March 14, 2009

As much as I love The Maw, there's a constant feeling eating away at me that nearly 10 is pushing it a bit. Two hours of linear chomping leaves little desire to return, even considering its monumental entertainment value. Portal got away with this length, partly because it was The Official Best Game In Ages (what was I thinking when I 8/10'd it?), and partly because it was primarily sold in a package that also included a very strong collection of far lengthier games. I'm a real advocate of shorter, sweeter entertainment - but you have to be realistic about what you charge for it, particularly in these times of banker fuck-ups and stretches of pennilessness.

For all the time you do spend with The Maw, it's difficult to supress wide-eyed smiles and childlike laughter. It seems, along with various critters around this whimsical little planet, The Maw has eaten a fair chunk of World of Goo. The premises of the two games are markedly different, of course, this being a Nintendo-esque, 3D platform adventure, but the visual style, the attention to minute detail, and the compelling accessibility stetch across both games.

When the prison ship on which you're being held captive crashes onto a distant planet, you find yourself - a blue alien, looking a bit like Kif from Futurama - teaming up out of necessity with a small purple blob, the eponymous Maw. Guiding it around the world on a plasma leash, you soon realise that, as the very hungry critter gobbles up the plannet at every turn, he grows bigger, stronger and more powerful, allowing you to undertake more of the game's challenges.

It's completely linear and always guided. I love this about it: it's pure, light-hearted relaxation. Though you're always working out where you have to go and what you have to eat in order to progress, the game always nudges you gently in the right direction, through expressions on the character's faces, and subtle visual clues left around the world. In a way, it's the perfect game for kids: there's a real Pixar quality to the whole aesthetic style, and it's easy enough to trot through without any enormous taxation. In another way, I'd hate for the ugly little blighters to take from us something so brilliant.

The difficulty and linearity are problems, though. While they make the initial play an absolute joy, they effectively ruin any opportunity for subsequent attempts. Everything's going to play out the same, and everything's going to be remarkably straightforward. When your game's only a couple of hours long in the first place, this is an issue. When other games of similar longevity are being released for a few quid less, it grates a bit.

The part of me that loves creative, amusing, charming videogames thinks that something as cutesy, entertaining and polished as The Maw warrants whatever price tag the developers see fit. The part of me that loves eating and being able to make rent feels 10 might be a little bit much for a two-hour game you're unlikely to ever return to. At the same time, it's not a huge amount in the grand schemata of the universe, and if I can justify donating a fiver to Comic Relief - as my girlfriend quite sensibly insisted we did - then it's not too much of a stretch to rationalise doubling that, for something that'll quite nicely counterbalance last night's unusual selflessness.

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