Indie Highlight: The Maw

by: Randy -
Last night off XBLA I downloaded the demo to Penny Arcade Expo’s PAX 10 Audience Choice Award winner (and Independent Games Festival 2009 finalist), The Maw.  Twisted Pixel's 3D light-puzzler/platformer is a cute little thing.  But Audrey II started off all adorable in the Little Shop of Horrors, too.

Frank the blue alien (that’s you) is strong-armed into some spaceship’s science lab holding cell.  An immediate bond formulates between Frank and the Maw who’s also in a heavily-watched cell.  Alarms inexplicably go off and rumbling tosses everything about.  Frank awakens at the crash site.  The translucent purple Maw and Frank, quickly reunited, are fast friends.  Frank groans with a headache from the impact.  The Maw’s excitement is tongue-wagging.

A couple hexic-uniformed guards also regain their senses, beat back the zealous but still miniscule Maw—whose panic attack goes off with Kill Bill-like sirens—before a drop ship swoops in and lassoes its guards aboard and away.  The Maw’s unbridled enthusiasm is immediately infectious.  I walk across the blocky crash site, find and then fearlessly don a wrist-mounted electronic leash that tethers me to the Maw.   The Maw doesn’t seem to mind at all.  The soundtrack kicks in with chewy, beatbox-infused jungle rhythms....
We emerge from a narrow, chocolaty canyon and into a glen populated by round, bouncy, inarguably adorable creatures.  To my horror—and then to my amusement—The Maw swallows one of the bouncy creatures whole.  Unleashing the Maw, it bumbles about the glen but can’t catch up to the bouncy creatures.  I call him back with some alien “suwee!” and it leashes up to me again.  I lead him around, and without warning, run him in a circle, letting him chomp down a diet of bouncy creature thingies.  If I unleash him, he pretty much stays, licking his lips (and his cyclopean eye) at the prospect of his next meal.

At a boulder-blocked portion of the trail, I learn that the leash can also tether to inanimate objects.  The boulder, many times my size and weight (Frank’s, that is), pulls along nicely with the leash.

We arrive at an even larger glen, this one populated by an even greater varieties of swaying, bulbous plant life, with yellow question marks (a recognizable enough trope in videogames nowadays) floating above the heads of some plants that look like a giant crossbreed of Venus Flytrap and Velociraptor.  I approach, the Maw safely in tow.

The Veloci-Flytraps panic, the Maw panics, I don’t see what the big deal is, and the glen is now jumping with more snack-sized bouncy thingies.  The Maw sets about its single-minded task of devouring anything even remotely appearing on a carnivorous menu—and it grows yet again.  While only waist high five minutes ago, the Maw is now looking over my head, and he thinks (with a bubble cloud) about his next meal…which is decidedly a much larger, four-legged Spore-like creature it spied earlier on the other side of the glen.

I take him to dine on small, bouncy creatures and the Maw chomps down gladly, always chomping, but the four-legged creatures it was thinking about eating have torch-lit tails.  The Maw chomps one, spits it out, lets out another alarmed yell, then bounds off to the base of a waterfall and starts swallowing gobs of water.

Distressed, I unleash the Maw in the running stream.  I run to the firebrand creatures, lasso an unwilling one, then drag it back to the stream.  Tssss, the torchy creature loses its fire, I re-leash the Maw, the Maw swallows the formerly-firey creature in an enthusiastic gulp, then the Maw itself turns into an orange, blistered, charcoal-smoked, fire-breathing version of the Maw.  It starts gushing flames out at anything moving in a relatively bouncy fashion around it, burning an orange radius around itself.  I run the Maw straight at the Veloci-Flytraps that frightened the Maw off before, and the Maw belches fire all over them in an unhesitant stream.  Me and the Maw press on to the next corridor, and the demo draws to a close.

So, what have we learned?  The Maw joyously devours anything and everything (except Frank the blue alien for no other reason than we need two living components to this boy-and-his-dog tale), while the Maw grows and morphs into different manifestations of whatever it snacked on.  Don’t try to eat anything you can’t swallow whole.  Don’t eat anything that’s currently on fire.  And witness “You are what you eat” taking on literal proportions.  Sure, it's cute, but I won't be going back for seconds right away.
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