Video Game Review: The Maw

by Phil Kehres

The Maw (rated E 10+ [everyone 10 and above], available for download on Xbox Live Arcade)
Full game release date: January 21, 2009.

If an ever-growing, anthropomorphic purple blob with an insatiable appetite is your vision of an ideal pet, then you’ll likely enjoy The Maw. It’s also a great game if you’re looking for a quirky little diversion while you’re waiting for the next blockbuster title.

New on Xbox Live Arcade, The Maw is a simple but fun game that combines action-adventure, level-climbing (known to gamers as platforming) and puzzle-solving elements. You play as Frank, an alien imprisoned by some sort of cyber-alien people. There’s no story that really explains who and why you’re fighting, and it doesn’t really matter. The Maw is the star of the show. He’s essentially a big purple blob that eats everything in sight and grows proportionate to his intake. The Maw helps Frank escape, and throughout the course of the game, you lead him around on an electronic leash of sorts as you make your way through each of the eight levels.

The objectives are simple. You basically need to eat the right stuff to grow big enough or gain the power you need to pass through a major obstacle and into the next level. The controls are simple as well. Frank can jump, attach his leash to or summon the Maw, or grab things in the environment to smash barriers or throw to the Maw for food. The mechanics of it all work fine. Frank roams on his own, or leads the Maw around with ease. The only issue is the camera. Rather than controlling the y-axis, up and down on the right stick zooms in and out. This can get a bit burdensome when trying to look for objectives or when the Maw gets really large in later levels. It’s not a huge issue, but a full 3-D camera would be preferred.

Aside from the minor issues, The Maw is a great little game. Where it shines most is in the small details. The soundtrack is whimsical and addictive; the sci-fi inspired phrasings actually rise and fall depending on the action of the game. The alien environs are lush and detailed especially well for an Arcade title. There’s a diverse cast of alien creatures which the Maw can eat and absorb power from, including (but not limited to) peacock-like aliens that shoot lasers from their eyes and giant beetles that charge like rhinos. The Maw itself is a wonder to behold. From the silly grunts and panting to the dopey things it does when you leave it alone — picture a dumb puppy running into walls — the amount of emotion displayed by the one-eyed, razor-toothed, purple blob is an impressive testament to the work put into the game design. You can’t help but audibly giggle every time you turn the game on, and you’ll delight in eating everything in sight and watching the Maw grow to absurd proportions as you proceed through the game.

Furthermore, The Maw is a fun family game, something there seems to be a dearth of on Xbox 360. You can’t “die,” there is a very minimal amount of cartoonish violence, and the controls are easy to grasp. Unless you feel like a game about an insatiable purple blob promotes child obesity, there’s no reason to feel bad about letting the kiddies get in on the fun.

Unfortunately, the whole experience only lasts about four to five hours, and there’s really no reason to go back unless you’re an obsessive completionist. There’s no multiplayer mode either, so the replay value is virtually non-existent. However, there is the nice added touch of rewarding the gamer with gamer pictures as you complete certain levels and a dashboard theme when you complete the game. It’s a nice model — a game that gives you tangible rewards rather than meaningless Gamerscore. As such, there’s enough there to justify the price point (800 Microsoft points, or $10), but it’s cutting it a bit close. I wouldn’t call it a “must-have.”

The bottom line, though, is The Maw does a good job being what it is — a quick, fun diversion. You won’t devote countless hours to this one, but the time you do spend on it will be worthwhile, enjoyable, and rarely frustrating. Xbox Live Arcade could stand to have a few more titles like The Maw in its archives. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the barrage of shoot-em-up games.

Final verdict: 3.5/5

(Phil Kehres also is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog?)

(Promotional screenshot of The Maw provided by Twisted Pixel Games. To see a trailer for The Maw, please check below.)

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