not look like much, but Maw is a powerful creature. As the game begins, he's about the size of a pot-bellied pig. You'll wander slowly across the rocky landscape and he'll follow in your wake, gobbling up the bulb-shaped creatures that pop out from shrubbery when you approach. As things progress, the continuous feasting results in growth and new abilities. Maw can eventually take to the skies, fire lasers from his eyes and even ram his way through solid stone walls. All he needs is a little bit of direction.
You'll be there to provide it. As the little blue alien, you'll scamper around the stage and prepare the way so that Maw can unleash his reign of terror. The Maw might look like a traditional platformer, but it's actually more of a puzzle title. Few enemies in the game will actually harm you. Even when they do, it's simply a matter of being pushed back temporarily. The real challenge comes not from acrobatic feats or melee proficiency, but from discovering how you can work with Maw to pass the numerous obstacles you encounter together.
Consider this scenario: you're at the start of a long canyon. Ahead, a stone ledge leads onward, but you're not able to ascend it because it's too high. Along the ground, worm-like creatures burst sporadically from the soil while balloon-shaped monsters float overhead and Maw hops lazily about without any particular interest in the proceedings. As you stand at the center of a wide stone pad and watch the enemies around you, the question won't be "Can I survive?" Instead, you'll be worried about how to climb the ledge! Some players may never figure it out, but the visual cues you need to figure everything out are definitely available.
One thing I really liked is that the game doesn't force you to sit through tedious tutorials. Everything is handled with brief hints in the form of thought bubbles. Even without speech, Maw is truly expressive. He'll let you know when the time has come to advance to the next area, or when you can't proceed because you haven't eaten enough weaker enemies.
Another strong point is the general lack of repetitive design. It's true that your goal is almost always to defeat enough enemies so that you can exit out the far side of a given stage, but there's room for a lot of variety within that framework. Various elements of early puzzles are sometimes repeated in later stages, but most things manage to stay fresh. Even when something repeats itself, there's a new twist. For example, one stage requires you to break apart stone shells that prevent Maw from devouring slug-like creatures. When you encounter those same critters in a later stage, such steps are unnecessary because Maw has grown larger.
As you play The Maw, you may be surprised to find that it feels like a full retail release. The world that you'll explore is nicely detailed, with cascading waterfalls, bumpy cliffs, sloping trails and scorched earth. While nothing looks to be taxing the Xbox 360 hardware, the general level of visual quality puts some full-blown PlayStation 2 stuff to shame. That visual splendor comes at a cost, though: most of the areas you'll explore look remarkably similar to one another. The designers had to re-use a lot of assets just so they wouldn't run out of room, so you'll see a lot of the same rock walls and grass. Sometimes it can be disorienting, which is disappointing but understandable given the hardware constraints.
The pace isn't always so easy to forgive, particularly when it's at its worst. Even during the best of times, movement can slow to a crawl. None of the areas you'll explore are huge, but sometimes you'll have to cross them multiple times--particularly if you're looking for something insignificant that you missed seeing--and that can be time-consuming. The issues are most noticeable in one stage where you find yourself riding Maw like a slimy mech. There's no problem if you know your way through the region and don't have to do any backtracking, but the minute that changes (as it may if you're trying not to miss any items), you'll find the minutes dragging by while you scour every corner with no success. It's a case where the game punishes you for trying to enjoy it.
Fortunately, such irritations are infrequent and easily overlooked in the face of the overall experience. There's really only one flaw that will make The Maw a questionable purchase for many of you: its length. The game features a total of only eight stages, a number that includes the very simple introductory zone and the brief last battle. You can probably blaze through it all within three or four hours on your first attempt, even if things don't go as smoothly as you had hoped. Still, that's balanced out by free gamer pics and a dashboard theme that you can unlock as you play. If you have an appetite for puzzling action, look no further than The Maw.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 26, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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