The Maw. The Hunger.
Everyone knows dogs like to eat a lot, but what would happen if your dog wanted to eat other dogs, other animals, or... everything? The Maw is Twisted Pixel's answer to that question. Somewhat.
Presented as one of PAX-10's picks for best independent game of the show last year, The Maw is a cute platformer that presents a very colorful, albeit short adventure. Playing as Frank, an alien captured by bounty hunters, you quickly befriend a fellow prisoner in the hunter's ship - a one-eyed jelly creature named Maw. Soon after, the ship crashes on an unknown planet, where Frank discovers a device that acts as a leash that holds his little friend in check. The thing about Maw is that he really needs to be in check, because he loves to eat everything that comes his way. And that's basically The Maw's objective - eat enough to make Maw grow in order to eat bigger things.
[image1]In Kirby-inspired fashion, Maw can acquire abilities from certain creatures that he eats, varying from fire-breathing and electro-shocks to floating in the air and becoming a bull-dozing rammer. These powers might seem really overpowered, and that's because they are. There is little challenge in terms of combat - encounters with bounty hunters are few and far between, and in fact, most of the time these abilities are used to shred the environment into bits that continue the little alien's feeding frenzy. He does not remain little for very long, mind you.
As he 'upgrades', Maw slowly becomes a huge hulking ball that creeps alongside Frank. Frank doesn't stray too far in power, though, by comparison at least. His grapple/leash arm accessory also works as a lasso that can pick up bombs and other dangerous objects that can be moved and thrown as weapons, as well as small creatures that can be used as food for Maw.
[image2]The Maw is incredibly simple to control, streamlining practically all the actions. There is no need to time throws, as they occur automatically in whatever direction Frank is facing. Maw can be directed over to his food, whose ingestion occurs by itself like Yoshi in Super Mario World. Other context-sensitive actions fall to the 'A' button which is clearly shown on screen whenever it is needed. These actions vary a bit, sometimes pulling a bomb from the ground or dodging projectiles.
The simplicity carries over to The Maw's eight levels, which individually don't take more than ten minutes to complete, making the game very short. Replayability is somewhat extended with some of the achievements, particularly those that require the Maw to eat all creatures in all levels and for you to play the game at certain hours of the day. Gamer pics and a NXE dashboard theme can be earned by playing through The Maw as well. Downloadable content levels are also slated to be announced soon, adding a bit to the longevity of the game.
[image3]One fact has become a stamp for XBLA games, one that The Maw proves even further - visuals are not limited to file size restrictions anymore. Impressive yet simple 3D models interacting in colorful environments are all you need. Neatly animated, Frank and Maw act together in some funny situations throughout the game, managing to squeeze a few chuckles here and there. There are practically no voices, however, with the exceptions of a scream or two for Maw and Frank. The musical score is also very well done, with some choruses taking cue from cartoons like Animaniacs, adding to the cute yet insane things that Maw does.
Coming in at 800 Microsoft Points, The Maw is conservative platformer that takes some time-tested ideas and implements them in a fun and easy-going game. Difficulty is not an issue here, and in this case, that's not a bad thing. Enjoy it while it lasts, though, because Maw's stay isn't a very long one. Wouldn't want him eating everything along with you, now would you?