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The Maw is the latest title to hit the Xbox Live Arcade, and is a surprising refreshment from the abundance of 2D sidescrollers or shoot-em-ups on the system. No, The Maw is a 3D platformer very reminiscent of the games you may remember to grace the Nintendo 64 or Playstation 2, except with some nicer visuals. It all sounds like a good package, but ultimately there isn’t all that much to sink your teeth into.
You play as Frank, an Alien abducted by the Galactic Council, presumably to be studied alongside other various monsters on their spacecraft. Next thing, the spacecraft has crashed, and you end up befriending another previously kidnapped monster, the one-eyed purple people eater otherwise known as The Maw. A grapple device enables you to take indirect control over The Maw just like a man would use a leash to walk his dog. From here the game kicks off, and it becomes your duty to guide The Maw through each level, taking care of his severe eating problem before finishing the level.
Yes, your main goal of the game is to make The Maw grow by consuming creatures smaller than himself in a fashion similar to games such as Feeding Frenzy. You can do this either by throwing the creatures straight into The Maw’s gob with your grapple device, or by dragging him near enough to the edible creatures so that he can gobble them up on his own. The latter option can be a bit more fiddly at times, but it’s generally faster and is certainly more delightful to view as you waltz along, watching The Maw chew up all the gooey creatures that may lay in your wake. After you eat a certain amount of creatures, The Maw will grow and you’ll be able to move onto larger creatures to eat and/or pass through checkpoints which require certain amounts of grub to be gobbled before you pass through. It’s typical platforming style, except that this time around all of the collectables are swallowed instead.
There’s a handful of powerups on show to be used in order to progress through each level, each rather satisfying to use. Consuming different sorts of monsters grants The Maw the ability to breathe fire, turn into a huge balloon, a horned beast or even a laser-shooting colossus. It’s a nice reminder of the abilities you could learn in old school platformers such as Banjo-Kazooie, as each of these will allow you to tackle new areas, but at the same time it feels different since you’re never really in full control of The Maw and some of his abilities’ effects can be quite random at times. While it can be fun to watch Frank be yanked along helplessly by his stampeding companion or blowtorch plants to a crisp, the lack of full control comes as a double edged sword as there’s many a time where you’ll want to progress, and yet The Maw won’t do exactly what you want him to.
When you aren’t being frustrated by the niggly controls of The Maw, you’ll likely find a very charming side to the game very hard not to fall in love with. The graphics are all rendered smoothly in HD and the worlds are very brightly coloured making them quite appealing for all ages. The music will develop as you achieve certain goals within levels, usually starting off with a simple drum beat and changing into a very catchy tune later on after you achieve certain goals. These are all well and good, but I think it’s easy to say that the one thing players will love the most about the game is The Maw itself as a character. It’s hard not to grow attached to your gleeful purple, toothy-smiled monster as you take it through each of the levels, feeding it and watching it grow. It’s just too bad I couldn’t spend more time with the little guy before saying goodbye.
That’s where the problems lie in The Maw – the game is far too short and really lacks meat. There are only eight levels in all, most of which take roughly 20 minutes to complete on your first trip through so you’re not going to be spending much more than two hours with the game. There’s not a lot of variety between each level, and even eating your way to 100% and grabbing the secret munchies on each level doesn’t do much to flesh out your time. The game also feels a little too simplistic, as all the puzzles you’ll be completing with your grapple ability or The Maw are rather basic and there’s never quite that rewarding feeling when you find out how to do something. In a way it feels like a game geared towards kids, but there isn’t really anything to make the game any deeper if you’re a little older.
With all that said, The Maw comes as a very worthy addition to the Xbox Live Arcade. It might be a little short, even for an 800 point title, but it remains a very charming game which fans of classic 3D platformers should definitely take a look at, if not for themselves, as something for the kids. Give the demo a try whenever you can.