The Xbox Live Arcade has recently been suffering some stagnation. The titles have become somewhat irksome and it seems that there's very little in the way of new original titles being released.
The Maw changes all that. The Maw is a new, original and very entertaining platform title.
In The Maw you play an alien called Frank, who has been enslaved by some other rather nasty aliens. You are thrown into a cage alongside a range of creatures, including something very dangerous but also very amusing; the Maw.
When the alien space ship is suddenly destroyed you find yourself waking in a pile of rubble on some foreign planet. Next to you, the only other survivor it seems is the near indestructible Maw. The Maw and Frank need to find their way off the alien planet and avoid being recaptured by the nasty aliens, and this is where you come in.
Thanks to Frank’s acquisition of an alien weapon that is used to hold onto objects as well as other creatures, you can lead the Maw around on what is much like a leash. The Maw itself is relatively fearful and lazy, but has an insatiable appetite and will devour anything and everything (or close to), continually growing and developing with every bite.
As the Maw grows it can begin to devour larger and larger aliens, helping you on your journey through the levels, solving puzzles and devouring strange objects. Each level also has some special aliens, that on devouring, the Maw will take on the characteristics of the alien. This is really fun, and has been implemented with some exceptional animations. On attempting to devour a fire lizard I found that the Maw broke free of my grasp and immediately ran to the nearest water source to extinguish its burnt tongue. I couldn’t help but laugh at the almost slap-stick humour that has been implemented very successfully.
You will, from the outset, rely heavily on the Maw’s eating capabilities, as Frank has no means to defend himself. Well, apart from his leash gun, which he can use on occasion to flip over an enemy turret that is in most cases dropped from enemy spacecraft that fly overhead. But this approach works very well, and in most cases you simply just move the Maw over something edible and he will devour it. On occasion though you will need to use your leash to throw something his way, which is reminiscent of canine behaviour. Overall the Maw really is just a big cuddly hungry alien, however dangerous he might be with his never-ending hunger and growth.
The graphics are really fantastic, with The Maw easily being one of the best looking XBLA titles available. The downside is that each of the levels is not hugely different to the last in look and feel, although they are different enough to not feel repetitive. The biggest downside is that the game simply isn’t long enough, although admittedly there is some replayability in that you can compare your statistics with your friends (such as how much your Maw eats per minute). It is good news then that the developers have already announced some planned DLC to extend the play, therefore adding to the value of the title.
There is no multiplayer unfortunately, other than comparing your statistics, and it is hard to imagine how multiplayer could have been implemented. The game itself however is still well worth the 800 points being asked, and wins serious points on the originality and amusement factor. The game is also easy enough for almost anyone of any age to pick up, much like most platformers. But because neither Frank nor the Maw can die, there is none of the frustration involved with similar titles.
Overall The Maw is certainly one of the best XBLA titles. It is fun, entertaining and the promise of DLC makes it even sweeter. The only downside is that the game should have been longer. This is the sort of originality that we love to see on the XBLA, and hopefully The Maw spells a return to the quality titles we have previously seen on the Arcade.