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Max and the Magic Marker

Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: The Games Company
Developer: Press Play
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer (2D)/ Puzzle/ Family

Graphics & Sound:

Hot on the heels of the trend for indie developers to come forward with new game ideas, Press Play has released Max and the Magic Marker for the PC (it is also available for Mac and WiiWare at the time of this writing). As sometimes happens with indie games, the art style lends a fresh new face to the world of games, and this one is no exception. The premise of the game has Max, a child who loves to draw, receiving a magic marker that causes his drawings to come to life.

As such, the visuals are simple to the eye, yet look great and have an excellent style. The cartoony style is a perfect match for the premise of the game as well, and it keeps the innocence of the game front and center. One of my favorite things visually with Max and the Magic Marker is that when you pause the game, you'll be treated to child-like drawings that represent the current game environment. While I normally wouldn't exclaim about a Pause Menu, this game's actual gameplay makes great use of it, so you'll likely see it often.

The background music and sound fx in Max and the Magic Marker are equally simple, and also help instill the feeling of innocence as you play the game. In fact, after finishing the game, you'll also be able to download the soundtrack by Analogik via a code given to you after the credits finish. A nice touch is that the background music continues playing during the Pause screen, but the level of volume greatly diminishes as to not be annoying. The sound fx are just enough to keep the action interesting, and add greatly to the game.


Max and the Magic Marker is one of the most innovative game titles that I have played in recent years. The entire game revolves around the ability to collect magic marker ink and dynamically use your on-screen marker to draw in objects that will help you navigate the game world. While I realize that the concept isn't exactly brand new, the implementation has been done quite well. Using the marker, you'll have to draw in ramps, ladders, and other objects that help get Max through this 2D platformer.

There are three worlds, each with a different theme, to traverse in Max and the Magic Marker, and each has sub-levels that break up the action and progressively add difficulty to how you'll have to use your ingenuity to figure out how to get to the next checkpoint. At each checkpoint, the evil monster, whom Max created through his drawings and is now chasing down, appears and steals all of the ink from the marker. In typical platforming fashion, Max picks up orbs to gain more ink. He'll also have the opportunity to collect orbs on each level which get used up when you run into trouble and have to start over from the last checkpoint. As a bonus, there are also some secret black orbs that are a bit more difficult to find and collect to add a bit a difficulty to the situation.

What makes Max and the Magic Marker such a great game is that there is no one correct way to get through each level, although the levels are generally pretty linear in nature. However, you'll be able to draw in ramps, ladders, steps, or even a makeshift catapult by creating a teeter-totter. Once drawn, positioning Max to stand on one end and dropping a drawn-in rock on the other will cause our hero to go flying high in the air. You'll also have to draw your creations onto moving hooks or other obstacles, which can sometimes get a bit hairy, but is also quite fun. Pausing is always key in these situations.

The most fun I had while playing Max and the Magic Marker definitely came during the final of the three worlds. There were more puzzle-type scenarios that made for using the brain in lieu of simply drawing in platforms to get to an upper level, as mostly seen in the first two worlds. In fact, there were a few times in the end that had me take a step back to think about how to use the physics-based gameplay to my advantage. This is where it may be a bit more difficult for younger gamers, but in general, the majority of the game is well within reach of all but the youngest crowd.

While Max and the Magic Marker is certainly a great game and worth every penny, it should be said that the game is not all that long. My posted play time was just under 4 1/2 hours, although that's not counting any restarts that occurred upon my deaths. There are also a few graphical issues that may arise, most notably that the game is best played on a widescreen monitor as opposed to a standard monitor since less of the game screen is visible, making for some leaping-before-you-look scenarios. Fortunately, the game does allow you to draw while paused, so this isn't always a problem. In fact, there are times when pausing is the best way to go about setting up your drawings to not react to the physics engine until un-paused and back in-game.


Max and the Magic Marker is a relatively short game, but makes use of a decent gamut of stages of difficulty. The early levels, most notably on the first world, usually are pretty straightforward and should be easy enough for young gamers to get into without much difficulty. The main issue with the PC version is that one must control Max using the keyboard (although the keys can be reconfigured). While some of us old-timers may have this come naturally, the youngest generation may find it a bit tricky at first. Thankfully, Max and the Magic Marker doesn't generally require much in the way of fast-twitch responses, at least not at first.

As the game progresses, so does the difficulty. You'll eventually have to work though some puzzle-type situations involving switches and drawing in other, odder platforms, to make it through the levels. By the second of the three worlds, things may get a bit more complicated for young gamers, but in the process, they will likely learn a bit about physics and how it is handled in Max and the Magic Marker.

When all is said and done, the puzzles get a bit more complicated by the last world's levels, and a bit more thinking is involved. There's also a small section where fast movement and quick reflexes does come into play a bit more. Essentially, Max and the Magic Marker's later stages are quite fun and engaging, and were my favorite part of the entire game, due to the puzzle nature found within. The final boss battle was also entertaining, but a bit easy. To earn a complete 100% rating on the game, it will take a bit of work to find all of the orbs within each level.

Game Mechanics:

Max and the Magic Marker's controls boil down to just about as simple as you can get relating to PC games. Using the WASD or Arrow Keys, you'll control Max as far as the platforming portion of the game goes. Shift will allow Max to push and pull physics-based objects, including anything you draw. The drawing itself is all done with the Left Mouse Button, and you'll be able to erase lines one at a time or all at once using the Right Mouse Button. Although drawing with a mouse isn't perfect, it works really well for a game of this nature that doesn't necessarily require exact precision.

One of the key ingredients to success in traversing the environments in Max and the Magic Marker is that you'll be able to pause at any time using the Spacebar. While paused, you'll be able to draw the same way you can real-time, with the benefit of pausing any physics actions that may take place. What this means is that you can easily use multiple strokes to create intricate line art to use when the game gets un-paused.

Max and the Magic Marker really is a brilliant game and I highly recommend it to gamers of all ages. Younger gamers may find a couple of the final physics-based puzzles tricky, but even the end boss battle really isn't all that difficult, yet is still quite fun. The replay value of Max and the Magic Marker isn't extremely high either, but assuming that you don't find all of the Light Bulb orbs or the secret black orbs the first time through, you'll at least have reason to play again. In addition, there are goals for completing each level in a set amount of time, so that gives another reason to play again. After accomplishing a few small goals, you'll also unlock a few special ways to play (like Super-Max, where you can run faster and jump higher, as well as defeat bad guys with a simple touch), but any performance accomplishments won't be saved using these cheats.

Whether or not the PC version is the best one to purchase may vary from person to person, but it can be said that the game will play almost as well on older machines as on the newest (see my test systems). The only down side is that there times when playing on an older standard monitor made playing slightly more difficult than playing the same situation on a widescreen resolution. Regardless, at only $20 USD, Max and the Magic Marker is a definite winner.

-Woody, GameVortex Communications
AKA Shane Wodele

Minimum System Requirements:

Intel Pentium 4 Processor @ 3.0GHz or AMD Sempron 3600+ Processor; NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GT 256MB or ATI Radeon X800 GT; 1 GB RAM; 5 GB Hard Disk Space; DirectX 9

Note: I was able to play perfectly on a system less than these recommended requirements.


Test System:

Test System A
The following computer was used to play through the entire game, despite it not meeting the recommended requirements, and it played great:

AMD Athlon 2700+ CPU; Windows XP Pro SP2; 1GB (2x 512MB) PC3200 DDR400 RAM; ATI All-In-Wonder 9700 Pro 8x AGP Video Card; NVIDIA nForce MCP Audio; DirectX 9.0c; 16x DVD-ROM used as main 32x CD-ROM; Sony DRU-500A DVD±R/RW; 6 USB ports; Cable Modem Hi-Speed Internet Connection

Test System B
The following computer was used to try the game on a widescreen monitor, and ran a bit better due to its higher specs:

Dell Vostro 1700 Laptop: Intel Core 2 Duo CPU T7100; Dual 1.8 GHz Processors; 2 GB RAM; NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT; Xbox 360 Wireless Controller with PC USB Wireless Receiver

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