Saturday, November 27, 2021

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Sore Thumbs




Microsoft Game Studios

Xbox Live Arcade

“Max” begins much like Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Our protagonist — fed up with his kid brother—summons fantastical forces to spirit the troublesome sibling away, promptly regrets that decision and sets about on a magical quest to rescue him. Thus begins a 2.5 dimensional, side-scrolling adventure through a dangerous world filled with precarious drops, rapidly rising lava and stampeding trolls — standard plat-former stuff, really. What makes Max different is a magic marker that’s truly magic. Once our titular hero obtains this mystical writing implement, you’re able to draw new features into the landscape, such as vines, rock columns or geyser-like streams of water. These geographical changes can only be made in areas with a glowing icon, and your ink is limited, but you’ll frequently have to draw a column to reach a ledge, jump off the ledge, draw a vine to grab while in mid-air, then draw a stream to propel you to the other side of a chasm, all in rapid succession while you’re chased by a hungry troll.

Prep Iowa

Unfortunately, the marker is rather cumbersome and can be frustrating to wield swiftly while under pressure. The game slows down when it requires you to draw an item to prevent you from hurtling to your doom, but the marker frequently materializes an inconvenient distance from where you need to use it. Drawing is irritatingly imprecise, and it’s endlessly exasperating when you narrowly miss grabbing a vine because it didn’t appear exactly along the straight line that you clearly drew. Checkpoints are extremely forgiving, but that just means you’ll get to die in the same spot five or six times with no delay, which does little to alleviate frustration. When it works, the marker is an exciting gimmick. Max just needs to take a few more art classes before he tries to use it.


rushbox‘RUSH’    (E)


Two Tribes

Wii U Download

“Rush” is one of those games that is likely to have you ignoring your TV and staring exclusively at the screen of the Wii U gamepad. It’s a puzzle game that’s played entirely with the stylus, which you use to draw signs to alter the directions of autonomous, rolling blocks. You’re only permitted to create so many signs, and they need to guide the multicolored blocks to their correspondingly colored exits through a labyrinthine, multi-tiered, three-dimensional structure. The complexity of the later levels is guaranteed to give you a few headaches. But in a good way.


pegglebox‘PEGGLE 2’    (E)


Electronic Arts

Xbox One

“Peggle” is a puzzler that takes a moment to learn but an eternity to master.  At the top of the screen is your ball bearing launcher. Beneath that is a series of pegs you want to hit in as few launches as possible. And beneath that is the roaming bucket, which you want to catch your spent ball bearings. There’s nothing else to it other than figuring out when and where to fire, but figuring that out proves to be shockingly addictive, and the eruption of bombastic classical music that signifies a job well done is extremely rewarding. This collection of new levels is more of an expansion than a sequel, but it will nevertheless consume countless hours of your life. CV

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