The Maw is like a cupcake – short, sweet, and when it’s done you’re left wanting a little bit more. You play the part of Frank, a little blue alien who is (for reasons unknown to the player) captured by bumbling robots and thrown into a jail cell with a small purple alien. After the robots’ ship crashes Frank and Maw – the aforementioned purple alien – travel through a handful of levels eating the local fauna, stealing their characteristics a la Nintendo’s Kirby, and solving environmental puzzles while evading recapture by the robot forces.
Twisted Pixel has managed to do with the Maw what few other developers have accomplished with an XBLA release – retail quality graphics. Along with top-notch visuals The Maw has tight controls and good explanations for each new play mechanic that is added. From his humble beginning as an alien who can only walk and jump Frank eventually finds a nifty plasma leash and learns how to influence the Maw’s behavior, move large objects, grapple flying beasties, and throw edible animal life to the Maw. As Maw eats more and more pink bugs, green snails, and brown worms he’ll grow larger enabling him and Frank to move on to the next level.
In addition to eating solely to get bigger Maw also eats to gain new abilities used in solving environmental puzzles. He can set trees on fire, float through the air, shock enemies, or ram through walls depending on what he’s eaten. Sadly, The Maw shares a second feature with typical Kirby adventures – an exceptionally low difficulty. It is literally impossible to die, and there is absolutely no penalty for poor performance.
Every time Frank gets zapped by a turret and falls over he gets straight back up to try again. There are no bosses to tackle, no collectible counter that is reset upon death, and no incentive to try and get better because it’s perfectly acceptable to fail repeatedly. This certainly makes the game accessible to a young audience, but it alienates those players that grew up on NES platformers and have followed the genre through the likes of Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario Galaxy for whom the fun of a platform game is the challenge that lies in timing a jump just right and figuring out the boss’s pattern before he stomps you flat.
The Maw is a controllable cartoon, and it is fun once through, but the lack of challenge ensures that it won’t be played more than once by most gamers. Twisted Pixel certainly put a lot of love and effort into creating The Maw, and they’ve succeeded in creating an entertaining one-time experience. The Maw is value-added, however, as it comes packaged with two gamer pics and a premium theme. Not bad for 800 funbux. Long-time fans of 3D platformers will enjoy Frank and Maw’s adventure, and – if nothing else – The Maw is a great introduction to the genre for the young gamer in your house.
ESRB: E10+ for mild cartoon violence – if cartoons are okay then so is The Maw
Pros: Great graphics, interesting mechanics, likable characters
Cons: On the short and easy side
Plays Like: Banjo-Kazooie plus Kirby minus boss fights