Review: The Maw (XBLA)

“Eat things.”

That tagline, found on the website of The Maw developers Twisted Pixel Games, paraphrases the entire motif this downloadable action/adventure title was created on: You eat, a lot. In fact, you eat so much that by the end of the game your purple blob companion, known appropriately as Maw, has become its own planet. A heaping of charm is automatically added to a game when I don’t remember the last time a videogame protagonist ate himself to planetoid proportions.

And charm is exactly what The Maw does best. To me, it feels like playing through a lost chapter of some Pixar film that was never produced. The charisma oozes from this unassuming Live Arcade title that, honestly, I might have passed up. Its PAX 10 audience award and 2009 Independent Games Festival finalist designation illustrate that critically the game is given its fair share, but that, as always, doesn’t mean it will get noticed commercially. I hope it does and prospers, because The Maw is a more engaging title than a majority of the mainstream retail games churned out week by week.

Frank hesitates while Maw salivates

Frank hesitates while Maw salivates

I’m hard-pressed to find a $10/800 experience as polished, impressive and enjoyable as The Maw. The developers managed to make an affordable 3D adventure that controls, looks and sounds incredibly well. Moving around as Frank, your alien avatar who becomes Maw’s pal after both are released from their spaceship prisons following a crash, is effortless. The control scheme is simple and on the Xbox 360’s control pad each face button provides a consistent action that makes the game accessible. A is jump, B is grab, Y is throw and X is a varying attack depending on what abilities the Maw has absorbed through gorging. Each attack is coupled with a visual transformation of Maw, who can take on the powers of a flaming lizard-like creature (Gastro) to a laser-eyed peacock (Loofer). There aren’t any complex combos to master because those would go against the feeling of the game, which is meant to be enjoyed without second-guessing and asking, “Am I playing this right?” What I love about The Maw is it’s a better “kid game” than most of those marketed directly at children, à la THQ’s Ratatouille. Instead of being overly complex and frustrating, The Maw is simple and funny. But let’s be clear that The Maw isn’t just for one audience or the other: It’s for everyone.

NOT a Beetleborg

NOT a Beetleborg

Graphically The Maw is an achievement compared to other Arcade titles. It’s not to say that every future Arcade game needs to be in 3D and as polished as The Maw, but I hope that this game sets a trend in what we as gamers should expect from even a $10 experience. There are some low-resolution textures, and the game does look more like a high-def update of an original Xbox title, but Arcade games aren’t held to the same standards as general disc titles, and they don’t need to be; You’re paying for an easily digestible piece of content, not a 30-hour commitment. The characters and world fit an art direction aimed toward pseudo-science fiction infused with classic platformer color schemes. Bright green, yellow and, of course, purple not only make this game colorful, but comfortable as well. I felt at home while playing through the vistas of the world of The Maw, which I can attribute to my gaming roots loving Mario, Sonic, Crash Bandicoot and a myriad of other similar games.

An Intervention special: Overeating

An Intervention special: Overeating

The audio direction in the game is endearing. Each level has its own tune, and the overall package sounds mischievous and cartoony in that old Looney Tunes way. It adds a lot to the formula and makes The Maw even more amusing than it already is.

Throughout the game’s eight levels you’ll laugh, and laugh some more. At least I, being the weird kind of person I am, found repeated enjoyment in watching this purple planet eater devour helpless pink ball after helpless pink ball, which are predictably named Yums. The Maw as a game has no issue with being silly and weird, and that’s what kept me playing all the way through to the end. And while it is relatively short, being beaten in around four to five hours depending on how much you accomplish in each level, it maintains cohesion throughout. The motive is clear: eat more and destroy the humanoid Galactic Bounty Hunters who imprisoned you in the first place. A complex story is not needed in every game that’s released, because the simple joy of watching the expressive “face” of a blob called Maw when it’s scared, hurt, curious or sad is fulfilling enough.

The Maw is definitely one of the better Arcade titles I’ve played, period.

Recommended for

  • Those with a strange sense of humor and empathy for a lovable cyclopian eating machine.
  • Anyone wanting to experience a well-produced (and cheap!) 3D Arcade title.
  • You felt a spiritual bond with the Purple People Eater in your grade school’s play.

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