I love Twisted Pixel, from their creative and amazingly designed games, to their almost constant guarantee of quality. Or at least that’s how I remember their games. Being on a budget, I’ve been going through titles that I enjoyed back in the day, and trying to get a new perspective on them, or just organize my thoughts. So let’s do it with four of Twisted Pixel’s five titles, I am unable to even play Gunstringer, so let’s just look into their first title, The Maw.
The Maw Review
Platform: XBLA(Reviewed), PC
Release Date: 21/1/2009
Developer: Twisted Pixel
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
As for story, the game is fairly light, you are a humanoid alien named Frank, who has been captured by some soldiers for an unknown reason. While in a holding cell, Frank meets another alien, one made of purple goo, sharp teeth, and an eye, that is known as the Maw, for no other reason than to give us our title. But then things go wrong, the ship crashes, oh yeah, we were in space by the way, and Frank and the Maw need to explore this new land while avoiding the people who captured them, or just eat them. Yes, if the sharp teeth were not a dead give away, the Maw is a carnivore, and the goal of all but one stage is to make sure that he gets fed until he can get big enough for him to be content.
Or maybe Frank is a psychopath who wants to join forces with a giant monster in his quest to take over the world. I am actually a fan of the old-school mentality of providing little story, it lets you craft a tale that, as far as the game goes, is fully canonical. And games are a very unique medium, since the players actions can often account for another meaning or theme going on in this game. It should be done all the time, but it is nice to still see games that are purposefully simple in terms of narrative
the gameplay is also very simple, Frank finds a leash for the Maw and takes him on as his pet, but the pet is hungry, and he likes little pink fluff balls, fiery salamander things, slugs, people, and pretty much anything with a morsel of meat. You are placed into a relatively large area for eight out of the ten levels, where you have obstacles that get in between you and Maw’s goal, the next area. But before you can go on, Maw has a quota of things to eat, and more often than not, he needs to get a power of some sorts to get to more food. Maw has clearly borrowed Kirby’s copy ability here, by eating certain enemies, he transforms into several unique reskinned versions of himself. Just to name a few, there is a fire based power where he incinerates animals and burns down native fauna. An electric bug power for zapping enemies so that Frank can fling them into robots power. A rhino beetle that can run through boulders with great force. And, my favorite, the peacock power, where Frank gets on top of the Maw, and the Maw starts shooting lasers out of his eyes, destroying everything in his path.
The powers are all pretty fun to use, and they are utilized well in the amount of time you have to explore them. This being a short game, there is not a lot of variety, but there is a certain charm to walking across the countryside with a giant purple ball of deadly goo. The game has A Boy and His Blob thing going on, and it does a good job at showing a relationship and bond where the only spoken line is Frank calling for Maw when you lose track of him in these massive stages. However, the earlier stages might be a bit too big, later on when Maw is over ten times the size of Frank, the stages feel rightfully large, since you have a large creature. But you are unable to run in this game, and while the movement speed is fine, the earlier stages can take longer than necessary. I understand this is probably due to the idea of keeping a consistently sized world in order to make you realize just how big and powerful the Maw is getting, but I just because it is easy to make a big and fairly empty world, it doesn’t mean that you should do it.
There are also some speeder bike sections where the game moves from its 3D world to an overhead shooter of sorts. But all you do is drop bombs on things, and avoid bullets, while the Maw is either chained up or eating the corpses in a bombed out facility. They aren’t bad, but dying results in you coming back to life, with the same amount of progress you made being done. The entire game is pretty easy, with the only desired goal being that of eating all the animals in a level, but this is barely even worth registering with just how token it can be at times. The Maw is really not a game about gameplay, as it is about a bond, exploration, and getting immersed into a world and its characters.
As for the more visible artistic based things, Twisted Pixel has a very distinct art style with their games, composing of fairly simple 3D models that look good due to their simple and instantly recognizable design. I can understand how someone could think this game looks bland, with the very simple amount of tools used for the forest and mountain based environments, the very janky water effects, and lack of any fancy graphical gizmos. But I am tempted to cut them some slack, with the fact that this is the first game they made, and it is running on an engine that was developed by the 12 or so people working at Twisted Pixel. It has nowhere near the graphical fidelity of most modern titles, and could probably be up and running on a Wii with no problems encountered at all. But that does not make it bad, if anything, the worst part is the fact that the camera is tilted down, so it can be hard to see what’s above a hill.
As a whole, I can not say that the Maw is a good game in the traditional meaning of the word. It places more emphasis on the world, and overall atmosphere in the title. The gameplay is very simple and not all that enticing on its own, while doing simple puzzles. It looks competent, and does a very smooth job at bringing over the original 2D artwork into an in-house engine, but the environments look pretty frequently, with only one main set being available. I find it to be enjoyable, but at face value, it can be seen as very boring. It is not for everyone, but if you let it suck you in, it is hard to not think of the game with a smirk on your face.
It’s held back by certain flaws, it manages to be a competently executed and fun product that is worth playing.
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