The Xbox Live Arcade service has seen a recent decline in quality titles over the past month and we were beginning to wonder if the well had run dry. This trend has finally changed for the better with the independently developed and published The Maw from newcomer Twisted Pixel. This charming platformer/adventure title takes the concept introduced in the classic Boy and His Blob and gives it a more sci-fi twist and some truly gorgeous visuals to create the best XBLA title of 2009 thus far, and one of the best currently available on the service.
Your journey begins as Frank (the small blue alien protagonist) is captured and thrown aboard a ship that appears to be collecting creatures from across the galaxy. Suddenly the ship takes a crash dive onto a remote planet and all the passengers are set free. Here is where you first meet The Maw, a purple monster that has one eye and a limitless appetite. You obtain a leash to control this beast and begin scavenging the planet for things to feed The Maw.
This is the core concept of the entire game; feeding The Maw will increase his size every so often. By the end of the game he will have grown so large that he takes up the entire screen and can manage to consume just about anything he pleases. Maw can also take on the properties of some of the creatures he consumes, which becomes an integral part of the puzzle solving early on. For instance in one of the early levels there are fire-breathing creatures that are too hot to touch. Utilizing Frank’s leash you can douse them in a river and then bring Maw over to finish the job. Once he devours one of these creatures he gains the ability to breathe fire himself giving you access to otherwise blocked paths.
Each level usually presents a new challenge or power for the Maw to obtain, which keeps the pace of the game moving briskly. Frank has the ability to jump allowing him to reach areas that Maw simply cannot. This also becomes vital as you will have to find ways to get the purple garbage disposal into these areas without a direct path. The variety in the gameplay is respectable giving players something new at almost every turn. However, being an XBLA title does take its toll.
The Maw simply isn’t that long of a game; in fact with some dedication you can wipe it out in less than a weekend of play. There really isn’t anything to keep you coming back either. Each level contains a certain amount of enemies to consume and one hidden object, but once those are obtained there is little else to warrant a second playthrough. You can upload your scores to online leaderboards, but the community is relatively small making competition hard to come by. The Achievement list is the saving grace, but even the most dedicated gamer will find little challenge in unlocking the entire two-hundred points.
Probably the most impressive aspect of The Maw though is the visuals. When I first booted up the game I found it hard to believe that I was playing a downloadable title. The color palette is outstanding and the design reminds me more of a Pixar movie than most games that claim that feature. The animations are also outstanding bringing all of the quirky and original characters to life. Facial animations deliver some of the best emotion I have seen in a game of this type, making you feel for each character and most importantly making you smile. The level design is creative and fun and not enough can be said about just how visually pleasing this game is to watch.
Sound wise the game is equally impressive boasting a dynamic score composed by Winifred Phillips, the same person behind the God of War soundtrack. The effects are also top-notch featuring great atmosphere. When Frank calls out for Maw you truly get the sense of their connection, and the different noises each creature makes creates a sense of individuality that most other games continue to struggle with. Overall the presentation of The Maw feels like a full-priced title wrapped in a downloadable package.
As far as Xbox Live Arcade titles are concerned The Maw is one of the brightest to come along in quite some time. The concept is fresh, the visuals are stunning and the pacing is nearly flawless. If you enjoy character-based adventure games or are simply looking for something different do not hesitate to pick up this adorable little gem. Even with a linear storyline and very little replay value, there is still enough here to warrant taking a closer look.