PAX 2008: The Maw Hands-On

Who wouldn't want the Maw as a pet once they've seen what it can do?

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The PAX 10 booth at the Penny Arcade Expo 2008 was an excellent collection of indie games that consumers got a chance to play and then vote for in a ranked list of favorites. One game that grabbed our attention was The Maw, an action puzzler that starred Frank, an unassuming alien with few skills, and Maw, a one-eyed purple blob. The premise of the game seems simple, but what stood out was the amount of care placed in ensuring that these two loveable characters exude a lot of charisma--and they did.

Frank and Maw have crash-landed on a vibrant planet filled with creatures that are equally bizarre. You play as Frank, who just wants to get home. To move from one level to the next, Frank has found a way to control Maw using a plasma leash. Maw is an indestructible and rather dangerous blob, but he's timid and a total coward, which makes obstacles a challenge. Frank's job is to drag Maw around to eat smaller aliens until he gets big enough to eat a larger creature that has a special ability.

One level required Frank and Maw to move past some dangerous plants. Maw refused to go near them, so you had to get him to eat things until he eventually consumed a fire lizard, at which point he could breathe fire for the remainder of the level. Watching the animations unfold is a treat because you learn more about the characters, and it's like watching a cartoon. We saw Maw approach the plants, give a panicked look, and shy away like a scared puppy. When he tried to eat a lizard, his mouth caught fire and he jumped around frantically until he ended up in the river, where he could cool off. When not attached to Maw, Frank can access other areas that Maw may not necessarily be able to reach.

In another level called Blurb Valley, we came across some floating aliens, and Frank was able to dangle and swing from one flying creature to the next. By doing so, he ended up in an area with electricity-infused aliens, which he could then leash and slam into objects. Given that Frank really has nothing but his plasma leash, you have to figure out how the two can work together along with their environment to move on.

Other than adorable character design, the environments that we saw also felt alive and lush. It does look kid-friendly, but there's enough of a draw to entice gamers of all backgrounds to play. There will be eight levels that will take anywhere from three-and-a-half to five hours to complete. Achievements will be available, and The Maw is expected to hit Xbox Live Arcade soon. No date has been announced, but we hope to be able to spend some more time with the dynamic duo, who have made an endearing and lasting impression.

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