A few years ago I noticed a game called The Maw which looked pretty cool from the trailers and I was determined to get it…but I didn’t. At least not until recently. The Maw was developed by “Twisted Pixel” and released in the early part of 2009 on Xbox Live Arcade and then a couple of months later on PC. The Maw is a difficult game to assign to a specific genre but it is closest to action/adventure/puzzle with elements of platforming and top down shoot-em-up. I know that sounds kind of abstract and a bit strange but that’s how I’d best describe it.
The game starts with our hero Frank (a cute little alien) in a space ship being dragged in by bounty hunters and put in a cage. In the same room the bounty hunters are holding a lot of animals of different species and one of them is our soon to be best friend pet The Maw. Not long after we get a glimpse of the Maw, some sort of accident happens and the ship goes down to the planet below. When Frank wakes up he finds himself in a crash site and this is where the game actually starts.
When you take control of Frank you instantly meet the Maw and soon after find the electrical leash for the Maws collar. The leash is the most important tool (and the only tool, if you don’t count the Maw itself) you have. With it you can get to control the Maw and drag/throw/smash some objects or creatures. These mechanics work pretty well and do what you want them to do. The only problem I found was it was sometimes hard to make Maw eat Yums which are the smallest creatures (and the main source of food for the Maw) especially at the beginning of the game. When Maw grows he becomes able to eat bigger and bigger creatures and absorb their abilities. There are four different types of abilities that Maw can take from his “food” and they are required to solve the puzzles or beat a special enemy.
Oh its so cute...but not for long!
Overall the game is consistent, well designed and moves along at a good pace. You always know what to do, but in case you manage to get lost, there is a very basic hint system. Firstly, question marks appear over objects that progress the story and, the Maw also shows you images of solved puzzles via “thought cloud”. The levels are pretty linear, but they do get more open when you progress. Unfortunately when you progress the previous open area gets close but its done quite logically and inconspicuous so that can be handed to a good level design. There is a minimal amount on exploration within those semi-open areas to find all the food sources and a special creature Snuffles which is a collectable. If you put some time into exploration you can collect everything in one playthrough which is roughly 3-5 hours depending on your speed and if you have the ‘deleted scenes’ (DLC), so there is not a lot of incentive to replay the game.
The game looks very good. It’s simple and clean. The textures are clear and animations are fluid and without hiccups. I wasn’t expecting much from an indie game but it really surprised me with its animations, especially when depicting emotions. You can clearly see joy or fear and it’s really well orchestrated during cutscenes.. The only things that I noticed with the animations were a slight delay when sliding down the slopes and some collision problems when dodging.
More food coming in!
Even though there aren’t a lot off audio work in this game the amount that is very well done. The environment sounds as you would expect and there isn’t anything that would seem out of order. There practically is no voice acting in this game the only distinguishable sound is when you call the Maw Frank is shouting “Maa-aaw”. Bounty hunters are only mumbling and maw is growling. But this is all ok because there isn’t any real conversation and everything is portrayed emotionally (and as I mentioned animations do a great job at it). To which the music only adds leverage.
If you have the ability to play with a controller then you should definitely do so. When I launched this game with the mouse and keyboard, it was nigh on unplayable until I bumped the sensitivity of the mouse to the maximum and even then, it required some adjustment time as it practically has no vertical axis.
Additional notes - DLC:
The Deleted Scenes DLC contains three additional levels that extend the game by 1-2 hours. These levels are placed into the middle of the game and if this will be your first playthrough, it will fit the overall context pretty well. It has varied gameplay and is quite different so it’s quite worth to pick up the whole game with DLC in one pack.
This game isn’t a hardcore and unforgiving game. It’s an adorable little game that just helps you to pass the time and have fun without a huge commitment. You can’t die and don’t lose any progress, worst case scenario is you will be bumped back a few meters and can have a go at it again. The only bad thing is that you can’t save the game in the middle of the level. So, if you want to have a fun adventure, just give this game a go and if you still have any doubts – there’s a demo. I dare you!
- Flow of the game: The mechanics are pretty solid and varied enough not to get monotonous with very few hick ups.
- Tha Maw: Eating everything is pure fun.
- Looks: Even though the sounds and graphics are very simple it is more than sufficient for this type of game and in motion it sounds and looks great.
- Structure: Simple action/adventure game with puzzle and few other elements.
- Story: It’s not the most compelling or important part of the game but keeps it going.
- Controls: Controls are more suited to a controller but there is nothing that some setting adjustment and getting used to doesn't solve.