The Maw
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Everything is shiny here

You know how it is. You get captured by mean-looking Galactic Bounty Hunters, who, despite your undeniable and extreme cuteness, seem dead set on locking you up for their own fiendish purposes (or protection of the galaxy, but whatever). The cage opposite yours is labelled "THE DEADLIEST ORGANISM IN THE UNIVERSE", but just holds a single-eyed, many-fanged, mouthy blob, who grins at you and bounces up and down, too stupid to realise he's captive. Escape is always preferable under such circumstances, and as luck would have it, the ship you're on crashes. As alarms sound and things explode, you get knocked out, and upon regaining consciousness find yourself stranded among the debris in the middle of a strange new planet with only your new toothsome pet. Picking up a handy plasma leash dropped by the Bounty Hunters, the two of you steal away into the... brilliant sunshine. The weather really is jolly nice here!

Wandering along together, enjoying the scenery and whatnot, you come across the cutest little bouncing ball creature. "Look!" you show it to your friend, "isn't she adorab-wha??" Obviously your gobby chum is less impressed, and more hungry, gulping down the lovable little Yum. Horrified, you recoil back in anguish, until you notice that your Maw has grown, which gives you an idea: "Sod it, they're not that cute." And so the adventure begins.

I think the life lesson here is that no matter how cute you think you are, you're always expendable. And as long as you keep feeding your Maw, he's always expandable.

Big and chompy though he may be, it soon becomes apparent that the Maw is a cowardly beast, and on occasion needs to be spoon-fed, but he is fiercely loyal. If he strays too far you only need call and he comes bounding back over to you like a puppy in a park. However, and also like a puppy, if you don't keep him on the leash he will scamper off again, dole out unnecessary destruction to local flora and fauna, and generally get overexcited. The Maw has a sterling digestive system, and munching on certain unlikely delicacies gives him special abilities (fire-breathing, electrifying etc.) which can help you out no end when you meet obstacles. And so a lasting co-dependent relationship is formed. Frank + Maw 4eva.

The Maw is a 3D platform game in which the aim is to solve problems, mostly by feeding things to your Maw. There are two basic objectives which allow you to pass each level, feeding specific animals to your Maw to give him special abilities, and feeding him enough of anything to make him grow to the required size. Now, I'm not usually a platformer kinda gal, but the easy-go nature of this title drew me in. The format is pretty standard, but the cuteness: oh my! That's what'll make you want to keep playing the game. I think a lot of this aforementioned cuteness comes from some endearing in-game animation. There's something quite intoxicating about running through the fields for the first time with your Maw flailing around wildly on the end of his leash as he gobbles Yums, or floating under your balloon-like Maw after he eats his first Puff-Tor, and has gained the ability to infloat (or inflate and float).

But time for the critical appraisal part. This game has been modified from the XBox360. The controls are fine, the combination of keyboard (WASD) and mouse works perfectly well, but it is best played with a gamepad. The in-game instructions aim at being simple and intuitive but can end up a little vague, like roadsigns that direct you almost all the way to your destination only to leave you circling a roundabout on the last junction. I trialled this game on two computers and one thing I noticed was that on the less equipped of the two the handy tips telling you what key to press when you're experiencing something for the first time were occasionally absent. When that happened the controls didn't seem to work properly either. We all know how this ends... having tried the correct key several times, and failed, I found myself running around attempting to interact with everything I could see. Ten minutes of button mashing later and I was still none the wiser. Playing on a better PC, the handy tip turned up where it was meant to and told me which key to press, I pressed it, and it worked. No-one likes to resort to brainless key mashing, and if you know me, you'll know how angry that made me. If you don't know me, think of a cute little monster that when enraged gnashes its teeth, devours everything and everyone around it, and grows monstrously huge. Which brings me nicely back to the game. [Very slick- Ed.]

In my opinion, the only real problem in the game is the POV. The viewpoint turns to face downwards as you pull up, but doesn't allow you to pull back far enough to allow a particularly wide view. This means it can be really difficult to see any distance ahead of you. Add to this the fact that as your Maw gets bigger he has a tendency to obscure your surroundings and now you have yourself a real annoyance. With the limited view, there's a lot of backtracking needed to make sure you haven't missed part of the level, which is compounded by the repetitive backgrounds.

I have one final complaint, and it's certainly not a deal-breaker: there's such a wealth of Maw skills and opposing problems to solve that I'm disappointed that level completion relies on getting your Maw up to a certain size, with no real reason given. I'm all for the enforced beefing up of your Maw (um, dirty!), and some of the things he can do as he grows bigger are really satisfying, but sometimes in the latter levels there is no final obstacle other than the fact that you can't pass a certain point if your Maw is less than critical size. I really think that a little imagination could have yielded level endings that make sense in the Maw world, so that you understand why he needs to be *yey* big for you to get past. Surely games should be way past the need for meaningless invisible barriers by now?

Aside from this, I like the game a lot. The cuteness got me. The bright colours made me happy. I want to play now. I want to find something new and seemingly unpalatable for my Maw to eat to give him more powers. I want to help him root out the stinky, oozy Snuffles as a reward for everything he's done for me. I want to ride my Maw as he struts around shooting everything in our path to oblivion. I want to go back and frolic in the fields, Maw on leash, snacking on Yums. I want Maw.

That's right, Maw: giant venus fly traps aren't on the menu