You only need to watch the trailer for Max and the Book of Chaos to instantly understand what’s on offer here – that being a frantic shooter where you battle to survive against the clock.
The premise is simple. A mysterious book is found in an old castle turned summer school which can open portals between worlds. Unfortunately, someone has unleashed its power and all sorts of creatures have started to pile through and cause chaos. It’s up to Max Racoon, the titular character, to take a stand and halt the invasion.
The game is tongue in cheek, and the story is told through character interactions all wrapped in a comic book-style narrative. There’s nothing too complicated to get your head round; it’s simply there to set you up in shooting some bad guys. It’s wacky and holds a certain charm, even breaking the fourth wall at points.
The graphical style in Max and the Book of Chaos also screams comic book, and it looks great even when there’s loads going on at the same time. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the music, which is a short, repetitive loop of frantic noise which matches the style of play well, but isn’t exactly a treat for the ears.
However, it’s all about the gameplay here, and it is that which will be the deciding factor in whether you buy this game or not. You start with a quick tutorial to learn the ropes before you head into the game proper. Here, you learn how to shoot, jump and dash your way to victory.
Before you start the stage, you can opt to play Max and the Book of Chaos in “easy” or “original” mode. Original is the way the game is meant to be played, and how I played it for this review. However, the developers at Orenji Games are clearly aware this may be too much for some, and to help the game be accessible to as many as possible, the option to play a less frantic version of the game is there.
Each area has six different stages, and a boss battle. The stages start from easy, and gradually get more difficult as you play through them. Each stage in an area is played in exactly the same way and place, it’s just the enemy intensity that changes and makes the difference. You have to complete a certain amount of these, and through earning stars (more on that in a sec) you will unlock the boss battle and move to the next area.
There are three cages suspended over you in each stage, that contain some of your captured classmates. Your aim is to save as many of these as you can by shooting them down, and survive the clock as hordes of enemies try to take you out.
You can take five hits before you die, and different weapons and upgrades will randomly drop into the battlefield as you play. If you maintain a streak of successful hits with your blaster, it will fill a meter that will activate a hugely powerful overcharge beam, which can prove crucial to survival if you get surrounded. Enemies will drop coins and saving classmates will earn you stars, both of which can be spent in the shop. Here you can improve your weapons and abilities, awarding you increased loot rates, better weapons and much more.
The difficulty curve in Max and the Book of Chaos is well-implemented, with each stage feeling genuinely more challenging than the last. Some will also feature huge enemies that will require a lot of firepower to take down, and you will be battling right up until the timer runs out. This is all even before you get to the boss battles. The difficulty can occasionally be frustrating but most of the time it doesn’t feel unfair, as instead you’ll be determined to go in for another attempt and beat the stage.
The controls also work pretty well. You move with the left thumbstick, use A to jump, B to dash and the RT to shoot. You can also use X to shoot, but this feels really uncomfortable when you try and jump at the same time, so it’s best to stick with the trigger. The only issue with how Max controls is that shooting diagonally is difficult to pull off, so instead you’ll be running directly underneath enemies, which is much more risky given your already low chances of survival.
Boss battles are longer slogs but still fun to play. Each will have a health bar split into four parts which you will need to chip away at. As you shoot through each segment, your enemy will change its behaviour and, you guessed it, get more difficult to take out. Bosses occupy the whole play area and provide the toughest test of your reflexes.
Max and the Book of Chaos comes with a generous amount of stages considering it’s priced at the humble sum of £6.69 on the Xbox Store. Don’t get me wrong, there are only a few hours of game to be played, however that’s more than you normally get at this price, and for the most part it’s a lot of fun. At first I was nervous, preparing myself to shout and swear and resist the urge to hurl my Xbox controller at the wall. However, thankfully I’m happy to report that my experience was nothing of the sort.
Max and the Book of Chaos on Xbox One is a frantic battle for survival which manages to provide a fun challenge without sending the player into a spiral of anger and frustration. At £6.69 it’s hard not to recommend giving this one a look, especially if reflex-testing run and gun shooters are your bag.