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Critical Reception: Twisted Pixel's The Maw

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Twisted Pixel's The Maw, an Xbox Live Arcade action/adventure title that critics say is "charming, cheap and memorable enough that its short lifespan shouldn't put you off."
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Twisted Pixel's The Maw, an Xbox Live Arcade action/adventure title that critics say is "charming, cheap and memorable enough that its short lifespan shouldn't put you off." Boasting a unique premise and innovative gameplay mechanics, The Maw earned early critical praise and a number of awards prior to its release, including the Audience Choice Award at PAX-10 and a nomination for the Technical Excellence award at this year's Independent Games Festival. The Maw currently averages a score of 78 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Terry Terrones at GamePro gives The Maw a Fun Factor rating of 4.5 out of 5, citing its length as its biggest shortcoming. "Despite its brevity," he begins, "The Maw's retro feel and charming characters make it a title worth owning." "In The Maw gamers play as Frank, an alien that looks like a cute, bipedal ant," Terrones explains. "He and Maw, a purple, one-eyed critter the size of a basketball (at least at the start), are captives on a spaceship. The ship crashes and a mutually beneficial relationship quickly develops. Frank is the brains, The Maw is the brawn and the two work together to make their way through an unfamiliar planet." "While the plot sounds ominous," Terrones admits, "the game is anything but. It's charming, with likeable characters and plenty of mild humor. Maw is like a pet (think Cookie Monster with razor sharp teeth) who has a hearty laugh and a tongue that always hangs out like a golden retriever." Terrones feels that The Maw character itself gives the gameplay ample variety. "Gameplay centers on Maw’s considerable appetite," he says. "When he eats he not only grows but occasionally absorbs the ability of whatever animal he consumes. This gives the game a welcome change of pace and allows Frank the necessary tools to complete each level’s puzzles." "While the game does have a few drawbacks – it’ll only take you 3-4 hours to beat and the camera is a bit inflexible – you’ll certainly have fun with this title," Terrones summarizes. "With adorable characters that fit perfectly into its retro style of play, The Maw offers XBLA fans something new and unique." Over at Destructoid, Conrad Zimmerman rates The Maw at 8 out of 10. "The first thing one notices about The Maw is how beautiful it looks and sounds," he praises. "The planet's surface is vibrant and full of life. Plants rustle in the breeze and shudder as the characters move over them. The assorted creatures are all distinct and charming, with their own mannerisms." Zimmerman is also impressed with The Maw's gameplay. "The game is very straightforward and highly entertaining," he writes. "Most levels include platforming bits that only Frank can accomplish, which usually result in acquiring a new power for Maw. The blob can only have one power at a time, but it's never really an issue as the game is completely linear in nature and there is rarely an instance where you use two powers in the same level." An occasional lack of interactivity can be problematic. "While The Maw is billed as a game, the amount of interactivity is not great," Zimmerman notes. "Much of it feels like a series of quick-time events, with button prompts appearing near your character for just about every action that requires even the slightest amount of timing." "What Twisted Pixel has really accomplished here is creating the equivalent of a Pixar movie with interactive elements," Zimmerman posits. "And, at roughly the same cost as (or, in many cases, less than) a DVD, fans of that style of animation and storytelling should be more than satisfied." Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead scores The Maw at 7 out of 10, claiming that the experience is disappointingly short. "With production values to rival most full-price platform games, The Maw is certainly an eye-catching addition to the Xbox Live Arcade line-up," he says. "It's also an entertaining one, even if the amusement is rather short-lived." Whitehead notes that The Maw's gameplay is more exploration-based than one might expect at first glance. "Progress is exploration-driven rather than pure platforming," he writes. "There are moments where Frank needs to let The Maw off the leash so he can clamber to otherwise-inaccessible areas, but the main challenge is working out which powers you need The Maw to adopt, and how to manipulate the wildlife in order to achieve this aim." There isn't a lot of exploring to do throughout the game's eight short levels, however. "It's not exactly challenging, since there's no way of dying and no penalty for snuffling around looking for extra stuff - such as the secret Snuffle hidden in each level," Whitehead warns. "Assuming you're exploring every nook and cranny you can expect to polish off each level in around twenty minutes, and with only eight levels (the last of which is...different, to say the least) that doesn't add up to a massive amount of playtime." "What the game does have is character," Whitehead explains. "It's a lovely-looking title, arguably the most graphically polished game on Live Arcade despite some occasionally rough environmental details, and both Frank and The Maw are an absolute pleasure to watch." "The Maw is the sort of game you'll play for an afternoon, giggling like a fool the whole time," Whitehead notes in conclusion. "There's not much more to it beyond that brief but satisfying flurry of amusement, unless you want to go back into each level to harvest all the Achievements, but not every game needs endless replay value. The Maw is charming, cheap and memorable enough that its short lifespan shouldn't put you off."

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