With complex physics and the ability to create whatever your heart desires, Max and the Magic Marker follows the same path that the charming Scribblenauts paved last year. But even solid emergent gameplay can't make up for the many faults which ruins this half-hearted platforming adventure.
Editor's note: We focused solely on the PC version of Max and the Magic Marker for this game review, not the newly released WiiWare version.
Like 5th Cell's innovative DS title, Scribblenauts, Max and the Magic Marker's core gameplay is focused on an open-ended world where challenges can be solved through countless creative solutions. Gamers are given a magic marker that transforms their drawings into tangible objects that can run the gamut from simple one-stroke bridges to far more complex mechanisms. Your creativity and the amount of ink you possess are your only real limitations.
For instance, in the second of Max and the Magic Marker's three worlds - a pirate-laden jungle - Max needs to scale volcanoes of various sizes. For a short volcano, a simple ramp, step-stool or staircase may do the trick. However, a taller volcano may require a more complex drawing; say, a long vertical line with several ladder-esque rungs that Max can climb. But a towering, skyscraper-sized volcano will need a little more ingenuity - we drew a horizontal line to act as a teeter-totter, balanced it on a triangle and then created a boulder as a counter-weight to catapult Max up and over the volcano's peak.
Unfortunately, Max and the Magic Marker's potential is limited by the crude controls and the disappointing way in which the drawing and platforming aspects are integrated. On the PC, you use the arrow keys to move Max and the mouse to control the magic marker. Having to frequently pause the game in order to draw creates an uneven stop-and-go pace that makes high-speed chases and boss battles difficult to enjoy. To top it off, creating perfectly straight lines with the mouse can prove more than challenging. Unless you have the hands of a neuro-surgeon, your creations may not even work.
As irksome as the mouse can be, using the 'Up' arrow key to jump and climb in Max and the Magic Marker is the real dealbreaker. Having to smash two arrow keys simultaneously to jump in a given direction doesn't work more than half the time, often sending Max head-first down a chasm or into an enemy.
In the end, it often comes down to understanding the solution but not being able to feasibly execute it. Add these difficulties to a rather repetitive five-hour adventure, and the game becomes more of a chore than an adventure. It's painful to see a game with so much innovation hampered by poor execution. A better interface, improved controls and a greater sense of variety could have made Max and the Magic Marker another vivid and imaginative title on par with 5th Cell's Scribblenauts. Sadly, the game fails to reach its full potential.