Max & the Magic Marker, from Press Play, drops us gently into a platforming world drawn directly from a child's imagination. After receiving a strange delivery of a very special marker, young Max begins blissfully (and ignorantly) coloring as many young boys do, of pirates and spaceships and monsters. Unfortunately, this enchanted marker makes several of Max's more dangerous doodles come to life. Undaunted, Max draws himself into the thick of things, and thus our artistic adventure begins.
Players will find themselves quickly plopped into a relatively simplistic side-scrolling platformer with one fresh twist--the titular Marker. Besides the usual running and jumping, players also have at their command this mystical drawing device, useful for manipulating the world and solving various puzzles. The ink from the marker (controlled by the mouse) has real substance in Max's worlds, allowing players to construct ramps, stairs, and bridges as needed. As the levels progress and the difficulty increases, players will need to become much more creative with their drawings, etching out more complex constructive art. Clever use of physics, simple machines, and thinking out of the box quickly become necessity.
To make things a bit more difficult, Max is limited in the amount of ink his marker possesses. Max collects ink as part of his platforming capers, but it takes some forethought to put the finite amounts to work as needed. To make matters more difficult, at each checkpoint Max's nemesis (a giant purple monster-blob) appears, stealing all the hard-earned ink and starting Max back at scratch. I tended to find this a bit annoying, but I imagine this already-simple game would be made much too easy without these limitations.
For those (like me) with severe artistic deficiency, players are able to pause the game at any time and draw (and erase) as necessary before restarting the action. Not only does this allow players such as myself an actual chance to wedge those platforms into place, it also can itself be integral to some of the puzzle solutions. Several times I had to leap off a cliff into seeming nothingness, before I could see exactly what was needed to pass to the next step. These leaps would be suicidal without the magical pause.
As I have said before, the game itself is quite simple. The platforming aspects are incredibly mundane, and would be quite boring without the addition of the Magic Marker. I found the controls to be a bit sluggish for my tastes, and a few times became frustrated at the lack of fine control. The actual drawing controls are a bit better than Max's movement, however, and the pause feature is a major saving grace. Also spread about the various levels are a handful of enemies, but these are for the most part a joke. Easily dispatched with a heavy bit of ink dropped on their heads, most of the bland little purple blobs do nothing more than annoy. For those trying to beat the time trials, I suppose they could pose more of a challenge, but for those just casually playing through they're laughable.
The game looks good, seemingly pulled right out of a child's mind. The various levels are solid, if short, and the path to the end gate is full of charm. The musical score is decent, but if players spend too much time with a given level it can quickly become repetitive. Granted, players won't be spending a whole lot of time with the title, as the entire thing can be easily completed in an extended afternoon. That is, provided players aren't frustrated with the occasional crash and glitch. I ran into a few repeatable troubles on my plays, usually crashes to desktop or severe camera malfunctions, both requiring me to re-load the game and completely begin the level anew. It is for this reason alone (along with the fact that any game that crashes on me twice in an hour gets an extended time-out) that I didn't polish this little title off in a single weekend.
All in all, Max & the Magic Marker is a pleasant diversion for a few hours. It's cute and simple enough for the younger set to enjoy, and with the added difficulty of some time trials and item-collection goals, older players can find a brief bit of challenge as well. If it weren't for the occasional hiccup and crash tarnishing my thoughts, I would easily recommend this to anyone looking for a pleasant way of burning an afternoon.