The Maw is like that attractive girl you pass by everyday without uttering a word to at school, the library or any other rom-com set piece cliché. A major crush develops and before you know it, said girl has taken out an indefinite lease to your brain. You’re convinced she’s perfect and meant only for you. But when you finally muster up the courage to strike up conversation, it turns out that past her good looks there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of depth or substance. The girl of your dreams is shiny on the surface but hollow on the inside.
That’s not to say that The Maw’s visuals should be brushed aside entirely. The game boasts production values not often witnessed on the Xbox Live Arcade scene; environments have an almost N64-eqsue feel about them, character models are eccentric and there’s a certain child-like allure to it all. It’s hard not find yourself endeared by the way Maw gyrates and constantly looks around googly-eyed in bewilderment, for example. Or the way Frank yelps out for his friend when he’s out of sight only for Maw to then come scrambling towards Frank with his tongue hanging from the side of his mouth. In fact, one could easily find themselves taken aback by its sheer vibrancy and perhaps for some, a pretty face is enough.
However, for everyone else, The Maw struggles to transfer this charm over when it comes to actual play despite its best intentions. There’s not a whole lot to the game itself – levels consist primarily of taking yourself (Frank) and Maw (usually by a leash) from Point A to Point B. Along the way players will encounter environmental puzzles to solve such as hurling an explosive at a generator to open a pathway, floating along bursts of hot air to reach high platforms and structures, or even goading a giant beetle into smashing through a seemingly impenetrable gate. Only to eat the beetle and have Maw ram them down himself as you hang on for a glorified loading screen.
It is this ability for Maw to change form in these stages that gives players some sniff of variety and invention. When Maw consumes the right creature he’ll then take on its property in a feature startlingly reminiscent of Kameo. For example, eating a fire lizard (you have to extinguish it in water first) will give Maw the ability to breath fire, which is handy for taking down problem plants, or seeking out Yums to make your gelatinous friend even bigger as the game goes on. Furthermore, baiting a Puff-Torr in to slamming itself on a hard surface with promises of life-sustaining slime worms will turn Maw into a giant balloon, and at one point, he even transforms into a moving tank as part of a murderous rampage against the human enemy that want Maw for some unknown reason – a particular highlight of the game.
And highlight is a word that seems to sum up The Maw better than anything else. It feels like a clip show of half-baked ideas stuffed into an incredibly fleeting experience. A couple of hours are literally all it takes to best its eight stages even if taken at a leisurely pace. There isn’t any incentive past attaining achievement points and you can’t even fall back on the challenge of completion because there is none (only in the last level can you actually die). It’s hard to justify spending money on something that seems all too eager to reach for the end credits. But if you have more MS points than you know what to do with, The Maw is perhaps worth the proverbial weekend fling. Just don’t expect it to stay around long enough for a commitment.