Version Reviewed: 1.0.9
Device Reviewed On: iPad 1G
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Sometimes, the worst thing about a game is when there's clearly an innovative concept behind it, but the execution is off. Let me introduce you to Max and the Magic Marker. This platformer puts you in control of the eponymous Max, who is in control of the also-eponymous magic marker, a marker that can draw objects and platforms on the screen. You have to use the magic marker to get to the end of levels, while collecting orbs and additional ink along the way. You use the ink in your magic marker to make staircases and platforms for you to traverse, and to make objects to fall on enemies and things like seesaws to launch yourself or rocks into the air. The game belongs as much to the category of 'physics puzzler' as much as it does to the platformer genre.
The game is at its best when you have to think about how to use your marker to interact with the environment. Whenever you make yourself an impromptu staircase to climb platforms, drop a weird orange mass on a seesaw to send yourself skyward, or create a barrier to protect yourself from toxic rain to collect a dark orb, these are the moments when the game truly shines. Whenever the game focuses on these original elements, the kinds of things that no other platformer does, that is when the experience feels great. When the game works, it feels truly special. An element of the gameplay that you should learn to master is the ability to pause time, and draw freely - this helps out a lot if you want to draw lines under you, for example.
However, as the great philosopher Bret Michaels once said, every rose has its thorns. The controls for the iPad version of the game are horribly unintuitive. The movement buttons are way too large for even someone like me with sizable hands, and it makes the game very difficult and uncomfortable to control. An update is in the works with more customizable and ergonomic controls, though. But, my recommendation is to play the game on the iPhone or iPod touch if you can. The worst part of the game, though, is that you cannot zoom or scroll around the level. This feels like something you should be able do, and not having the ability to do so makes platforming so much harder than it should be, as you can't view beyond your current surroundings. Without the ability to explore the levels, it becomes that much harder to actually play, and it feels extremely limiting. As well, the platforming physics are very floaty - the game just feels very weird, and the controls are a bit laggy when you have to hang from ledges. Water kills you instantly; one would hope that Max's parents would have given him some swimming lessons.
I love Max and the Magic Marker more in concept than in execution. If the platforming elements were tighter, and if the exploration elements were properly accommodated by the game, then this could be something truly special. However, as it stands, what you have is a game that is at times brilliant, but mostly frustrating.